Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative identity disorder was formerly known as multiple personality disorder. It is a mental illness that is characterized by the presence of two or more personalities simultaneously in the same individual.

One of them usually takes control of the subject’s behavior, routinely. Typically, the person does not retain any memory of these personality changes.

It should be clarified that this disorder is not associated with schizophrenia. Rather, it has to do with other entities, such as post-traumatic stress, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, or psychoactive substance abuse.

What is dissociative identity disorder?

Dissociative identity disorder is characterized in that an individual is under the control of two or more identities , alternately. This means that at certain times it behaves with one identity and at other times, with the other.

Typically, people with dissociative identity disorder feel disconnected from some parts of themselves. They experience some of their experiences as if they were the spectators of a movie. Suddenly they do or say things that they do not identify with, but cannot control.

When another of the personalities appears, tastes, ideas and attitudes can radically change. Sometimes the person perceives as if his body has also changed. Sometimes the different personalities even communicate with each other.

It is very common for people with dissociative identity disorder to have auditory pseudo-hallucinations. This means that they hear voices that come from within themselves. They also frequently experience depression and anxiety.

Causes and symptoms

Dissociative identity disorder is usually associated with a traumatic event. In a study carried out at the University of Texas (United States), researchers concluded that there was a correlation between those who had suffered abuse in childhood and the development of dissociative disorders.

However, there are cases of people who have suffered traumatic experiences in adulthood and it should be noted that they are also at risk of developing this pathology, although to a lesser degree.

The main symptoms of this disorder are:

  • Present more than one identity or personality. There is alternation between different ways of being, as if the individual were inhabited by several subjects.
  • Amnesia. Memory gaps appear on past events, memory failures around current daily events or total amnesia in the face of acts that have been carried out.
  • Anxiety and depression. People with dissociative identity disorder tend to hurt themselves. Addictions, self-mutilation, and suicidal behaviors are common.
  • Hallucinations and pseudo- hallucinations.
  • Phobias, panic attacks, and eating disorders.
  • Headaches and other episodes of physical pain.


The diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder is quite problematic. Due to hallucinatory activity and experiences of unreality, it is often mistaken for schizophrenia.

The accepted criteria to diagnose this disorder are 3, mainly:

  • Presence of two or more identities. Each of them has its own pattern, which is persistent. Their perception, self-conception and interaction is differentiated with respect to other identities.
  • At least two of these personalities control the individual’s actions on a recurring basis.
  • The affected person has frequent problems to remember personal information.
  • The picture cannot be explained by the use or abuse of any substance.

Who should be turned to in these cases?

Treatment for dissociative identity disorder is through psychotherapy. This is usually long and emotionally difficult and painful for the patient. It is common for those affected to present several emotional crises throughout the process.

In some cases it is necessary to resort to hypnosis to stabilize them. Hospitalization is also often necessary to properly monitor those affected and to be able to provide them with permanent support.

The prognosis depends on the causes that originate the disorder and the severity of the symptoms. Psychotherapy generally improves the quality of life for these patients. If they adhere to treatment and sustain it long term, they have a high chance of overcoming the disorder.

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