Dissociative disorders refer to any mental health disorder that involves dissociation, or issues with memory, identity, or sense of self. Examples of dissociative symptoms include loss of memory or feel detached from one’s body, often described as having an “out-of-body experience.” Because these disorders cause disconnection within our most basic human functions, like the ability to control our actions or the ability to remember things we’ve done, they are highly disruptive to normal life. Of the different types of dissociative disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is one of the most disruptive, and most difficult, conditions to treat.
DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is a mental health disorder that has been featured in movies and on television for decades. Unlike how it is typically portrayed in the media, DID is significantly more complex than just two personalities inhabiting the same body. Individuals with this disorder possess at least two distinct and enduring personality states. In most cases, people with DID have their primary self, as well as one or more alters, identities that are perceived as separate which often manifest due to stress or certain stimuli. During dissociation, a person with DID may experience lost time, and may display unusual behaviors or attitudes.
People with Dissociative Identity Disorder often feel as though they have two or more entities living within them, each with their own line of thinking. In some cases, awareness and memory of each personality is asymmetrical, and a DID sufferer might not even be aware that he or she has alternate personalities.
Individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder are at much higher risk for several mental health issues. People with DID commonly experience headaches related to their dissociative episodes. Depression and anxiety symptoms are also common for people suffering from DID. Individuals with this disorder are more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, develop an eating disorder, or engage in self-injurious behaviors. Having Dissociative Identity Disorder also places someone at a much higher risk of suicide. In some cases, DID has been connected to somatization issues (mental health problems appearing as physical ailments), including nonepileptic seizures.
In addition to a high correlation between DID and both substance abuse and eating disorders, concurrent diagnosis of both DID and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is also fairly common. This is true with individuals who exhibit self-harm, have unstable interpersonal relationships, and display a high degree of impulsivity.
The primary cause of Dissociative Identity Disorder appears to be childhood trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse. Because DID sufferers typically have underlying or repressed trauma, many also suffer from some form of long term post-traumatic stress.
Although psychotropic medication can help with some of the symptoms related to DID, such as depression or anxiety, there is no medication to treat the condition. The best form of treatment is intensive psychotherapy. In therapeutic treatment for DID, there are three goals:
The use of behavioral therapies, such as CBT and DBT, have proven to be effective in the treatment of Dissociative Identity Disorder. At the Delray Center for Healing, we combine intensive DBT therapy with trauma-focused therapy to treat our clients with DID, with of without co-occurring Borderline Personality Disorder or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
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