Dissociative Identity Disorder: Broad Understanding

-By Sania Patel

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines mental health as the emotions, psychological, and social aspects that make up one’s well-being. These parts can be greatly affected by internal and external conditions, which can further affect how certain people think, feel, and act. The state of one’s mental health can determine the structure of their daily life, their habits, relationships, physical health, and management of stress. Often, mental health is used as an overlying word to describe mental disorders and illnesses. Both mental illness and mental disorder refer to the same overlying theme but differ slightly in their exact definition.

Mental disorders describe a state in which a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior are affected. Mental illnesses are the corresponding health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior. These effects can be short-term or chronic, depending on the type of disorder and treatment received.

When used in conversation, mental disorders are widely recognized and acknowledged. Some examples include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, dementia, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Mental disorders, or illnesses - the term can be used interchangeably - are extremely common in the United States. According to the American Psychiatric Association, nearly one in five (approximately 19 percent) of U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness. Of that number, another 4.1 percent suffer from a serious mental illness. Serious mental illnesses include mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders that result in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits the performance of daily activities.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality syndrome, is defined as a mental health condition in which someone has multiple, distinct personalities. The various identities control a person’s behavior, thoughts, actions, and emotions. DID can cause memory loss, delusions, depression, anxiety, and other factors caused by past trauma. People with DID often have two or more separate identities and these identities can each have their own personal history, traits, likes, and dislikes. There are often gaps in memory and hallucinations for individuals suffering from this condition.

There are two different types of DID. One is Dissociative Amnesia, which gives an individual problems with remembering information about themselves. Another form of DID is Depersonalized or Derealization Disorder - although these two types can be combined. This type causes a feeling of detachment from an individual’s actions. DID is very rare, as it only affects between 0.01 to 1 percent of the population and it can occur at age. Women are also more likely to develop DID than men. Up to 75 percent of people experience at least one depersonalization or derealization episode in their lives, while only 2 percent meet the full criteria for chronic episodes.

The causes of DID usually originate from a history of abuse, as this condition is used to deal with trauma. Most often, children are exposed to long-term physical, sexual, of emotional abuse from DID. Natural disasters and combat can also cause Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Symptoms of DID can include anxiety, delusions, depression, disorientation, memory loss, drug or alcohol abuse, and suicidal thoughts or self-harm. Individuals may often show certain differences in behavior each time they switch personalities. The “core” identity - a person’s usual personality - may be hidden by “alters”, or the alternate personalities of the given individual.

Due to the nature of DID, its prevalence in a person’s life may cause alcohol and drug abuse, increased risk of suicide, frequent self-injurious behavior, and impairment in relationships. Additionally, DID patients can develop a range of other mental health disorders including, PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In order to treat DID, one must discover the root cause of the problem. As stated previously, DID results from past traumatic experiences. Through therapy, medications, social interaction, and private consultations with a medical professional, an individual can discover the root cause of the trauma, thus diminishing the effects of DID. Therapists, in particular, have the ability to help a patient process memories related to their trauma, develop coping skills, improve functioning, and have better relationships. Talk therapy, whether individual or as a group, is recommended as the main treatment for those with DID. Behavior therapy is also recommended to help people with DID become more mindful and reduce their negative reactions to an episode of DID.

Other helpful therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), dialectical behavioral therapy, family therapy, and meditation. These therapies work to change dysfunctional thought patterns, feelings, and behaviors. They also help eliminate nightmares and flashbacks associated with PTSD, while teaching people how to tolerate their symptoms and develop self-awareness.

Dissociative Identity Disorder is a mental health condition that is difficult to understand and easy to depict incorrectly. Popular culture, specifically, Hollywood, has made great strides in using DID in its horror and thriller films. Often, characters with DID depict individuals with grossly distorted behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Since the early 2000s, popular culture has focused less and less on the mental condition, due to pressure from individuals with the disorder and others who felt the depictions were abusive and insulting.

However, DID is making a re-appearance, and, in a massive way. Recently, Marvel Studios released the Disney+ television series, Moon Knight. In the show, Oscar Isaac represents two characters, Marc Spector and Steven Grant. Both characters share a body, and the show switches back and forth between the character in control. Acting as exact opposites, both characters struggle to identify reality and establish their identity, while combating the common side effects of DID, such as hallucinations, sleeping disorders, false memories, and anxiety attacks.

In the end, Dissociative Identity Disorder is an intriguing mental disorder, in which an individual identifies with multiple personalities. These personalities can lead to harmful side effects and result in an overall loss of reality. The only confirmed cause of DID is trauma, however, there are more and more studies being conducted to discover biological, genetic, and hereditary causes.