Probing Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative Identity Disorder (split or multiple personality disorder) is different from schizophrenia. People often confuse these two terms. Schizophrenia refers to a person’s inability to distinguish reality from imagination. It is characterized by severe and recurrent hallucinations and delusions. Dissociative Identity Disorder is a serious dissociation in thoughts, feelings, memories, actions and identity, which leads to several identities within one person.

What causes Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Many people have experienced mild dissociation in some point in their lives such as when they are daydreaming or when they get lost in the moment while traveling or working. But for some people, this dissociation is more severe that they can no longer connect several aspects of their life and identity. This is said to stem out from a trauma experienced by a person who dissociates himself from a situation or experience as a coping mechanism from the pain or violence his conscious self has gone through.

What happens with a person with this disorder?
The main aspect in dissociative identity disorder is the presence of two or more personality states that can invade the person’s main character. A person will have different “alters” or identities, each of which has his own age, sex, race, characteristics, occupation, gestures and so on. Most of the time, the alters are imaginary people but they can also be animals in some cases. A personality is revealed through a method of “switching”, which can take seconds to days.

What are the symptoms?
Apart from having different personalities, the following symptoms can be associated with this disorder: depression, mood swings, suicidal tendencies, sleep disorders, anxiety, panic attacks, phobias, flashbacks, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, compulsions, rituals, auditory and visual hallucinations, eating disorders, amnesia, time loss, out of body experiences, self-persecution, violence, and many more. A person with this disorder would find himself doing things that he normally doesn’t do. That’s because it’s not him anymore doing those things but his “alters” which he is not aware of.

Who are at risk?
The condition is quite rare, having only .01 to 1 percent of occurrence among the general population. This disorder usually develops in people who have experienced extremely traumatic or life-threatening situations. About 98 percent of people who have this disorder claim that they have undergone painful experiences throughout their lives. This can also occur in people who are victims of abuse, whether physical or emotional. People develop other identities to cope with the abuse or to protect themselves from the abuser. For example, a victim of recurrent sexual abuse may develop an identity whose personality is strong enough to fight the abuser because the original personality doesn’t have the power to do that.

What is the recommended treatment?
There is no single cure for dissociative identity disorder but a long-term treatment plan that includes talk therapy, medications, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy and adjunctive therapies. These can be effective and the result can be long lasting. Antidepressants and medications for anxiety are also often prescribed.

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