Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
Definition: Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a mental health condition characterized when an individual has two or more separate identities, or ‘alters.’
About: Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously known as multiple personality disorder, is a mental health condition that occurs after prolonged, intense trauma during one’s childhood. Dissociation is a trauma response and is an involuntary coping mechanism to protect the body from further harm and trauma.
Different alters will remember different traumas, but that doesn’t mean each one does. This can lead to memory issues, also known as dissociative amnesia, for those with DID which can be helped by keeping a journal or reminders to fill in any blanks. Each alter has their own personal history, traits, likes and dislikes and may even be different genders, ages, races, sexual orientations and even have their own health conditions. A person with DID may also identify as a system of alters than an individual.
Symptoms: The defining aspect of DID is that an individual will have two or more distinct identities, or ‘alters.’ Other symptoms may include:
- Hearing internal voices, e.g. hearing voices from your consciousness that are different to your own
- Dissociative amnesia - forgetting certain things, memories, people, places, plans or even information about oneself
- Memory problems
- Sudden and/or unexpected mood shifts
- Feeling like certain memories are someone else’s or having memories without recollection of living them
- Losing time
- Feeling detached from oneself and emotions
- Blurred sense of identity
Switching between alters is often brought on by certain triggers, either positive or negative. As well as this, there can be a range of different alters, such as young or baby alters, animals, protectors, persecutors, caretakers, and many others. They each arise from different trauma experiences.
Someone with dissociative identity disorder may experience all or some of the above symptoms. Each person’s experience will be unique to them. It’s important to note that DID can often be a lifelong illness, however, that doesn’t mean an individual with it can’t live the life they want to. People can and do live full, fulfilling lives with dissociative identity disorder. Symptoms may not ever fully disappear, but through treatment, they can become more manageable.
Treatment: As with any health condition, treatment can vary from person to person. What’s helpful for one may not be helpful for another, however, there are some treatments available that can and do help those struggling with dissociative identity disorder. Treatments include:
- Medications: While there are no medications used to treat DID, an individual may be prescribed medications for certain symptoms or co-occurring conditions, such as anxiety, insomnia, depression, or any other conditions.
- Psychotherapy: Often, a goal for therapy is helping a DID system to work together as one. Such therapies may include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or trauma-focused CBT, dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), internal family systems therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, somatic psychotherapy, schema therapy, and, for some individuals, hypnotherapy has been found to be beneficial. Therapy can help a system address and process traumas, manage switching, and merging alters if that is something that is a desired outcome.
It’s best to talk to your health team when looking at treatment options. They can recommend and guide you through what could be the best fit for you and your well-being.
I have a loved one with dissociative identity disorder, how can I support them?
If you have a loved one who is struggling, simply having an open conversation about how you can best support them can mean the world. There are some ways you can support a loved one, but also remember that you are a friend, family member, partner, etc and not a professional. You can’t expect yourself to be everything for everyone.
Ways to support a loved one include:
- Learning about this condition is immensely helpful. It can help you and your loved one to better work with what they’re going through.
- Get to know each alter. Learn their likes, dislikes, characteristics, and what makes them them.
- Be mindful of them and their triggers. Asking them how you can support them can be a big help to both of you.
- Perhaps offer to help them with chores, send them a message to let them know you’re thinking of them, or something else to help with their day-to-day life.
It’s equally important to also remember to take time out for yourself for self-care.
Dissociative identity disorder is a complex condition, but it’s important for those struggling to know that it can be managed. You can find ways to cope with it and live with it. There is always hope and people who care about you who will support you on your journey.
Voices of Hope wants you to know that your life has value and you deserve all the care, help, and support you need. Dissociative identity disorder can be managed and you can live the life you want and deserve. We understand how difficult mental illnesses can be, but you are worthy, and you are strong. You can get through this. Reach out and keep fighting. You are not alone in your fight. We believe in you. And remember that there is ALWAYS hope.
Resources and links:
Voices of Hope does not offer direct mental health services and our team is not comprised of trained mental health professionals. If you require assistance, we recommend visiting our resources page for helpful information.
If you are in immediate risk of harm to yourself or others, or need advice for someone in your life that is at risk of immediate harm to themselves please contact your local emergency services.