How Dissociative Identity Disorder Symptoms Are Treated

Reviewed by Whitney White, MS CMHC, NCC., LPC

Published 12/09/2020

Dissociative identity disorder, also previously known as multiple personality disorder, is a mental health condition that affects a person’s sense of identity, their memories, and their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In this article, you will learn about this rare and complex condition, its symptoms, and how it is treated.

What Is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

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Dissociation, as a general term, is a very common experience that just about everyone experiences from time to time.

For instance, daydreaming or becoming engrossed in a movie or TV that you forget what’s going on around you are examples of dissociation symptoms because you lose attachment with your surroundings.

However, although these are mild forms of it, dissociation can also be much more severe, and it can sometimes be used as a way to cope with traumatic events like being involved in an accident or enduring abuse.

When this happens, it can develop into dissociative disorders like depersonalization-derealization disorder or dissociative identity disorder.

Dissociative identity disorder is estimated to affect anywhere from 0.01 percent to 1 percent of the population, making it quite rare. [1]

This disorder is best described as a disconnection between a person’s memories, thoughts, feelings, and sense of identity, and this is why it used to be called multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder in the past.

Dissociative identity disorder can affect anyone, but females are more likely to experience the condition more than males, and abuse at an early age is primarily the reason why it happens. [2]

In the next section, you will learn about the specific symptoms of this complex disorder to see how it’s diagnosed.

The Signs and Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th edition has the criteria for dissociative identity disorder as follows: [3]

  1. Disruption of identity characterized by two or more distinct personality states, which may be described in some cultures as an experience of possession. The disruption of marked discontinuity in sense of self and sense of agency, accompanied by related alterations in affect, behavior, consciousness, memory, perception, cognition, and/or sensory-motor functioning. These signs and symptoms may be observed by others or reported by the individual.
  2. Recurrent gaps in the recall of everyday events, important personal information, and/or traumatic events that are inconsistent with ordinary forgetting.
  3. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.
  4. The disturbance is not a normal part of a broadly accepted cultural or religious practice.

Note: In children, the symptoms are not better explained by imaginary playmates or other fantasy play.

  1. The symptoms are not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., blackouts or chaotic behavior during alcohol intoxication) or another medical condition (e.g., complex partial seizures).

This criterion is important for providing an accurate diagnosis which is necessary for effective treatment of the condition.

How To Treat Dissociative Identity Disorder

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As mentioned before, dissociative identity disorder requires a careful diagnosis in order to get appropriate treatment.

Although dissociative identity disorder has roots in trauma and abuse and symptoms can appear at a very young age, people can learn how to address and cope with them and go on to live fulfilling lives.

Psychotherapy

Treatment for dissociative identity disorder usually begins with psychotherapy and one of the main goals of it is to try to reconnect the separated personalities a person can have and try to merge them back into one functional entity. [4] [5]

Therapy offers a place for people to safely share their past memories, particularly ones involving trauma and abuse, so that they can learn ways to effectively cope with it, rather than having dissociation as a defense mechanism.

However, this is one of the most challenging parts of therapy for dissociative identity disorder; it requires the patient to discuss and potentially relive intense moments in their lives. Although this part of therapy may be very uncomfortable, it is important to the process of overcoming it and preventing nightmares and flashbacks as well.

Two popular ways of treating dissociative identity disorder are cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and these work to help identify the negative and unhelpful thinking patterns that affect a person’s feelings and behaviors and by doing so, they can regulate their emotions and improve their overall mood.

Hypnotherapy

In addition to psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, or clinical hypnosis may able to help people with dissociative identity disorder by making them more aware of their memories that may have been repressed.

Many of the events that lead to dissociative identity disorder happen at a very young age and dissociation is used as a way to cope with past abuse and trauma, but these memories get hidden away in the process due to dissociative amnesia.

This may also be why people with the disorder have fragmented memories or are only able to recall them when they are in a different personality state.

Bringing them to awareness and working to understand, process, and cope with these memories and the feelings and emotions behind them can be an important step in helping to bring them back into a single personality.

Meditation, Relaxation Techniques, and Mindfulness

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Like, hypnotherapy, learning to relax and practice mindfulness can help people become aware of how they are feeling in the present and by doing so they can learn how to cope and tolerate their symptoms.

In fact, mindfulness can sometimes be seen as the opposite of dissociation.

When you are mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings, you are being non- judgmental and accepting toward these things. On the contrary, dissociation avoids this entirely. [6]

Therefore, learning how to utilize techniques like deep breathing, meditation, and being mindful of the present can be effective in learning how to control dissociation and prevent it from happening.

Medication

Currently, there isn’t any prescription medication that is specifically designed to help people with dissociative identity disorder; however, it may be prescribed to help people deal with symptoms of other issues that can coexist alongside the disorder.

For example, anxiety and depression are two common conditions that people can develop in response to their past experiences and living with a dissociative identity disorder.

Therefore, it’s not unusual for people to be prescribed antidepressants to help combat the symptoms related to these conditions, and people may be able to have an easier time with other aspects of their treatment by keeping them under control.

Antianxiety medications can also be prescribed and can help people stay calm when realizing and confronting their memories, feelings, and emotions, and many can be used as an effective short-term solution.

Self-Care

Lastly, in addition to all of the strategies above, there are additional forms of self-care that can be beneficial to those with dissociative disorders.

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People can try writing in journals to express their feelings, incorporate grounding techniques into their daily routines, and also start paying closer attention to the amount of sleep they get, their diet, and committing to regular exercise.

Even though dissociative identity disorder is rare, people with the condition can also look into support groups in addition to the therapy sessions they will attend.

Knowing that you’re not alone can make a big difference in your ability to cope, and if you struggle to find people with similar experiences as you in-person, you can also consider trying online forums and interacting with people there.

Do You Have Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Sometimes it can be hard to realize if a person himself is struggling with a dissociative disorder.

After all, even ordinary forms of disassociation, like daydreaming, are often not caught until they snap out of it and they aren’t aware of what happened around them while they were disassociating.

With disorders, many cases often involve the intervention of a loved one who is noticing the signs, and this prompts them to lead the individual to get a formal diagnosis and start treatment.

The DID symptoms discussed earlier can give you an idea of whether or not you or someone else is dealing with this condition, but you can also try this free dissociative identity disorder test, which can give your mental health professional a better picture of everything that is going on.

Conclusion

Understanding the dissociative disorder and why it happens will be key to overcoming it, and with a diagnosis and treatment, people can regain control over their lives again. Therapy will be the most valuable resource you have to start putting all of the pieces back together and with time, people can learn how to function better and find ways to cope and be fulfilled.

References

  1. Bhandari, S. (2020, January). How common is dissociative identity disorder? Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/qa/how-common-is-dissociative-identity-disorder
  2. Tracy, N. (2015, May 14). Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) Statistics and Facts, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, October 26 from https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/dissociative-identity-disorder/dissociative-identity-disorder-did-statistics-and-facts
  3. Traumadissociation.com. (2014, November 01). Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder). Retrieved from http://traumadissociation.com/dissociativeidentitydisorder
  4. Cleveland Clinic. (2016, April). Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder) Management and Treatment. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9792-dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder/management-and-treatment
  5. American Psychiatric Association. (2018, August). What Are Dissociative Disorders? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/dissociative-disorders/what-are-dissociative-disorders
  6. Sharma, T., Sinha, V. K., & Sayeed, N. (2016). Role of mindfulness in dissociative disorders among adolescents. Indian journal of psychiatry, 58(3), 326–328. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.192013