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08-12 Multiple personality disorder may be rooted in traumatic experiences

Posted in Mental Health, Trauma

Multiple personality disorder may be rooted in traumatic experiences

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly referred to a multiple personality disorder, is a rare and controversial disorder that is characterized by identity fragmentation rather than the growth of two different personalities. The name of this disorder was changed in 1994 to address its accurate definition and is recognized by the DSM-5 as a mental health disorder. An individual with did experiences extreme memory loss that is not attributed to forgetfulness or organic diseases such as the different types of dementia. It affects approximately 2 percent of individuals, and symptoms include disconnection between consciousness, reality, thoughts and perceptions. Interestingly enough, approximately half of Americans experience at least one depersonalization episode once in their lives, which can also be described as an out-of-body experience.

DID and trauma

“The symptoms of a dissociative disorder usually first develop as a response to a traumatic event, such as abuse or military combat, to keep those memories under control. Stressful situations can worsen symptoms and cause problems with functioning in everyday activities,” according to NAMI.

A recent study performed by King’s College of London supports the idea that DID is caused by the underlying mechanism of traumatic disorders such as abuse or neglect. Abuse can be physical, verbal, sexual or emotional and can affect people of all ages, races and genders. The experiment involved 65 women and showed that individuals with DID had the highest trauma-related symptoms next to individuals with PTSD. Additionally, they found that women with DID did not possess any more forms of fantasy or malingering symptoms than any other undiagnosed woman. It was once suspected that DID was due to the individual believing in fantasies, and therefore this disorder has been very controversial.

Researchers found a sequence of trauma-related symptom severity across the groups. The highest scores were found in patients with DID, followed by patients with PTSD.  Healthy controls showed the lowest scores. These findings support the theory that there is an association between the severity of trauma-related psychopathology and the age at onset, severity and intensity of traumatization.

DID as a personality disorder

DID is not included in the clusters of personality disorders such as Cluster A, B or C. Although it is a type of personality disorder in a sense, DID is not classified as a typical personality disorder due to the fact that its symptoms are very concurrent with memory loss and out-of-body experiences. However, it is similar to other personality disorders in a sense that it is deeply rooted in the character of the individual and it is very difficult and intense to treat. It is not a quick fix, and pharmacological agents do not work to help cure this disorder.

Finding help

There is no quick fix for people dealing with DID. Pharmacological agents do not help this disorder so the best form of assistance is often different types of therapy. The best treatment for DID focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy such as dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Additionally, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is another type of therapy that can be used to help treat this disorder. Whatever the approach, treatment takes time and patience.

Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego provides treatment for substance abuse, mental health disorders and co-occurring disorders for youth between 12 to 17 years old.  We are able to provide comprehensive and effective treatment for teens dealing with Dissociate Identity Disorder and other disorders. For more information on how we can help, call our 24/7 helpline.

About the author

Kristen Fuller, M.D., is a medical writer at Sovereign Health and enjoys writing about evidence-based topic in the cutting world of medicine. She is a physician author who also teaches, practices medicine in the urgent care setting and contributes to medicine board education. She is an outdoor and dog enthusiast. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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