7 Myths About Multiple Personality Disorder—Debunked
Multiple personality disorder, more commonly known as dissociative identity disorder (DID), is one of the most complex and misunderstood mental health conditions. Because it is shrouded in controversy and misinformation, it can be hard to know what’s real and what’s fake. For individuals suffering from the disorder, the prevailing myths can increase stigma and prevent you from seeking the help you need. It’s time to debunk the myths and get the facts about this condition.
Myth #1: Dissociative identity disorder is a fake condition.
Fact: DID is real.
Research has validated that dissociative identity disorder is a real condition. People with this disorder develop one or more alternate and distinct identities, known as “alters.” DID sufferers typically experience gaps in autobiographical memory and have issues with self-awareness and perception. It is one of a group of 3 conditions known as dissociative disorders. Having DID can seriously impact cognitive health and psychological well-being and can lead to trouble at work, at school, at home, and with friends and family.
Myth #2: DID is extremely rare.
Fact: This disorder isn’t as common as anxiety or depression, but it isn’t as rare as you might think.
Research shows that DID affects approximately 1% of the general population. That amounts to over 3 million people in the U.S. Signs and symptoms of the disorder emerge during childhood, but most people aren’t diagnosed until they reach about 30 years of age.
Myth #3: DID is really just borderline personality disorder with a different name.
Fact: Although a distorted sense of self is present in both conditions, DID and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are not the same.
Having borderline personality disorder makes people act impulsively and react with extreme, often inappropriate emotions. They tend to have very unstable relationships and wild mood swings. Those with DID are more likely to have memory loss, depersonalization (out-of-body experiences), derealization (feeling as though the people and things around you aren’t real), dissociative amnesia (losing time), and more.
One reason why people may confuse these two conditions is that it is not uncommon for them to co-occur. People with DID may also suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, substance use disorders, and suicidal thoughts.
Myth #4: People with DID are violent.
Fact: People with this condition are no more likely to be violent than anybody else.
Most of what the general population believes about multiple personality disorder comes from the movies and TV. Horror flicks often depict people with DID as kidnappers or serial killers who terrorize others. That’s a patently false depiction. On the contrary, people who develop this condition are more likely to have been victims of violence. Chronic exposure to trauma, abuse, or neglect during childhood is seen in over 90% of those who develop the condition.
Having DID also makes people more likely to engage in self-harm or to attempt suicide. Research shows that more than 70% of outpatients with the condition have made at least one attempt to take their own life.
Myth #5: It’s obvious if a person has DID.
Fact: DID may be unidentifiable by a casual observer.
Most of the depictions we see of alternate personalities are extreme. Think of the 2016 movie Split, starring James McAvoy as a man with 23 distinct personalities who kidnaps 3 girls and imprisons them in a windowless room. His personalities include a prim and proper British woman, a 9-year-old boy, a sketch artist, a philosopher, a diabetic, and more.
In reality, alters can have different voices, ages, and genders, but they may not be so dramatically different that others would be able to notice them. A person’s alters often try to “blend in” to go unnoticed. Because of this, DID can go undetected for years.
Myth #6: The only way to diagnose DID is by symptom clusters.
Fact: DID is associated with a number of changes in the brain visible in neuroimaging studies.
Structural and functional changes in the brain related to memory, attention, and emotions have been documented in individuals with the condition. Specific areas that show abnormal activity or blood flow include:
- Hippocampus (involved in memory and learning)
- Prefrontal cortex (involved in attention and focus)
- Amygdala (involved in emotional response)
Functional brain imaging studies offer more information to mental health professionals to aid in making an accurate diagnosis.
Myth #7: There’s no treatment for DID.
Fact: A number of therapies can help.
Contrary to popular belief, people can overcome DID by integrating alters into one cohesive identity. A variety of treatment options are available, and people tend to respond well to treatment. Although there aren’t medications specifically targeted to treating DID, drug therapy can help manage symptoms of co-occurring disorders. Some of the more common treatments outside of medication include psychotherapy, hypnosis, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR has proven to be especially helpful for those who have been exposed to trauma.
At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive assessment to identify areas of the brain that are working well and areas with abnormal activity or blood flow. Brain imaging allows us to detect co-occurring disorders that are commonly seen in DID. With this information, we are able to personalize treatment using the least toxic, most effective solutions to help you gain control of your identity and your life.
To learn more or to schedule your comprehensive evaluation, please visit us online or call 888-288-9834.