Multiple personality disorder is the former name for what is now known as dissociative identity disorder (DID). It is characterized by a disruption in memory, self-awareness, identity, or perception. People with this disorder develop one or more alternate and distinct identities, known as “alters.” Individuals with the disorder are often referred to as having multiple personalities or a split personality. People with multiple personality disorder, or DID, will experience gaps in autobiographical memory, including personal details, daily activities, and traumatic events.
Dissociative identity disorder is considered one of a group of 3 conditions collectively known as dissociative disorders. Dissociative disorders involve an involuntary disconnection with memories, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors, as well as with a person’s own identity or sense of self. These symptoms can disrupt cognitive function and psychological wellbeing and can cause problems in every aspect of a person’s life.
Dissociative identity disorder is considered to be very rare, and it is diagnosed more commonly in women than in men. However, the number of men with the disorder may be higher than reported because they are more likely to display aggressive behavior rather than the gaps in memory typically seen with DID.
Research shows that diagnosis is typically made around age 30, but signs of the disorder may begin in childhood as early as age 5. Multiple personalities, or alters, may surface at about age 6. By the time a person has reached adulthood, they typically report 16 alternate personalities. Adolescents with the disorder generally indicate about 24 alters.
Researchers have found a profound link between trauma and the development of dissociative identity disorder. In fact, it is believed that trauma is the root cause of the condition in over 90% of people who develop the disorder.
Long-term emotional, sexual, or physical abuse in childhood is commonly associated with the condition. Exposure to natural disasters, military combat, or violence may also trigger the development of the disorder. It is believed that alternate personalities may initially develop as a sort of coping mechanism to disconnect from ongoing trauma or a stressful situation.
However, it’s important to note that not everyone who experiences trauma will experience dissociative symptoms.
People with dissociative identity disorder have two or more alternate personalities known as alters. These alters have distinct names, behaviors, memories, voices, and ways of viewing the world. In some cases, an alter may also have a different gender, ethnicity, or age. Some alters may be animals. As an individual goes from one personality to another, it’s called switching. Alters may emerge for just brief moments or may be present for days at a time.
General symptoms and signs of DID include:
All of these symptoms can range from mild to severe.
People with dissociative identity disorder often have co-occurring mental health conditions, including:
People with untreated DID typically have significant problems in everyday life, including at work, at school, and in relationships. Suicidal behavior and other types of self-harm are especially common in people who suffer from this disorder. In fact, over 70% of people with DID have attempted suicide.
A a growing body of neuroimaging research suggests that dissociative identity disorder is associated with changes in a number of brain regions involved in attention, memory, and emotions. For example, studies on people with multiple personalities have found decreased blood flow in parts of the prefrontal cortex, similar to what is seen in people with attention-deficit disorders (ADD/ADHD). Other brain imaging studies involving people with DID show smaller brain volume in the hippocampus (an area involved in memory and learning), as well as in the amygdala (an area involved in emotional and fear response).
Before making a diagnosis of DID, it’s critical to investigate any biological factors that may be contributing to symptoms of memory loss or derealization. For example, concussions and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), substance abuse, and chronic insomnia may cause similar symptoms. This is why it is so important to get a functional brain scan to detect signs of brain-related issues.
Brain SPECT imaging, a state-of-the-art brain mapping tool, can be very helpful to people with dissociative identity disorder. It can:
Understand that there is hope for people with multiple personalities, and people generally respond well to treatment. The goal of treatment is to integrate the multiple personalities into a well-functioning singular identity. A variety of therapies may be used to treat the condition, including
At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive assessment to diagnose and treat our patients. We also assess other factors—biological, psychological, social, and spiritual—that can contribute to symptoms of DID. Based on all of this information, we are able to personalize treatment using the least toxic, most effective solutions for a better outcome so you can lead the kind of life you want.