Mental Health Association in Ulster, Inc

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Disassociative Identity Disorder (DID)

Recently, I have been watching the TV show "United States of Tara," which is a fictional show about a woman living with disassociative identity disorder (DID), once known as multiple personality disorder. The show incited a curiosity to understand DID better. So here is what I learned: Disassociative identity disorder effects between .01-1% of the general population. It is characterized by having at least 2 or more personalities/identities, known as "alters," that have control over the person's behavior and/or thoughts. It is also distinguished by memory variations, depending on the alter, as well as the inability to recall specific personal information that is more far reaching than just forgetfulness. The alters have their own gender, race, age, class etc. and have their own distinct gestures, way of speaking and movement. Sometimes the alters can be animals and/or imaginary people. When one of the personalities takes over the person's behaviors/actions and thoughts, it is known as "switching." Switching can happen over seconds, minutes or days. There are usually 2-4 alters that are present at diagnosis but often between 13-15 appear during treatment. Stressful life events or environmental triggers can cause a person to switch from one identity to the next.
Some other symptoms that may accompany DID are:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Sleep disorders (insomnia, night terrors, and sleep walking)
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias (flashbacks, reactions to stimuli or "triggers")
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Compulsions and rituals
  • Psychotic-like symptoms (including auditory and visual hallucinations)
  • Eating disorders 
The cause of DID is not completely understood but believed to have both environmental and biological basis. Majority of the people with DID have had some type of reoccurrent and of life threatening disturbances before the age of nine, including persistent neglect or abuse. Findings have shown that DID is highest among families where parents are often frightening and unpredictable. 
There is no "cure" for DID but long-term treatment can be successful if the person is committed to treatment. Treatment often consists of talk therapy, medication, hypnotherapy and other adjunct therapy. 

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