There is a lot of misunderstanding and sensationalism around Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).   Hollywood and the media have done a very good job at providing misinformation and distorting the disorder.  Ignorance and Hollywood are responsible for helping shape a negative attitude  therefore stigmatizing the subject and raising the feeling of fear.  They have achieved this by latching onto any tragedy related to mental disorders, illnesses, differences or difficulties a human being may have experienced and associating with the disorder; even if there was no correlation.  They blame the disorder rather than to help people realize the root of the problem; add to it a society which struggles between donations to help find a “cure” while keeping themselves closed to the idea of informing themselves on the subject; and you have a recipe for disaster.

It is my hope this article will help dispel some of the erroneous ideas you may have on the subject of DID…

The correct medical term for Split Personality Disorder or Multiple Personality Disorder is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).  DID is a chronic condition which can last for many years or can be lifelong.

Some terms related to DID include the “core” which is used to define the “original” personality one is born with. “Core” is a Greek word meaning child; in this case it refers to the child before all abuse fragmented her mind. “Alters” are personalities beyond the core; alter states” are also used to define the other personalities. “Switching” or to “Switch” is to go from one personality to another or one perception to another, unable to find solid ground.

DID can happen within any race, any nationality and within any social status.  The actual diagnoses of DID is reserved for the most severe cases of Dissociation.  DID is not something which just happens or can be easily developed; it’s a  Psychological (Trauma) and Physical (Brain Capacity/Ability)  combination.  A person with DID is usually a survivor of REPETITIVE; usually extreme; physical and mental abuse which most likely occurred  during the person’s formative/ early adolescent years.  People with DID tend to have a higher than average IQ.  Their often high level of intelligence has been found to be a major contributor to their survival skills and fighting spirit.

DID is not something new. The first studied case of DID was documented by the great Pierre Janet.  Unfortunately; then just like now; when it comes to feeling comfortable or being accepting of something or someone different, not a lot has changed.  Pierre Janet was “persuaded” to discredit his own work and to abandon any further research on the subject.  To allow  him to continue would have been disastrous; it meant having to accept DID transcended any status, which of course was cause for controversy because it put the spot light on many “respectable” families of the time.

Nearly everyone experiences mild dissociation such as daydreaming, getting lost in the moment or mind wondering.  Others who experience some trauma and or high level of stress may expose moderate dissociation; however,  DID is a significantly more severe form of dissociation from which the person find herself unable to simply “snap” out of, or has no control (As therapy progresses and each part is treated and brought to closure, the patient starts to feel more in control of  self).

When it comes to the sexes DID tends to present itself in a slightly different way.  This has nothing to do with one sex being more dramatic or stronger than the other but everything to do with right/left brain dominance.  In women DID presents itself with more periods of amnesia as well as switching more often; this happens as parts of the mind try to protect the individual from remembering the abuse.  In men DID tends to present itself with less periods of amnesia but more periods of anger.  Men tend to deny symptoms or deny any history of abuse making it harder for them to live with the disorder and has led to more severe periods of depression/anger and suicide attempts.

97% of DID patients have suffered severe trauma and abuse including neglect, physical and mental abuse.  This is a “nice” way of saying DID is the result of innocent children (usually before age 9) living or having been exposed to monsters in human skin.

The age on which abuse starts in a person’s life can predict how severe the disorder may become.  Generally the earlier the repetitive abusive starts, the greater the degree of dissociation.

Persons with DID have reported various suicidal attempts. A specific personality may or may not be aware of the attempts incurred by the other personalities.  This is not so difficult to accept or understand if one is familiar with the every day concept of denial (Millions of “normal” people experience denial on an everyday basis).

If YOU or someone you know, whether friend, family or maybe a personality within  you feels suicidal, please call for help.  You may call the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Center in your area (if in the lower mainland, please call 604-872-3321).  There are crisis centers which offer “chat” services.

When it comes to the topic of sexuality; despite having suffered sexual abuse, DID patients experience sexuality in two ways; according to how they interpret or feel during the moment…..A DID person may expose no libido one day and a high desire for sexual contact/connection the next.  This makes sense when looking at it the following way:

1) On the one hand they are not in denial of the repercussions experienced by the abuse, memories which can be very painful to process (this can express itself as having no sexual desires).

2) On the other hand most DID patients are fighters who seek to deeply connect with someone (if in a loving relationship) or to control someone sexually  (if they feel the other person exhibits signs of liking to abuse others. They do this in an effort to expose the other person to the same degradation they may like to impose on others) in an effort to rewrite history.

Most DID  patients expose a very intense type of sexuality combined with deep romanticism; they seek a unique connection in an effort to feel “safe”.   The combination of such may expose DID partners to something entirely new, raw and intoxicating; however due to severe lack of trust, romantic relationships are a real challenge for patients suffering with DID. Trusting others is their Everest; who could blame them giving all they had to survive in life. 

There is no “cure” or specific medication for DID, however DID can improve over time.  Medications if needed are given not to numb the patient; as this would only stop the process of healing; but to help the patient cope with the nightmares.  As DID is closely related to PTSD, it is often approached and treated in much the same way with the exception of needing to also work with other “personalities”.  The level of improvement will depend on the life style the DID patient leads and whether or not he or she gets the appropriate help.  Getting help can be a difficult decision for DID patients as they are used to living with their “secrets”.   Personalities may fight over whether or not to take that step; in some cases the patient may be afraid to seek treatment because they have tried to convince themselves they are crazy in order not to face the traumas (most DID patients go in denial not due to fear of facing the past, rather out of fear of being disloyal by exposing the “secrets” they have kept inside). 

When helping a DID patient it is very important to be honest and not give any false expectations.  The road to recovery is not easy and cannot be achieved within a few months.  Some things which can be readily treated are symptoms such as depression, anxiety and in some cases substance abuse.  The main focus should be on their high level of PTSD.   It is very important for a therapist to build rapport as DID patients tend to test their therapists.  They do this for two reasons:

1) To know if the person can be trusted.

2) To see if the person has the appropriate knowledge and experience required to help; this is very important to them as they do not like to be enabled.  DID patients tend to be hard on themselves; one of the challenges is to teach them to relax and to learn to be kind to themselves.

Therapies which can prove helpful are: Psychotherapy (talk therapy), hypnotherapy, meditation, and therapies including art and move.  For the most part a combination of all the above is used when helping DID patients.  Usually each personality (alter) is treated.  Each personality is not seen as an obstacle to overcome, rather everyone holds a piece to a puzzle which can bring healing and integration of self; the goal is to treat and accept the person as a whole being.

It can take a long time to properly diagnosed DID.  Some estimates state the average number of years for a DID patient to be properly diagnosed is 5 to 7 years.  Imagine how hard it must be to have to wait, to be erroneously diagnosed for years after having built the courage to take the first step and ask for help.  Luckily a lot has change making it easier now to identify and differentiate DID from other disorders.

People who have DID often have severe issues trusting others, rejection issues or a severe dislike for anything they may perceive as unfair treatment to others.  This makes total sense when taking into consideration DID is the result of severe abuse, add to that the stigma society has on the topic, and there is no wonder why DID patients tend to keep from trusting others.  This lack of trust can also make it very difficult for people with DID to find a therapist they can work with.

Personalities switches tend to happen when a person with DID feels there is a threat of some kind; usually emotional, psychological or social, allowing a personality better equipped to handle the situation to come forward.

In order for a patient to be diagnosed with DID a patient must have 2 or more separate identities/personalities, and some form of amnesia.  The disorder must cause some type of trouble/distress functioning in every day life (these difficulties must not be based on cultural or religious beliefs).  Symptoms cannot be the result of medication, alcohol, recreational drugs or a general medical condition.

If someone you know confides in you that they have multiple personality disorder/DID, be supportive.  Don’t make them feel ashamed, be there if they need you.  If it’s too much for you, try to guide the person towards someone better equipped, do so gently. Ask questions IF they are comfortable with it.  If possible or requested help them avoid things which may trigger them. If a personality which may not know you presents, be polite and introduce yourself.   If the switch happens in public, be supportive and help your friend or loved one.   He or she most likely won’t want to be overwhelmed with a thousand questions or may not trust others enough to be open with about who they are.

Patients with DID often have gaps in their memory regarding personal information or everyday things.  They have trouble remembering some of the traumas which others parts may remember vividly.  As integration starts to happen, all memories become cohesive giving the patient a real sense of self.

DID people can lead “regular” “normal” lives.  Their disorder does not affect their ability to function.  Although they struggle, their desire to overcome their obstacles and to protect their loved ones pushes them to try to lead as “normal” lives as possible.  Their struggle does not hinder their ability to take care of children and although finding their “path” can be difficult, they can excel at many different things; at times this can make it harder for them to understand who they are but it all lies on accepting they are different from others in a positive way and can be exceptional!

People who aren’t trained can sometimes confuse Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder with DID; this is wrong and has led to much confusion on what Dissociative Identity Disorder truly is.  They are very different things:

Schizophrenia’s main and most known symptoms are hallucinations and delusions.

Bipolar Disorder also known as manic depression is characterized by intense mood swings and other symptoms of depression.

People with Schizophrenia and Bipolar disorders don’t have multiple personalities.  Cat scans have shown that people with DID can alter the state of their brain with each switch of personality, this does not happen with Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder.

People who live with DID often have to take special precautions just to live and function normally in life because they have to take care of several “people” at once.  Things like keeping a number ready for contact in case of amnesia, or  a note so there is a reminder of where they are or where they are going.  Keeping journals of life events, medications, etc; it’s a lot of work to live with DID but healing is possible.

DID patients are masters at acting “normal” whenever a switch has happened, trying hard not to attract attention to themselves.  Periods of disorientation/amnesia tend to be less frequent as therapy progresses and the patients’ PTSD is reduced and trust is built.  If you know someone who has DID and needs a hug, give it and do it gladly.  Be honored that they let you in and told you something so personal, it means they think you are someone dependable, clean and whom they can trust.

There is a stigma (created, supported and profited by Hollywood)  that people with DID are dangerous.  Like many myths surrounding mental disorders, this is not true.  The fact that someone has multiple personalities doesn’t mean a person living with DID is any more evil than a “normal” person.  There are a lot of singletons “normal” people out there who commit horrendous crimes.  It has nothing to do with being a multiple and everything to do with character and essence.  In fact it’s been proven that people with DID are far more likely to hurt themselves than others as the pain which was inflicted on them is very much “alive” and they would rather not have innocent people experience the same.

Dissociative Identity disorder is more common than most people realize.  It can be subtle and not always obvious.  There are a lot of famous people throughout history and in present days who have experienced or are living with DID.  More and more these people are opening up and showing us their world.   Many of these amazing people are very well respected and known.  I can give you a few names most would recognize; Mozart, Beethoven, Leonardo Da Vinci, Aristotle and Vincent van Gogh.  They are but a handful of many who have walked throughout our history and contributed to the betterment of our world. We tend to idolized their achievements and gifts yet we still find ourselves unable to accept the very thing that made them different.

It’s time to stop the stigma and educate ourselves more.  Being a multiple is not too different than being a singleton with different views on things.  There is much to be learn from one another.  To enter the world of a DID person is to face horrible acts inflicted by others. It’s to face demons and see the darkest part of the human mind.  It also means to see the depth of their minds and souls, to see the beauty they carry within. It means to be expose to a deep love and magic; like opening one’s eyes to a full range of colors experiencing the rainbow after the storm. 

Being close to a DID person is not for everyone, it requires the willingness to face your own inner demons, your hurts and a desire to be completely honest with yourself and with the person who lives with this disorder.  It may seem hard as we are not used to being raw yet there is an upside to doing this; it can help you become the better version of yourself and rediscover just how amazing you are.  DID people tend to contribute to the healing of others just by being themselves; hope is reignited by simply watching them walk through their obstacles, working to overcome their own struggles.

Don’t be ashamed if you can’t handle being close to a patient with DID; all he or she requires of you is your politeness and complete honesty about your feelings.

No matter what their level of education or socioeconomic background, all these people have an extravagantly rich and creative inner world.  Not surprisingly, many high-functioning multiples are gifted writers and artists, who, as they heal, are able to find an aesthetic outlet for the sealed-off rage and pain they have not allowed themselves to feel. 

Marlene Steinberg, M.D