Dissociative Identity Disorder – General Facts
In brief summary, dissociative identity disorder, commonly referred to as DID, is a psychiatric disorder in which the sufferer displays multiple split personalities that each behave differently under similar environments. Non-psychologists often confuse DID with schizophrenia, which have separate symptoms, but may occur in victims of DID. For a patient to be recognized as having DID, at least two distinguishable identities must be found present within his or her behavior; furthermore, the memories formed by one identity is not accessible to other identities within the individual.
Sufferers from DID exhibit a wide range of symptoms, many of which are related to the cohabitation of distinct identities. Such symptoms include unexplainable headaches and pains, unfounded phobias, memory loss, and distortion of time relative to the sufferer. Moreover, DID is associated with an array of other psychotic illnesses, including depersonalization, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorders. Furthermore, there exists a strong link between DID and depression, and it is generally agreed upon that there is a causal relationship between the two. Interestingly, although there are strong amnesic barriers between the identities, they often interact with each other; this often leads to auditory hallucinations in which other personalities might speak directly to the personality currently inhabiting the individual.
To diagnose DID, psychiatrists often perform screening structures, such as SCID-D or DDIS. The Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV for Dissociative Disorders, abbreviated SCID-D, evaluates the patient’s past experiences to uncover possible dissociative psychoses. DDIS, which stands for Dissociative Disorders Interview Schedule, is another structured screening process which distinguishes between the type(s) of dissociative disorders within the individual. Most of these interview processes attempt to elicit an identity shift during the screening; to encourage such shifts, questions are often geared towards areas of the brain in which hidden personalities have evoked amnesic barriers. Furthermore, to complement such interviews, psychiatrists will oftentimes facilitate such identity shifts through the use of drugs or hypnosis.
Causes of DID are most often associated with, but not limited to, childhood trauma. Most notably, the disorder can be onset by abuse from a trusted caregiver, whether physically, mentally, or sexually. While these experiences may not lead immediately to DID, they may be stored within the subconscious and later arise to induce multiple identities. Under stressful situations, sufferers will involuntarily use dissociation as a coping mechanism; the walled-off experiences later manifest themselves as separate identities.
The most popular treatment for DID is psychotherapy; psychiatrists gradually ease the patient into the unpleasant or traumatic experience, such that they are eventually able to reconcile themselves with it. Such therapy is done with extreme wariness and care, so that anxiety does not overwhelm the patient and evoke identity shifts. Oftentimes, therapy is supplemented by hypnosis, which can be used to unlock amnesic barriers and give the patient more familiarity with his or her identities. Finally, medication and ECT may be used to relieve the patient of secondary symptoms of DID, including depression and anxiety.
A disorder with as remarkable of symptoms as those of DID has inevitably caught the interest and curiosity of the public. Sybil, a 1976 film about a girl with sixteen different identities, gained widespread cinematic praise and the character has arguably become the face of DID. More recently, the 1999 film Fight Club, which reveals the main character and his friend to have been the same person all along, has become a cult favorite. The character of Gollum from the prominent Lord of the Rings series seems to split into two personalities, symbolically illustrating man’s struggle between his good and evil.