Does Dissociative Identity Disorder Truly Exist?
Last week we explored dissociative identity disorder – DID (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) and some of the challenges with studying it, teaching about it, diagnosing it, believing it exists, and even treating it. It’s a complex phenomenon and many mental health professionals struggle with when to actually give this diagnosis to someone and how to treat it in therapy and with medication. Despite the fact that between 1 and 3 percent are reported to suffer from DID, it remains commonly unknown by the majority of society, primarily among the child and adolescent population. It has been defined as a natural defense against childhood trauma. This article will provide four videos on DID to encourage further exploration of this topic.
Although DID is not an area that I have received extensive training in or an area that I claim to have clinical expertise in, I must say that this is a good topic to explore and discuss as it provides greater information about how trauma affects the brain and overall development. A few weeks ago, I discussed trauma in great depth and received an overabundance of replies that questioned other disorders that can complicate trauma such as DID. After reading so many emails and questions on how a personality disorder can develop after childhood trauma, I was able to speak with colleagues, mentors, and even parents and families who have had experience(s) with DID or has had suspicions that DID existed in a client or family member. What they reported to me was that DID is never discussed in many mental health agencies because of a lack of scientific rigor, people to study, and “Hollywood sensationalism” and fascination with this topic. Sadly, many people only think of the Three Faces of Eve or Sybil when you mention DID. Many individuals who claim to have the disorder and have received the diagnosis state that this is one of the reasons why their suffering is not taken seriously. Below you will find four interesting videos that have identified individuals with DID symptoms.
OWN network interviews a woman who claims to have 20 personalities and struggles with multiple pieces of herself. What affect do you think this has on the sufferer and those around the sufferer? Just look at the face of the child sitting next to her mother:
Dr Phil invites a guest onto his show that “meta morphs into her alter ego”
Did a part of this video make it difficult for you to believe that this woman has DID? Could it be possible to mistaken her behavior for intentional manipulation? Why or why not? What would make you think this woman has DID? It’s complicated because people who exhibit similar “symptoms” from other disorders can easily come across as having multiple personalities if their moods and behavior tends to suddenly change. According to multiple research studies on this topic, it’s very difficult to identify the diagnosis and even more difficult to treat it.
This next video is interesting because it highlights a very common story-line of people who exhibit symptoms of DID. Most children who have been severely abused and neglected can develop multiple emotional and mental health challenges such as reactive attachment disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder. However, some children go on to develop more complex disorders such as psychotic disorders or personality disorders such as DID.
Unfortunately, science is quite behind in understanding DID, especially in children and teens, and how to treat it. Current research supports the idea that DID is the result of childhood trauma and that treatments should include working with all personalities the person believes she or he has. Research has appeared to be black and white, that is, either you have DID or you don’t. Some studies have even looked at the fact that individuals with DID are capable of being aware of their “personalities” and do not necessarily experience amnesia. Dr McNally from Harvard University conducted research that questioned whether an individual is actually unaware of their other personalities that emerge unexpectedly. Research into DID continues to be very controversial.
A 1999 documentary from BBC looks at the brain for clues on understanding DID.
According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the following symptoms are typical of individuals who are exhibiting symptoms of DID:
- Inability to remember large parts of childhood.
- Unexplained events and inability to be aware of them (such as finding yourself somewhere without remembering how you got there or new clothes that you have no recollection of buying).
- Frequent bouts of memory loss or “lost time.”
- Sudden return of memories, as in a flashback and/or flashback to traumatic events.
- Episodes of feeling disconnected or detached from one’s body and thoughts.
- Hallucinations (sensory experiences that are not real, such as hearing voices talking to you or talking inside your head).
- “Out of body” experiences.
- Suicide attempts or self-injury.
- Differences in handwriting from time to time.
- Changing levels of functioning, from highly effective to nearly disabled.
Before more was known about DID, it was a disorder associated with borderline personality disorder in 1993 by Laurer Black and Keen who stated that DID was a secondary symptom or byproduct (epiphenomenon) of BPD. This conclusion was based on years of poor and no research and a lack of tests to help mental health professionals develop a more clear clinical picture of the disorder. It is safe to say that many people continue to confuse DID with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder.
What about DID confuses, concerns, or perplexes you? Do you know someone who believes they have DID? As always, I’d love to hear your responses to this very complex and controversial subject.
As always, I wish you well
Hill, T. (2015). Does Dissociative Identity Disorder Truly Exist?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 15, 2017, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers/2015/05/does-dissociative-identity-disorder-truly-exist/