Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder is often defined as a condition where an individual has multiple personalities.

What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Dissociative identity disorder, sometimes called DID disorder, is a relatively rare mental health condition. However, despite its rarity, this condition is of interest to many and has been the premise for popular movies such as Sybil and Split. Perhaps one reason that dissociative identity disorder has been the subject of so much public curiosity is that most people don’t know much about the condition.

To define dissociative identity disorder, it is useful to consider the former name for the condition: multiple personality disorder. Taking this information into consideration, dissociative identity disorder is often defined as a condition where an individual has multiple personalities. Depending on the severity of the condition, these shifts in identity are more accurately described as different “states,” rather than entirely distinct personalities, and are often accompanied by lapses in memory.

Dissociative Identity Disorder Symptoms

DID disorder symptoms can be difficult to pick up on. Because this condition is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct personalities, the symptoms of this condition may go unnoticed unless a transition is witnessed directly.

Some of the most common signs of a dissociative identity disorder include:

  • Lapses in memory
  • Inability to recall personal information
  • Distorted perception of time
  • Headache
  • Amnesia

Often, the primary personality is not aware of alternative personalities, or “alters.” However, alters are usually aware of the primary personality. Alters may give themselves away to others by using plural personal pronouns (we) instead of the singular alternative (I).

Many people with dissociative identity disorder also struggle with other mental health problems, including:

  • Mood swings
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Sleep disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance use disorders

Dissociative Identity Disorder Causes

The causes of dissociative identity disorder are not concretely known. Most experts, however, agree that the condition is often developed as a response to extreme stress or trauma. What causes dissociative identity disorder is far beyond the normal human experience of stress. Generally, the condition stems from traumatic events that occur at a young age. Other dissociative identity disorder causes include extreme childhood neglect and emotional abuse. Children whose parents are often unpredictable may also be more prone to developing this disorder following additional trauma.

How Is Dissociative Identity Disorder Diagnosed?

The symptoms of dissociative identity disorder are often covert and difficult to detect. Because of this, it can take years for a person struggling with the condition to receive an accurate diagnosis. Clinicians are unaware of the presence of more than one personality, which speaks to the subtlety of most symptoms. It may not be until a transition is witnessed that a dissociative identity disorder diagnosis can be given. Otherwise, clinicians must put together clues based on what they are told and signs, such as a person reporting “losing” hours, days or months, to provide a dissociative identity disorder diagnosis.

Clinicians use the following dissociative identity disorder test to diagnose the condition:

  • Disruption of identity characterized by two or more distinct personality states and marked by a discontinuity in sense of self and agency
  • Memory gaps when recalling everyday events, personal information and traumatic experiences
  • Symptoms cause significant distress and impairment in occupational, social or other areas of functioning

For a dissociative identity disorder diagnosis to be made, the above criteria must not be part of a broadly accepted cultural or religious practice or be attributable to the physiological effects of a substance or other medical condition.

Who Is at Risk for Dissociative Identity Disorder?

One of the most important dissociative identity disorder facts relates to the populations at risk for developing the condition. Children who experience trauma, particularly sexual trauma, are more susceptible to developing dissociative identity disorder. If the child has few positive supports or the trauma is chronic, the chances of developing dissociative identity disorder are even higher.

Dissociative Identity Disorder Statistics

Dissociative identity disorder statistics are difficult to interpret, as there are often significant disparities between studies. The prevalence of the condition is estimated to be 2 percent. Dissociative identity disorder is more common in females. This is likely because females experience a higher rate of childhood abuse. It also appears that the younger a child is when they experience abuse, the more likely they are to develop dissociative identity disorder.

If you or someone you know struggles with co-occurring dissociative identity disorder and addiction, professional care is crucial. Fortunately, help is available. With centers across the country, The Recovery Village provides care for co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Reach out to a representative today for more information, or to see if you qualify for treatment.

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Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Denise-Marie Griswold, LCAS
Denise-Marie Griswold is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist. She earned her Master's Degree in Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling from East Carolina University in 2014. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.