Dissociative identity disorder can control many aspects of a person’s life. However, treatment can reduce symptoms of the condition. A person’s life before treatment can vastly differ from their life after treatment.

Dissociative identity disorder is a mental health condition characterized by the presence of one or more alternate personalities. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2 percent of people experience dissociative disorders like dissociative identity disorder.

People with dissociative identity disorder often feel helpless to the condition. However, receiving an early diagnosis and undergoing proper treatment for dissociative disorder can help an individual cope with symptoms of the disorder.

Dissociative Identity Disorder: Before Diagnosis

A report by the American Psychiatric Association told the story of Sandra, a veteran with a dissociative identity disorder. While in the military, Sandra was hospitalized for poor memory and sudden behavioral changes. She was eventually diagnosed with a dissociative identity disorder.

Before her diagnosis, Sandra experienced a difficult childhood. Her parents divorced when she was 6 years old. Her mother became involved with a man who sexually abused Sandra when she was 11. She also dealt with memory problems after the abuse.

During her hospitalization, Sandra underwent hypnosis. While hypnotized, medical professionals discovered that Sandra had an alternate personality who called herself Mary. The voice said that she often punished Sandra by physically abusing her.

In the past, Mary would command Sandra to harm herself. In one instance, the alternate personality ordered Sandra to intentionally cut her leg. Sandra gave an alternative story about how she received the injury, but the medical professionals found inconsistencies in Sandra’s explanation.

Symptoms of DID

Dissociative identity disorder symptoms include headaches, amnesia, a distorted perception of time and memory problems. Individuals with the disorder may also fail to remember personal information and traumatic events.

Other symptoms associated with dissociative identity disorder include:

  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorder
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Depression
  • Thoughts of suicide

Like Sandra, many other people with the disorder have alternate personalities. The personalities associated with dissociative identity disorder might take on names, characteristics and mannerisms.

The symptoms of dissociative identity disorder can have personal and professional effects. People with the disorder often struggle to maintain relationships. They also tend to have problems completing everyday tasks.

Effects of Dissociative Identity Disorder

In 2016, a study published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry examined the long-term effects of personality disorders. It was the first study to outline the long-term implications of conditions like dissociative identity disorder.

Led by researchers at the University of Bristol, the study analyzed health and social outcomes among 1,500 people with a personality disorder 11 years after diagnosis. Researchers linked conditions like dissociative identity disorder with:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Relationship problems

Some people with dissociative identity disorder engage in substance abuse. They might turn to drugs or alcohol to numb their psychological distress. While individuals who use these substances can experience temporary relief, using drugs or alcohol over time can lead to addiction.

Coping With Dissociative Identity Disorder

Treatment can improve a person’s ability to cope with a dissociative identity disorder. Treatment for dissociative identity disorder can involve antipsychotic and antianxiety medications, family therapy, clinical hypnosis and psychotherapy approaches like cognitive behavioral therapy.

Aftercare is important for people with dissociative disorders. Therapy is a common aftercare treatment for people with dissociative identity disorder and other mental health conditions. Creative therapies allow people to express their thoughts, feelings and experiences through activities that involve art or music.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, individuals recovering from dissociative disorders should consider mindfulness techniques. For example, meditation practices can help people continue to cope with symptoms of the disorder. Mindfulness activities can reduce stress and produce a sense of calm.

Life With Dissociative Identity Disorder After Treatment

After her diagnosis, Sandra sought treatment for her dissociative identity disorder. Psychotherapy was one aspect of her treatment plan. Through psychotherapy, she learned to view her symptoms as poorly integrated parts of her overall self. She also learned ways to manage her alternate personality.

People in dissociative identity disorder recovery can still experience symptoms of the condition after treatment. However, treatment can help them learn ways to better control their distressing thoughts and alternate personalities.

After treatment, people can participate in aftercare programs. These resources include individual therapy, support group meetings and physical activities like jogging or yoga. Aftercare resources can help reduce stress in people with a dissociative identity disorder.

Can Someone With Dissociative Identity Disorder Live a Normal Life?

Living a normal life after experiencing a mental health condition, like dissociative identity disorder, is possible. People who learn ways to healthily cope with dissociative disorders can increase their chances of living what they consider to be a normal life.

Although recovering from dissociative identity disorder is not easy, many people with the condition can still spend time with loved ones. They can also keep working and lead an otherwise fulfilling life.

Treatment helped Sandra to learn ways to restructure her memories and even disrupt negative thinking patterns related to her past abuse. She was also prescribed antidepressant medications to treat her depressive thoughts.

If you’re living with a mental health disorder, like dissociative identity disorder, and deal with substance abuse problems, contact The Recovery Village. An admissions representative can offer you helpful resources for better managing your substance use and mental health disorders.

a man with a beard wearing glasses and a hoodie.
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more

American Psychiatric Association. “Patient Story: Dissociative Disorders.” (n.d.). Accessed December 27, 2018.

The Cleveland Clinic. “Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple[…]gement and Treatment.” (n.d.). Accessed December 27, 2018.

Moran, Paul, et al. “The Influence of Personality Disorder on the Future Mental Health and Social Adjustment of Young Adults: A Population-based, Longitudinal Cohort Study.” The Lancet. June 21, 2016. Accessed December 27, 2018.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Dissociative Disorders.” (n.d.). Accessed December 27, 2018.

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.