Once called multiple personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a disorder defined by multiple personalities being present in one person. The validity of dissociative identity disorder diagnoses was challenged for many years, which has lead to dissociative identity disorder misconceptions being passed as fact.
Below are seven common dissociative identity disorder myths and facts. Understanding facts which dispel these myths can increase understanding of this disorder and help remove some of the stigma surrounding it.
1. Myth: Dissociative identity disorder is extremely rare.
Fact: Dissociative identity disorder has been found to occur in as many as 1% of the general population.
While 1% of the population may seem relatively small, dissociative identity disorder prevalence is much higher than many would believe. Some studies have found a diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder in as many as 6% of patients in clinical settings with highly traumatized patients. It is believed that more people may be affected by this disorder that haven’t been diagnosed since dissociative identity disorder can be difficult to identify if only one personality presents to a treatment provider.
2. Myth: People with dissociative identity disorder are violent.
Fact: People with dissociative identity disorder are no more violent than the general population.
While the idea of dissociative identity disorder violent alters has frequently been the premise of horror movies, it is not supported by what is known about dissociative identity disorder. There is no link between increased criminal activity and dissociative identity disorder. The false belief that people dissociative identity disorder are violent is dangerous as it causes unnecessary fear further stigmatizing and isolating people who have a serious mental illness.
Not only are people with dissociative identity disorder no more likely to be violent than other people, but they are also more likely to be the victims of violence. Dissociative identity disorder has been traced to childhood trauma. Individuals with this disorder are more likely to be re-traumatized and experience abuse from multiple people throughout their lives.
3. Myth: Dissociative identity disorder is a personality disorder.
Fact: Dissociative identity disorder and personality disorder are separate mental health conditions.
While dissociative identity disorder was previously referred to as multiple personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder is not a personality disorder. Instead, dissociative identity disorder is categorized as a dissociative disorder in the DSM-5. Dissociative disorders involve loss of contact with oneself and usually begin in childhood, while personality disorders are characterized by a fixed pattern of personality traits that inhibit a person’s ability to live a normal, stable life.
4. Myth: Dissociative identity disorder is the same as schizophrenia.
Fact: Dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia are not related.
The misconception regarding dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia is largely caused by focusing on a few key parts of symptoms rather than the disorder as a whole. Dissociative identity disorder refers to a condition in which multiple fully formed personality alters co-exist and shift within one person. Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder in which a person experiences extreme delusions and hallucinations.
5. Myth: It is widely understood that the portrayal of dissociative identity disorder in movies and TV is sensationalized.
Fact: The image of dissociative identity disorder in the media has created confusion regarding the symptoms of this disorder.
Dissociative identity disorder movies, such as 2017’s “Split,” may get some aspects of the disorder correct, but tend to get the majority wrong. Dissociative identity disorder symptoms are exaggerated in the media and in many cases, the symptoms shown are entirely fictional. Many people assume that the symptoms shown on TV and in the movies have at least have some basis in reality. Even if a person takes media’s portrayal with a grain of salt and assumes symptoms are exaggerated, they may still believe many falsehoods about the condition to be true. Switching between states usually does not occur as frequently or dramatically as is portrayed by media; in most cases, states subtly and covertly shift.
An additional problem with the media portrayal of dissociative identity disorder is the stigma it creates. The negative stereotypes of the disorder perpetuated by TV and movies may discourage people living with the condition from getting help.
6. Myth: Dissociative identity disorder is always obvious
Fact: Dissociative identity disorder is difficult to diagnose.
Researchers have found that on average a person will receive up to four incorrect diagnoses before being accurately diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. A person may spend twelve or more years in the mental health system before this correct diagnosis is given.
There are multiple contributing factors to this problem of misdiagnosis. First, most patients with this disorder do not present seeking help for this disorder. Instead, a person is more likely to seek treatment for symptoms of the disorder that disrupt their daily functioning, such as mood dysregulation or constant fatigue. In some cases, a person may seek treatment for childhood trauma and be unaware of their dissociative identities. Misdiagnosis can also be due to the difficulty of distinguishing the signs of dissociative identity disorder, especially in outpatient settings. The most obvious symptom — multiple identities — may not be identified unless a personality shift occurs during a therapy session.
Even within the medical community, there are misconceptions about dissociative identity disorder. This misinformation likely inhibits the diagnostic process as all professionals may not be familiar with the disorder and its specific symptoms. Further, despite evidence asserting its validity, some providers may still not believe that a dissociative identity disorder diagnosis is valid.
7. Myth: Dissociative identity disorder isn’t real
Fact: Dissociative identity disorder is a real, diagnosable disorder.
Research has confirmed the existence and validity of dissociative identity disorder. Guides to properly diagnose this disorder are emerging and structured interviews have been found to identify symptoms successfully. Researchers have found evidence of dissociative identity disorder around the world using scientifically validated measures. Failure to recognize the existence of dissociative identity disorder prevents individuals with this disorder from receiving beneficial treatment.
If you or someone you know struggles with a mental health disorder, such as dissociative identity disorder, and substance use, The Recovery Village can help. The Recovery Village provides comprehensive care for individuals affected by substance use disorders and co-occurring conditions. Speak with a representative today to learn more about treatment options.
Webmd.com. “Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder).” Accessed May 17, 2019. Nami.org. “Dissociative Disorders.” Accessed May 17, 2019. Dorahy, Martin, Brand, Bethany, & Sar, Vedat. “Dissociative identity disorder: An empirical overview.” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, May 1, 2014. Accessed May 17, 2019. Loewenstein, R. “Dissociation debates: everything you know is wrong.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, September 2018. Accessed May 17, 2019. Brand, Bethany; Sar, Vedat; Stavropoulos, Pam; Kruger, Christa; Korzekwa, Marilyn; Martinez-Taboas, Alfonso; and Middleton, Warwick. “Separating Fact from Fiction: An Empirical Examination of Six Myths About Dissociative Identity Disorder.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry, August 2016. Accessed May 17, 2019.
Webmd.com. “Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder).” Accessed May 17, 2019.
Nami.org. “Dissociative Disorders.” Accessed May 17, 2019.
Dorahy, Martin, Brand, Bethany, & Sar, Vedat. “Dissociative identity disorder: An empirical overview.” Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, May 1, 2014. Accessed May 17, 2019.
Loewenstein, R. “Dissociation debates: everything you know is wrong.” Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, September 2018. Accessed May 17, 2019.
Brand, Bethany; Sar, Vedat; Stavropoulos, Pam; Kruger, Christa; Korzekwa, Marilyn; Martinez-Taboas, Alfonso; and Middleton, Warwick. “Separating Fact from Fiction: An Empirical Examination of Six Myths About Dissociative Identity Disorder.” Harvard Review of Psychiatry, August 2016. Accessed May 17, 2019.
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