Multiple Personality Disorder

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The movie, The Three Faces of Eve, has made this rare disorder better known, but the average medical practitioner will never see a case in his or her career. Patients with this condition have two or more (sometimes more than 20) different personalities within the same body and brain. These personalities may switch from being dominant and obvious to being totally suppressed in a matter of seconds.

One personality is usually present for most of the time, and the others are present for far shorter periods, but in some patients it is difficult to determine which personality is the most common one. Each personality is totally independent of the others, with its own likes and dislikes, friends and hobbies; but the different personalities may be aware of each others presence in the one body, and there may be friends and enemies between the personalities. At other times, one personality may not be aware of the activities of the other. The change from one personality to another is often triggered by stress, but sometimes a particular action, activity, place or word may trigger the change. The personalities are often opposites: shy or extrovert, teetotaller or alcoholic, sportsman or studious. A normally faithful husband may suddenly become involved with prostitutes, a rabid anti- smoker may change into a chain-smoker. The possibilities are endless. Schizophrenia is a totally separate disease, and is not a disorder of multiple personalities.

The disorder may be started by stress in childhood or adolescence (e.g. a sexual assault, emotional cruelty, repressed aggression), but in most cases, no specific cause can be found.

The aim of psychiatrists in treating this difficult disorder is to determine which personality is dominant and to promote that personality over the others in a long course (sometimes life-long) of psychotherapy. The outcome of the condition will vary significantly from one patient to another, but the incidence of suicide while in one of the alternate personalities is high.

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