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What is Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder

Updated on May 10, 2012

What is multiple personality disorder?

Multiple personality disorder, which is know known as dissociative identity disorder is an extremely serious condition related to early experiences of extreme, repeated, often sadistic and/or ritualized abuse, most often by a parent or caretaker.

There are several things which often confuse people when talking about this disorder. The first is the idea of schizophrenia being the same as multiple or split personalities disorder or meaning that someone has more than 1 personality. The "schism" or "split" in  Schizophrenia refers to the loss of contact with reality. It has nothing to do with multiple personality disorder. Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder usually characterized by hallucinations, delusions, extremely odd thinking, unusual behaviors, loss of contact with reality and significant deterioration of functioning. A person suffering from schizophrenia may hear voices of other people, but often describe them as externally generated, as though someone were talking to them. They may say and do odd or bizarre things, but they are essentially the same person (albeit a very ill one).

Another misconception about multiple personality or dissociative identity disorder is the severity of this disorder. These are truly troubled people who have experienced things so horrible that the only way to psychologically survive them was to dissociate (hence the new name) or disengage with their conscious self. Some people describe going out of their body and watching themselves from outside. This is the minds most basic and most dramatic defense parallel to "let's get the hell outa here." It's important to remember that this is not a conscious process, although over time, people can train themselves to dissociate in situations of repeated trauma.

A similar phenomena has been observed in victims of domestic violence, kidnappings, significant accidents, war situations, rape and basically any other situation where people are physically or psychologically threatened with annihilation or destruction of their very soul. Leonard Shengold has written a book entitled Soul Murder, talking about the post traumatic process. His title most vividly and concisely expresses what is at the core of the dissociative response.

So, what does dissociative identity disorder look like?

People with Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID frequently exhibit other psychological problems such as anxiety or mood disorders and may come into treatment for these problems having no idea that they dissociate. They may note and be troubled by periods of time which seem to go missing, odd reactions from people, being told things you said you have no recollection of, finding clothes you don't remember buying, finding money missing from your account etc.

Typically there is a central or core personality which is generally the one that interacts with the world. There is also often a personality which approximates the age at which the abuse began or who marks an extreme event. If the core personality is quiet and subservient as many chronically abused people have been conditioned to be, there is often an opposite alter who embodies all the qualities they either do not have or cannot access. The alter may be a brash, fearless, say it straight kinda gal/guy. Alters, or other personalities can be of the same or opposite gender, but are typically somewhat one dimensional and limited. There can be one or many alters, some may even be preverbal and only able to express through  behaviors.

Alter's typically come out in times of stress and fulfill the function/s the core personality is unable/unwilling to do. If a situation requires a confrontation, the more dominant, say it straight personality takes the stage. We all do this to a certain extent, we even say that "we put on our game face", but for most of us, this is a simple, barely conscious and fluid process. What has happened in DID is that the central ego or self has been so threatened that it has, literally cracked and broken off into alters in order to save the sanity of the core personality.

These people were often very young children when these unthinkable things began to happen - and that is what happens, it is literally unthinkable, you know when sometimes you feel the bounds of your imagination stretched - like what would it be like to see $1 000 000 000 dollars, most of us struggle to actually visualize and imagine that amount of money. A similar process happens here, but for protective reasons, when the unthinkable happens, dissociation is a mechanism of survival. To complicate matters, a person may have within them both a suicidal personality and one that wants to live, a mute and a verbal personality, a wild child and a compliant overachiever. What is even more fascinating is that the different personalities not only act and see the world differently, but can actually also suffer from different medical disorders, so you can have a personality with diabetes and one without. Needless to say, this seriously complicates the treatment, let alone the person's life.

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I hope it goes without saying that anyone suffering from DID need both skillful and multi-disciplinary intervention. You need a good psychiatrist, therapist and support team, and not just good, really skilled and knowledgeable in this particular area.  This is an extremely serious disorder involving, literally someone's core self, and a core so fragile and deeply damaged that extreme care is needed in treatment. Techniques such as hypnosis, regression therapy etc are absolutely contraindicated, no, no, no. These techniques can be extremely dangerous and precipitate a psychotic break or trigger a regressive and possibly suicidal state.

A combination of medications, long term psychotherapy, crisis planning, support team structure, and a good deal of patience is what is needed. It's kind of ridiculous to expect that damage from many years of abuse could be undone in a few sessions (and stay away from anyone who says it can). A good treatment plan should be individually tailored and involve a range of supports from family to friends and community, doctors, therapists, advocates and crisis clinicians. It needs to be proactive, in other words, don't wait for a crisis to happen, figure out what you'll do & it'll be easier when it does. It should also involve regular check in's with various team members. DID is probably one of the most severe psychiatric disorders, and one that is completely due to environment and human influence. It seems our worst enemies are often ourselves.


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    • Lola1929 profile image


      7 years ago from Oregon

      I was diagnosed with MPD in the early 1970s. It's a hard, confusing, debilitating disorder. I wrote a short story called, "The Clock" you might be interested in reading. Your article was very well done. Thank you.

      Love from Lola

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      The above comment is by Vanne, as I was not registered before the comment was written, if you would like to communicate regarding. Thank you.

    • profile image

      8 years ago


      We have just discovered that my husband of 21 years has DID. We have always known there were unresolved problems from the past, but we had no idea how traumatic things were. He had a massive panic attack 3 yrs ago and began therapy with a counselor, but this was a cognitive therapist, so he just worked with him and us with dealing with the reactions to the anxiety. The past 2 years have been very traumatic to our family due to destructive personal events, but through all of it, we now know what we are dealing with. Facebook was absolutely telling, as alternate identities were created and events went on that could not be explained or excused away, as I now see we have been doing for years. Losses of time which were never more than a few hours became noticeable, as my husband thought I was losing my mind and delusional because he had no memories of arguments, conversations, relationships, etc. We now have put the pieces together because of the wonderful information and help on the internet. It has answered so many questions for us and explained many things, while introducing the uncertainty of the future. Over the Christmas break I have been able to meet by their choice and introduction solely, by name, these that I have always known and lived with. I told my husband that I feel like I was a blind woman and people were walking in and out interacting with me, but not letting me know they were different people. It is an amazing survival skill that the human mind has, but it is so very sad. I have now met all by name and they speak in their person all the time, although I am so very careful, as I know they carry so much pain, possible harming memories if not dealt with correctly, and many manipulating survival skills. The baby has shared some of the unspeakable events that happened, along with the dominant personality now, too. I will not tell my husband the details which I have learned, but only say they are sharing things that I cannot share with you at this time and he is okay with this.

      He is now wondering, though, how much does he really know of his life, through his perception ... how much does he really know about his life and who he is. I don't know how to help him with this. We are looking for help, but with his health problems, work has been very difficult and we do not have insurance for him at this time.

      How can I make sure that I help him till we can get him professional help he knows he needs. He is very open about this and wants help, but you probably understand how hard it is for them to trust and for good reason.

      I am constantly being tested and they all love me, but I do know that there is one or two that are the separators, in that, if anyone gets close to what went on in his life, they push away or try to destruct the relationship, as thy have been doing here.

      We want to keep our family of three sons 20, 16, and 11 together, love God, and know a great deal of patience and loving forgiveness, along with openness goes into this. I feel that there can be healing from the pain that is carried within.

      One evidence and hope of this for us is that we just found out that two identities integrated. We believe last year before we even knew what was going on, perhaps after he went to his father's grave which he had never visited and had never dealt with his father's death... it is amazing. He has always wore glasses and we thought our new eye doctor was incompetent ... he now does not need glasses and lifts weights daily (a very healthy, but new activity). Before we knew what we were dealing with, I used to tell him and the counselor, that it was like he had an arm that was stunted in growth and when he worked through the death of his father, it was like it grew into the man.

      I thought that this would help the mood issues and anger he had within him, only to find the deeper pain within. His father walked out at 3, and he had an extremely abusive and powerful stepfather who came into his life, along with a mother who ignored the abuse and abused his sister which he witnessed, and then his biological father which he had a relationship with died when he was 17. Most of the personalities began at this very young age of 3-4 and have been with him though the abuse and abandonment, knowing our sons, marriage, and business as theirs as well.

      Any assistance you could give would be most appreciated until we can get the professional help in person we need. I don't want to lose this person to this and will help in any way I am able. Please know that none are abusive or violent, but we do know they can be manipulative and aggressive.

      Please help in any way you are able.

      thank you,

    • dr c profile imageAUTHOR

      dr c 

      9 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area

      Hi George-

      Thanks for your comment, I'm glad you found the information helpful. I'm sorry it has been so hard for you to find treatment. I would suggest that a GP is not your best bet as they don't have the training to deal with this type of disorder. I would start by getting a referral to a good psychiatrist and then try to find a good clinician who you can work with - You may have more luck at the psychologist level as they are trained specifically for these types of issues. DID, as you know is an extremely complex disorder and requires intensive and long term treatment. I wish you all the best in accessing services.

    • profile image

      George Stuart 

      9 years ago

      Hi everyone i have DID and think this article is one of the best i have ever read, i like the fact that you state that DID is not schizophrenia many people confuse DID with this condition.

      People with DID hear voices which are from inside themselves and this is a very big difference from that of schizophrenia where the voices are all external to the person.

      Finding good therapy is very hard in fact dam near impossible it has takne me ten years to get a decent long term therapist, My GP wont offer any help have changed GP 7 times in 4 years inorder to seek help. They just dont want to go near the trauma my soul contains.

      Thank you for this really fab article

      George x

    • Jewels profile image


      10 years ago from Australia

      I understand the Multiple Personality Disorder term was changed,, ie no longer used. I see you use it's replacement in conjunction, being D.I.D. We all use different personality traits, though we pivot from our main character. The key word to the terminology then is Disorder?

      I'm pleased you stressed that regression and hypnosis etc., are a no go zone for these client types. It's not because these therapies are irreputable. It's because these therapies go into deep psychological levels, into conscious, subconscious and unconscious parts of the mind. If a person's mind is unstable, delving further can create irreversible damage if they were to hit upon traumatic episodes they could not deal with.

    • Pam Roberson profile image

      Pam Roberson 

      10 years ago from Virginia

      I agree with Blake in that you did a good job in explaining the difference between schizophrenia and DID. So many people get them confused. This was very interesting to read.

      (Okay, i can't leave without also laughing at Blake's DID episode! That was too funny!)

    • Helengi profile image


      10 years ago from London, England

      Thanks for a really interesting article. I look forward to reading more of your hubs.

    • Blake Flannery profile image

      Blake Flannery 

      10 years ago from United States

      Blake: Interesting read

      Jimmy: Stupid boring article

      Steven: I don't get it

      Blake again: How did I get on hubpages?

      Seriously, I am glad that dissociative identity disorder is pretty rare. I joke, but it would be extremely difficult to cope. Thanks for mentioning the difference of schizophrenia, which is much more common.

    • dr c profile imageAUTHOR

      dr c 

      10 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area


      Thanks for your comment, always good to screen your shrink :)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Wow, I had a psychatrist when I was 18 yrs old who used to tell me about his own outerbody experiences. It is kind of scary to think that the person treating you is probably sicker than you are. Just some thoughts to ponder, If you do go to a doctor, make sure, they are not worse off than you. good reading :-)

    • profile image

      dr c 

      10 years ago

      Thank you so much! Glad you liked it

    • AEvans profile image


      10 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      You article is also fantastic and informative !!! :)


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