What Is Dissociative Identity Disorder and How Can We Better Understand It?

What Is Dissociative Identity Disorder and How Can We Better Understand It?
Image: Disney/Marvel

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), once called multiple personality disorder, is one of the more widely misunderstood mental illnesses. As the condition becomes explored more deeply in modern media (hello, Moon Knight) we thought it best to dive into what exactly DID is and what we can all do to better understand the condition.

What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

DID is a dissociative disorder. Dissociation is a mental process of disconnecting from your own thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity.

People will often experience some feelings of dissociation after a traumatic event, but sometimes a more complex dissociative disorder that requires treatment develops.

Dissociative identity disorder is a severe dissociative condition, defined by SANE Australia as:

A complex psychological condition where a person experiences two or more distinct identities called ‘alters’. It is usually a long-term condition that occurs in response to extreme trauma.

Those experiencing DID can often switch alters under stress and thus may not have control over which personality is dominant at any given time.

What are some of the main symptoms to watch for?

DID looks different for each and every person who suffers from it, but there are commonalities.

Some of the symptoms to look out for that have been identified by SANE Australia include multiple distinct personality states that each have their own ways of thinking and relating. Some may experience amnesia or gaps in the recall of everyday events too.

To come under DID these symptoms mustn’t be related to any sort of alcohol or substance abuse, other medical conditions or any form of cultural or religious practice.

It’s also common for those with DID to have symptoms associated with other mental health issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD or psychosis.

Experts believe DID may be caused by many factors but many living with the condition have experienced some form of severe physical, verbal or sexual abuse, usually during childhood.

Is there treatment available?

At present, there isn’t a straightforward cure for DID, but there are a range of management and support strategies on offer.

If you’ve experienced any of the symptoms above it’s important to consult with a health professional for a proper diagnosis and next steps.

SANE Australia recommends seeing a mental health professional with experience in dissociation and trauma-informed care. The goals of treatment are different; some may be seeking to integrate their personalities, others may wish to find a way for their alters to live harmoniously or to find a way to better control switching.

Understanding DID

Whether you’re suffering from DID or are just looking for a better understanding of the condition there are a number of resources out there. SANE Australia offers online support forums and factsheets. Better Health Channel is another online resource you can easily access.

A lot of the misunderstanding around DID has come from harmful depictions in the media. In the past, sufferers of DID have often been depicted in unhealthy ways to serve as plot devices for film and television.

More recently, some portrayals of DID in television, like in The United States of Tara, Mr Robot and now Moon Knight, have been commended for their careful portrayal of the condition. Shows like this can be a more accessible way for the general public to gain an understanding of DID – when handled correctly.

If you or someone you love is in need of support, services like Beyond Blue and Lifeline (13 11 14) are available 24/7. If you’re in an emergency, please call 000. 

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