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Dissociative Identity Disorder
Fact Sheet

source: Cameron West, PhD

  • Formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder

  • Given a diagnostic category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980.

  • Characterized by the existence of two or more distinct personality states that have the capacity to take control of the body and the inability to recall personal information too great to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness. The condition cannot be due to the effect of substances or a medical condition.

  • There may be accompanying symptoms such as depression, anxiety, obsessive/compulsive behavior, eating disorders, substance abuse, etc.

  • Arises from continued and repeated sexual and/or physical abuse beginning in early childhood.

  • DID is a defensive mechanism that protects the child from the physical and emotional pain associated with abuse by separating a part of the child’s mind or consciousness to deal with the trauma of the abuse. Over time and repeated abuse, these separate parts establish identities of their own.

  • People with DID have been shown to be highly susceptible to dissociation (an alteration in consciousness wherein the individual and some aspect of his or her self or environment become disconnected or disengaged from one another), of above average intelligence, and highly creative. DID is generally diagnosed in adulthood, triggered by some factor that compels or allows the alters to emerge.

  • Systems of alter personalities differ from individual to individual, but there are generally host personalities who appear most often, opposite gender personalities, self-helper personalities, persecutory personalities who may harm themselves or others, and child personalities.

  • Switching is the process of shifting from one alter to another.

  • Co-consciousness refers to the level of shared awareness of existence and behavior between the host personality and the alters. Levels of co-consciousness vary from person to person from total lack of knowledge of others in the system to complete co-consciousness where every alter knows to some degree what each alter and the host personality are doing or thinking.

  • The object of therapy is to stabilize the person, lessen the degree of dissociation, increase cooperation and co-consciousness within the system, and often ultimately merge the alters into one personality, a process called integration.

  • Although no controlled study has been conducted in the United States, an estimate of the prevalence of DID in the U.S. population is from 1 in 500 to 1 in 5,000, or between 250,000 and 2,500,000 people.

  • Four times as many women are diagnosed as men.

  • The average person diagnosed with DID spends 7 years in the mental health system before being properly diagnosed, due to misdiagnosis and lack of training on the part of therapists to spot the disorder.

  • Two non-profit groups based in the United States that disseminate information on The Dissociative Disorders are:

    The Sidran Foundation
    The International Society for the Study of Dissociation

copyright © 2000 Cameron West, Ph.D.
Author of First Person Plural: My Life as a Multiple.








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