What is Multiple Personality Disorder?
Multiple personality disorder is characterized by someone experiencing more than one person, each with their own identity, in their personality. These identities take control over a person’s thoughts, speech, feelings, memories and actions.
This condition is also called dissociative identity disorder (DID). It is thought about two percent of the population experience dissociative disorders. They tend to be more prevalent in females than males. (1)
Dissociation is the way our brain helps us deal with stressful or traumatic events. It generally describes a feeling of being disconnected from yourself. A person can also feel separated from the world around them.
When people dissociate for a long period of time, a disorder of this type can develop. This is particularly the case if it happens when a person is very young.
Many people who have a dissociative disorder have experienced traumatic events in childhood. These include emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Dissociation is a natural, uncontrollable response which helps people cope with bad experiences.
Multiple personality disorder can develop when people use this mechanism to protect themselves. They create additional identities in their personality. They then attribute the traumatic events as happening to the other identity.
Over time, these alternate identities prevent a child from forming their own identity.
Dissociation can also be linked to events like war, natural disasters, accidents or other traumatic events.
Symptoms of multiple personality disorder might include those associated with other dissociative disorders. We will detail the main symptoms of each disorder. (3)
Multiple Personality Disorder Symptoms
Someone with this condition will have two or more distinct and different personalities. Each personality will have individual personal histories, behavior traits, thoughts and feelings.
The individual personalities can be attributed with names, gender, age, mannerisms and preferences. They could manifest as children, or in a shy person, a more confident adult.
These identities will react differently to their surroundings and the people around them. Each personality will have its own voice and type of speech.
A person who has this disorder may be aware of the alternate personalities. It could be the changes are observed by others. The identities will shift from one to another, each using their own voice and name.
A person with this condition might feel like they are losing control of themselves. They could feel like one of the other personalities is taking over. It could be like having a stranger living in their own body. They might refer to themselves as “we” rather than “I”. Behavior can often be out of character.
Someone with this disorder might experience gaps in their memory. This could relate to everyday routines, personal information, history or events. They might find items in their homes or clothes in their wardrobe that they can’t remember buying. These could be things they might never consider wearing or using. (4)
People with this type of dissociation will experience memory loss, and have no memories of some periods in their life. They will not to be able to recall personal information or things which happened during that time. (5)
This type of dissociative behavior is linked to adopting a new identity and traveling somewhere. There will be no memory of the place or the events afterwards. (6)
This involves a feeling of looking at the world around you and thinking it is not real. A person might see everything as foggy or lifeless. The person may see objects change size, shape or color.
Even though it seems unreasonable, they might see other people as robots. (7)
The symptoms of depersonalisation include a person looking at themselves from the outside. They look at the world around them as an observer. It will feel like they are watching themselves in a movie.
Emotions will be observed rather than felt. They will be disconnected from what they are thinking and feeling. It could seem like they are floating away from their body and are not actually connected to it.
Boundaries between themselves and others will be viewed without confidence and surety. (8)
In the case of derealisation and depersonalisation, people are aware of what is real and what is not. They know that what they are experiencing is unusual but cannot control it. It can be very distressing. This is the case, even though someone might appear to lack emotions or not react to these situations. (9)
There are no stages associated with multiple personality disorder. There are, however, some criteria which assist medical professionals with diagnoses.
There will be two or more distinct and separate personalities and identities. This can be described in certain cultures as possession. There will be a marked lack of continuity in the person’s sense of who they are. They will feel their actions are out of their control and will not think about any consequences.
There will also be changes in their emotions, memory, perception, behavior, cognition and sensory motor functions.
These characteristics might be reported by the person with this condition. They could also be seen by others.
There will be significant gaps when attempting to recall important personal information. Everyday events and/or situations which are traumatic will also have intermittent details. This recall will be inconsistent with normal forgetfulness.
The symptoms a person experiences will cause a lot of distress. They will also interfere with all aspects of life and an ability to function.
The symptoms and signs are not attributable to what is seen as broadly accepted religious or cultural practices.
In the case of a child they are not seen as imaginary friends or fantasy play.
The symptoms cannot be attributed to the psychological effects associated with substance abuse or another medical condition. For example, chaotic behavior or blackouts as a result of alcohol intoxication. (10)
There are treatments available which help people suffering from multiple personality disorder to manage their symptoms. A full recovery is possible.
The main treatments for this condition are counselling and psychotherapy. The aim of these treatments is to help people deal with any underlying causes of the condition. They aim to assist people with managing occasions when they become dissociated and disconnected.
Sometimes called talking therapies, these can be conducted on a one to one basis or in a group setting. They will involve exploring traumatic events which have happened in the past. Understanding why a person dissociates helps them develop mechanisms to cope. (11)
There are no medications to specifically treat this condition. Certain drugs like antidepressants might be prescribed for associated conditions, such as anxiety, panic attacks and depression. (12)
What is multiple personality disorder? Multiple personality disorder is characterized by someone experiencing more than one person, each with their own identity, in their personality. These identities take control over a person’s thoughts, speech, feelings, memories and actions.
What are the signs of multiple personality disorder? This condition can make a person feel uncertain about their own identity and who they might be. They feel there are other identities with their own names, mannerisms and voices living alongside their own personality. They can feel like a stranger in their own body and have no control over their alter egos.
How do you develop multiple personality disorder? The exact causes of this condition are not completely understood. It is possible that it may be the result of a traumatic event in a person’s past. This could be physical, emotional or sexual abuse as a child, being involved in a war, or being kidnapped. It manifests as a way of switching off from reality but does not go away when the trauma is no longer present. (13)
How are you diagnosed for multiple personality disorder? Diagnosis of this condition can be challenging. There are set criteria which a mental health professional uses to determine this condition.
What is the best treatment for multiple personality disorder? Counselling and psychotherapy are the treatments generally used to help with this condition. Medication might be prescribed to treat associated symptoms.
What are the long term complications of multiple personality disorder? This condition can interfere with a person’s ability to function, both socially and in employment. It can also lead to suicidal tendencies. (14)
Is multiple personality disorder considered a disability? This condition is not considered a disability, but there are occasions when social security benefits might be paid. (15)
Is there a cure for multiple personality disorder? There are treatments available which help people succeed in managing the symptoms of this condition. Dealing with the underlying cause can help people cope with multiple personality disorder and possibly cure it.
Is multiple personality disorder life threatening? Although not life threatening in itself, the condition can lead to suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Multiple personality disorder is a complex condition where two or more identities are present in one person. These identities can have their own gender, names voices and behaviors.
Although this condition can be difficult to diagnose, there are guidelines to assist medical professionals.
Once a diagnosis is made, treatments are available which help people to deal with the disorder. The good news is that, with therapy and/or medication, symptoms can be managed and the impact on daily life improved as a result.