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Help With Dissociative Disorders

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Dissociative disorders involve problems with memory, identity, emotion, perception, behavior and sense of self. Dissociative symptoms can potentially disrupt every area of mental functioning.

Examples of dissociative symptoms include the experience of detachment or feeling as if one is outside one’s body, and loss of memory or amnesia. Dissociative disorders are frequently associated with previous experience of trauma.

There are three types of dissociative disorders:

  • Dissociative identity disorder
  • Dissociative amnesia
  • Depersonalization/derealization disorder

See more on symptoms & treatment

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Can people actually have “multiple personalities” or a “split personality”?

Dissociative identity disorder involves a lack of connection among a person’s sense of identity, memory and consciousness. People with this disorder do not have more than one personality but rather less than one personality. (The name was changed recently from ‘multiple personality disorder’ to ‘dissociative identity disorder.’) This disorder usually arises in response to physical and sexual abuse in childhood as a means of surviving mistreatment by people who should be nurturing and protecting. Read More

Are people with dissociative identity disorder often misdiagnosed?

Yes. They are sometimes misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia, because their belief that they have different identities could be interpreted as a delusion. They sometimes experience dissociated identities as auditory hallucinations (hearing voices). Their symptoms do not improve with antipsychotic medication, but the emotions they display get flatter. This can leading to the mistaken belief that they have schizophrenia and to further ineffective increases in medication. Another common misdiagnosis is borderline personality disorder. People with dissociative identity disorder frequently also have depression. Read More

What symptoms would family members see in a person had dissociative identity disorder? Can friends/family members tell when a person with dissociative identity disorder “switches”?

You may notice sudden changes in mood and behavior. People with dissociative identity disorder may forget or deny saying or doing things that family members witnessed. Family members can usually tell when a person “switches.” The transitions can be sudden and startling. The person may go from being fearful, dependent and excessively apologetic to being angry and domineering. He or she may report not remembering something they said just minutes earlier. Read More

Once a person is being treated for a dissociative disorder, how can family members best support and help him/her?

Be open and accepting in your responses. Do not ‘take sides’ with one or another component of their identity. Rather view them as portions of the person as a whole. We are all different in different situations, but we see this as different sides of ourselves. Try to maintain that perspective with the person with dissociative disorder. Also, help them to protect themselves from any trauma or abuse. Read More

spiegel-expert

About the Expert:

Dr. David Spiegel
Professor and Associate Chair of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences
Director, Center on Stress and Health
Medical Director, Center for Integrative Medicine
Stanford University School of Medicine

Sandra's Story

Sandra was a 25-year-old soldier hospitalized for sudden changes in behavior and episodes of apparently poor memory. She was confused about her recent history, and believed that she was in a different hospital located 800 miles from the place where she had in fact been admitted. The diagnoses initially considered included schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder and substance abuse. She was started on neuroleptics (tranquilizers) with little benefit.

Read More

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Editor's Choice

MAR 19 2020

Can facial emotion perception reflect the process of integration in dissociative identity disorder?

Psychiatry Advisor

Considered by some as a coping mechanism related to chronic childhood trauma, DID causes patients to experience their thoughts, emotions, memories, and behaviors as unfamiliar, resulting in a lack of a cohesive sense of self. Recovery may involve the process of integration, which refers to “the development of a sense of self-ownership over one’s mental and bodily experience.” 

FEB 12, 2020

The one-act play GMR students performed is entitled … And Others

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The play is a journey through the mind and memory of Amanda, a 26-year-old woman. It explores the dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality syndrome) that resulted from a trauma she suffered at thirteen. Seven personas – female and male – struggle for control. With a mix of terrifying intensity, quirky humor, and heart-breaking revelations, this 30-minute one-act play leaves audiences on the edge of their seats.

DEC 5, 2019

Dissociating Isn't the Same Thing as Zoning Out

Vice

There's a lot of confusion over what the term means—even among psychologists.
Lately, people have been saying they’re “dissociating” to describe a range of experiences, including things like zoning out at the dentist, shutting down mentally after reading something cringey, and slipping into a trance-like state while listening to music. Dissociation is defined by the American Psychiatric Association as an experience of mental detachment, or disconnection between the mind and body, an unconscious coping mechanism that typically develops in response to trauma.

Physician Reviewed

Philip Wang, M.D., Dr.P.H.
August 2018