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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.

See definition, 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.

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Editor's Choice

OCT 15, 2018

C'mon. That stuff isn't real': What it's like to suffer from dissociative panic attacks

Yahoo News Canada

In Sept. 2017 I was traveling alone for work on a flight to Shreveport, La. when I had my first dissociative panic attack. Less than an hour into the flight, it felt as though an invisible switch had been flipped. I went to adjust my seat belt and looked down at my hands in my lap. Suddenly they felt as though they didn’t belong to me. My heart was racing but I couldn’t move. Nothing around me seemed to be real and I was paralyzed with fear. I had had panic attacks before, but this felt completely different.

OCT 2, 2016

The 3 Types of Dissociative Disorders

PsychCentral.com

In the middle of a conversation about weekend plans with her husband, Margaret stood up, waved her finger, and angrily yelled at him. Instead of reacting at the moment as he had done in the past, her husband stayed still. About three minutes later, Margaret returned to her seat, appeared calm again, and picked back up on talking about the weekend.They were in counseling and their therapist had witnessed the entire thing. After Margaret sat down, the therapist asked her if she remembered standing up and yelling at her husband. Margaret gave everyone a blank stare and just said, “No.” During a dissociative episode, a person experiences a disconnection or detachment from the present moment. It can occur for a split second or last hours depending on the nature of the dissociation.

SEPT 4, 2018

What is Dissociative Identity Disorder? An Expert Explains What You Should Know

Bustle

Have you ever thought about how you organize your sense of self? You might take it for granted that you’re one person — and your sense of self, the part of you that identifies as me or I — is singular and cohesive, right? For people living with dissociative identity disorder (DID), however, the internal system of self, or identity, is organized in a different way. While DID used to be known as multiple personality disorder (MPD), and is typically dramatized in some pretty sensational ways in films and media, it remains an often misunderstood condition.

Physician Reviewed

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