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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 or did 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, abuse, or self harm. Read More


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

APR 30 2021 
6 Truths About Dissociative Identity Disorder, From AnnaLynne McCord's Public Diagnosis

Mind Body Green

When 90210 actress and activist AnnaLynne McCord said she wanted to film her session with me discussing her dissociative identity disorder (DID) diagnosis, I was thrilled. DID, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is one of the most complex and misunderstood psychiatric conditions. People with the disorder experience tremendous amounts of shame and often suffer in silence for years before getting a diagnosis. 

APR 26 2021

Annalyne Mccord Recently Opened Up About Her Struggle With Dissociative Identity Disorder—What Does That Mean?


Recently, 90210 and Nip/Tuck star AnnaLynne McCord, 33, opened up about her struggle with dissociative identity disorder diagnosis (DID). Trauma is the main cause of dissociative identity disorder. “It occurs predominantly in people who have had extreme trauma in their childhood, especially abuse,” Dr. Gail Saltz, MD, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, explains. “It is much more common in women than men. The actual mechanism of cause is unclear but it is believed to be a neurobiological reaction to trauma.” 

APR 12, 2021

Dissociative Identity Disorder & Schizophrenia: What’s the Difference?
Psych Central

Schizophrenia and DID are complex mental health conditions often confused for one another. While they do have overlapping symptoms, they’re different in several ways. People with schizophrenia experience symptoms that affect their thoughts, behaviors, and feelings and not different personalities. Dissociative identity disorder used to be known as multiple personality disorder (and is sometimes called split personality). Someone with DID has two or more distinct identity states. People with schizophrenia don’t have this. While there’s some overlap between the two conditions, DID and schizophrenia are different in many ways.