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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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JAN 8, 2018

Scary and unpredictable: what is dissociation and what does it feel like

Metro

There are a few different types of dissociative disorder, which include dissociative amnesia, dissociative identity disorder and depersonalisation disorder, all of which have the potential to take over the sufferer's life and severely disrupt their ability to function in daily life. Memory loss is a common symptom.

JAN 3, 2018

Female, sexually abused children more at risk for type of PTSD

SF State News

Young children who experience traumatic events such as physical or verbal abuse, family violence or loss of a parent or family member may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with dissociative features (PTSD-DISS). A new study by San Francisco State University Assistant Professor of Psychology Melissa Hagan in the Journal of Affective Disorders examines the factors that predict that diagnosis, which was added to the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual in 2013 on the basis of extensive studies of adults. 

OCT 26, 2017

Being schizophrenic doesn't mean you have multiple personalities – here’s how to tell the difference

Business Scholar

TThe nuance of mental health disorders means that lines between different conditions can be blurred — and in the case of schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder (also known as multiple personality disorder) they can often be mixed up. According to Dr Robert T Muller, a professor of psychology and specialist in trauma therapy from York University in Toronto, for those who haven't worked with people with schizophrenia or DID, certain similarities can make them easy to confuse.

Physician Reviewed

Philip Wang, M.D., Dr.P.H.
January 2016