Mental illnesses and disorders are far more common that we thought, say, even 30 years ago. Some of the reasons are that specialists know more and are better educated and researched. And diagnoses are up, and the stigmas attached to mental health are thankfully down.
Something called Dissociative Identity Disorder is far more rare than a mental illness like depression or a general anxiety disorder but it is sometimes seen in people who have undergone severe trauma in their past. This trauma is usually of the most severe : childhood sexual abuse, systemic beatings and physical abuse, as well as mental and emotional terror inflicted on helpless individuals. While the vast majority of DID cases stem from childhood trauma (usually before the ages of 8-10), it's not always the case.
DID is a very misunderstood illness because it has been so dramatically and incorrectly portrayed in movies and other media outlets. Once known as Multiple Personality Disorder, "patients" are seen in movies as permanently switching from one persona (known as "alters") to the other on often very rapid successions and many a character on screen has used the condition known as DID as a way out of taking responsibility for their crimes or moral transgressions. Another term used in the past has been "split personality".
So what is DID exactly?
Disassociate Identity Disorder is often considered the most severe of Mental Disorders and entails a person actually detaching from her original personality and entering another. Sometimes it's a stronger one (who protects the main personality), an angry one (who may want to avenge abuse) or even one that reverts to being a child again. DID serves to protect the patient from past trauma and allows an alter to speak for the patient instead, saving more pain and terror for the patient.
Sign of DID aside from alters:
-Self medication with alcohol or drugs
-Binge eating or starving
-Suicidal thoughts or actions
Another very frightening symptom of DID is what is called 'lost time'. Hours, or even days can go by with a person living their lives and possibly causing harm to themselves or experiencing trauma and emerging from lost-time with no memory of their experiences during those hours. This is dangerous for many reasons; they may be harmed and are unaware, they may have used drugs or excessive alcohol or not taken medications and not know it, or gone on binges like eating, shopping or gambling and be unaware for weeks until products or bills start piling up. This lost-time is dangerous time for any person living with DID.
Alters may be a different race from the patient or the opposite sex or even a non-human alter like someone from another planet or an animal. They may speak differently (with a higher or lower voice depending on age and gender), have a different accent or even speak in a different language. The patient may be unaware of what she does when her alter is in charge. For example, an alter could charge thousands of dollars while on an online spending binge and the patient may not know until the credit bill comes in. Alters may have no idea that other alters exist. The disassociation can be extreme.
Often times an alter will come out at very stressful times, in order to protect the person from current trauma. Associations with past traumas are common ways to see an alter emerge. Alters could be as few as one or as many as 50 or more and it can be terribly confusing and frightening for the patient.
Is there a cure?
No, there is no cure but treatment can be very effective. Since people suffering from DID often have other conditions like depression or physical ailments, a comprehensive plan including talk therapy, medication and a diet-and-exercise regime is considered the best approach.
Hypnosis and recreational and arts therapists can also provide therapeutic outlet.
A diagnosis is key and a strong support system from the patients family, friends, community, and medical team.
Support groups can also help - Out of the Fog that specializes in disorders like this. You can find them here :
Revolution Health has a support group and chat board : http://www.revolutionhealth.com/groups/dissociative-identity-disorder-support-group
The medical community also has great support and research tools. Here are some :
MedicineNet : http://www.medicinenet.com/dissociative_identity_disorder/article.htm
National Alliance on Mental Health : http://www.nami.org/Content/ContentGroups/Helpline1/Dissociative_Identity_Disorder_(formerly_Multiple_Personality_Disorder).htm
Have you or someone you know been affected by DID? Would you like to share your experiences with us, or do you have questions that you'd like to ask? Please post your questions or experiences below, we'd love to hear from you-
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