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Dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder)

With dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder, a person may have different identities controlling their thoughts and behaviour at different times.

Dissociative identity disorder may stem from emotional problems or trauma or abuse earlier in life.

What are the symptoms of dissociative identity disorder?

Dissociative identity disorder is characterised by the presence of two or more distinct or split identities or personality states that continually have power over the person's behaviour. With dissociative identity disorder, there's also an inability to recall key personal information that is too far-reaching to be explained as mere forgetfulness. With dissociative identity disorder, there are also highly distinct memory variations, which fluctuate with the person's split personality.

The "alters" or different identities have their own age, sex, or race. Each has his or her own postures, gestures, and distinct way of talking. Sometimes the alters are imaginary people; sometimes they are animals. As each personality reveals itself and control's the individuals' behaviour and thoughts, it's called "switching". Switching can take seconds to minutes to days. When under hypnosis, the person's different "alters" or identities may be very responsive to the therapist's requests.

Along with the dissociation and multiple or split personalities, people with dissociative disorders may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Sleep disorders (insomnia, night terrors, and sleep walking)
  • Anxiety, panic attacks, and phobias  (flashbacks, reactions to stimuli or "triggers")
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Compulsions and rituals
  • Psychotic-like symptoms (including auditory and visual hallucinations)
  • Eating disorders.

Other symptoms of dissociative identity disorder may include headache, amnesia, time loss, trances, and "out of body experiences". Some people with dissociative disorders have a tendency toward self-persecution, self-sabotage, and even violence (both self-inflicted and outwardly directed). As an example, someone with dissociative identity disorder may find themselves doing things they wouldn't normally do such as speeding, reckless driving, or stealing money from their employer or friend, yet they feel they are being compelled to do it. Some describe this feeling as being a passenger in their body rather than the driver. In other words, they truly believe they have no choice.

What's the difference between dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder are often confused, but they are very different.

Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness involving chronic (or recurrent) psychosis, characterised mainly by hearing or seeing things that aren't real (hallucinations) and thinking or believing things with no basis in reality (delusions). People with schizophrenia do not have multiple personalities. Delusions are the most common psychotic symptom in schizophrenia; hallucinations, particularly hearing voices in the person's head, are apparent in about half of people.

Suicide is a risk with both schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder, although patients with multiple personalities have a history of suicide attempt more often than other psychiatric patients.

WebMD Medical Reference

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