Dissociative Identity Disorder: A Myth or Reality?

Have you ever listened to a conversation of a person with multiple personalities? Does Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ring a bell? Surely you know at least one case of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or multiple personality disorder. It’s common to see this disorder portrayed in movies or literature. Discover with this article everything you need to know about dissociative identity disorder and much more.

Dissociative Identity disorder
Dissociative Identity disorder

What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or multiple personality disorder is a mental disorder distinguished by the existence of two or more personalities or identities in one person.

This disorder is part of a broader category called Dissociative Disorders. The common feature is that there is no congruity between processes such as emotion, thoughts and sensations and it’s origin is not physical.

Dissociative identity disorder is rare even though recently it seems to be more common than years ago. Even though it’s a disorder commonly known, for psychologist and health professionals there are still many unanswered questions. However, in this article we will find out more about the symptoms, causes, treatment and more.

Dissociative Identity Disorder: Symptoms

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth edition), these are the signs and symptoms of the dissociative identity disorder:

  • Two or more distinct identities or personality states. Each personality has their own pattern of relationships and thinking about the environment. On occasions there are alterations in behavior, memory, perception, cognition, etc.
  • Amnesia or memory problems recalling everyday events, personal information and/or traumatic events.
  • The person must be distressed by the disorder or have trouble functioning in one or more major life areas due to the disorder.
  • The alteration is not part of normal cultural or religious practices, where multiplicity is appropriate. An example of this is in children where an imaginary friend is not necessarily indicative of a mental illness.
  • The symptoms are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (such as blackouts or chaotic behavior during alcohol intoxication) or a general medical condition (such as complex partial seizures).
Dissociative Identity Disorder
Dissociative Identity Disorder

 Dissociative identity Disorder: Characteristics

  • It’s more common in women than men however it’s rare in both.
  • In this disorder there can be up to a hundred personalities within the same person, nonetheless it’s unusual more than ten.  
  • The different personalities can differ completely amongst themselves: For example, the main identity can be a responsible, efficient and inoffensive worker (A), another can be a radical, free-spirited and aggressive teenager (B) and the less frequent a generous and undecided old man (C).
  • Not all the personalities know each other: It’s possible for (A) not to know anything about (B) and (C). However, (B) and (C) can even judge and talk amongst themselves.
  • Different personalities can have different physical competencies: One can be extremely strong or have a 20-20 vision while others might not have the same competencies or have completely different ones.
  • The identities don’t always remember what the other identity did: Some personalities can recall complete or partial experiences lived by other identities, nevertheless other personalities might not have an idea what happened to them while they weren’t active.
  • The control of the person can be done by different personalities in different moments: they can also take control at the same time.
  • Identity changes can happen suddenly: It’s possible to switch from different personalities without warning. These transitions can be attributed that one identity feels the need to escape or be protected by a stronger personality.
  • People with DID can lead a “normal life”: It’s even possible that people don’t notice the person has multiple personalities.

Dissociative Identity Disorder: Causes

Interest in this disorder among psychologist and other medical professionals is increasing. However, today we don’t have much information about the causes. Most of the research done about dissociative identity disorder are case studies.

Dissociative identity disorder develops during childhood even though it’s not diagnosed until later in life. It’s possible that family members remember clues or hints like different voices during childhood. According to behaviorists, a person develops multiple identities to protect themselves from punishment or critique.

The main reason underlying dissociative identity disorders are sexual assault or physical abuse during childhood, even though other experiences might cause this disorder too. Many specialists believe the amnesia these people suffer and the identities protecting each other is a way of repressing these horrible memories.

Dissociative identity disorder: Movies and Tv shows

Throughout the years several movies and tv shows have been very creative at showing people with dissociative identity disorder. Before watching any of the videos be sure you know how the movie ends, we don’t want to spoil any of these films for you.

In Psycho, a psychologist explains how Norman Bates has two different identities and how one took over.

The Tv show, Sybil is the story of Shirley Ardell Mason who was believed to have dissociative identity disorder since she was a child.

Fight Club is a perfect example of how some personalities are not aware of the others.

Identity shows the amnesia behind having multiple identities.

Split is a movie that shows how the different personalities have different assets and even cognitive abilities.

Dissociative Identity Disorder: Treatment

People with dissociative identity disorder face many obstacles in several areas of their life. Their mental illness can cause negative thoughts about themselves and reality.

Professional help is needed when having DID in order to lessen the pain and improve the quality of life. A psychiatric pharmacological treatment is always prescribed as well as therapy.

Some therapists treating dissociative identity disorder have to be very flexible in order to adapt to the different personalities. It’s also of great importance that the patient knows and understands his traumas, that way it will be easier to confront it without swapping to other personalities.

Fortunately, people with dissociative identity disorder can work, maintain satisfactory relationships and lead a normal day to day life. Nonetheless, it’s a difficult disorder to control and can cause pain to not only the person themselves but also their loved ones.

Dissociative identity disorder: myth or reality?

There are tons of study cases made about people with dissociative identity disorder. However, there are also many skeptical people who doubt the existence of this disorder.

If a murderer claims he doesn’t remember the crime because another personality did it? Moral reasons lead many people to be critical about this disorder. It’s possible to fake having different identities which make it difficult to identify if a person really has the disorder or is a simple strategy. This situation opens arguments and suspicions on the veracity of the disorder.

Other professionals have argued that patients are over analyzed and overdiagnosed according to our biased views. This should be encouraging for forensic psychologists to study and shed some light on this issue.

Up to this day, we don’t know, however, it is interesting to note that recently studies have been done in an effort to see any brain differences in those diagnosed with DID versus those who aren’t. According to Eric Vermetten M.D. Ph.D. and others, their study “is the first to demonstrate smaller hippocampal and amygdalar volumes in female patients with dissociative identity disorder, compared to healthy female subjects.” Do these brain changes prove that there actually is a personality switch in individuals affected with DID or does it prove nothing? Unfortunately, we still do not know.

Last but not least, you can check this America Undercover HBO documentary about different people with dissociative identity disorder telling their story, the obstacles they face and how professionals deal with their case.

Thank you for reading this article. We invite you to comment below! 🙂

This article is originally in Spanish written by Ainhoa Arranz Aldana with a special collaboration from Valerie Sidelkivska. 


Eric Vermetten, M. P. (2006, April). Hippocampal and Amygdalar Volumes in Dissociative Identity Disorder. Am J Psychiatry, 163(4), 630-636.

PM, G. (2009, March). Dissociative identity disorder: a controversial diagnosis. Psychiatry (1550-5952) (PSYCHIATRY), 6(3), 24-29.

Leave a Reply