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Dissociative Identity Disorder

Before explaining what Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder) is, we first must define dissociation.

Dissociation is a mental process in which a person's thoughts and feelings may be separated from his or her immediate reality.

Most mental health practitioners believe that dissociation exists on a continuum. At one end of the continuum, are instances of dissociation that many people experience such as daydreaming or highway hypnosis. At the other end, though, is chronic and complex dissociation which may impair an individual's ability to function in the "real" world.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (p. 529, 2000), Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is:

  1. The presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self).
  2. At least two of these identities or personality states recurrently take control of the person's behavior.
  3. Inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.
  4. The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., blackouts or chaotic behavior during Alcohol Intoxication) or a general medical condition (e.g., complex partial seizures). NOTE: In children, the symptoms are not attributable to imaginary playmates or other fantasy play.

While the causes of DID are not entirely known, it is believed that the disorder stems from physical or sexual abuse in childhood. It is believed that children develop this disorder when during abusive situations they slip into dissociative states in order to remove themselves from the situation. If the abuse continues over time, it is believed that children may then begin to split into alter identities during these times of dissociation.

For more information, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness's article on Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision

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