Dissociative identity disorder, "DID" previously called multiple personality disorder, is usually a reaction to trauma as a way to help a person avoid bad memories.






What I Want You to Know About Dissociative Identity Disorder

Chris Alter

To some extent, everyone has different “selves.” We have a self we show at work, a self for home and another for when we’re around friends. But what if you really had other people sharing your body and mind?

You may have heard of Jekyll and Hyde or “Sybil,” but today I want you to forget everything you’ve seen in the media about multiple personalities. I want to talk about what it’s really like to live with dissociative identity disorder (DID).

Mild dissociation is actually an everyday experience for most people. For example, when you drive down a familiar route and don’t remember the specifics of one particular journey. The dissociative spectrum ranges from this kind of normal dissociation to the severe dissociative amnesia experienced in dissociative identity disorder.

Imagine not remembering any of your childhood, not remembering huge chunks of your adolescence and having no memories of the key milestones people usually take for granted. This happened to me. 

Since moving away from my family home at 18, I’ve found myself in numerous embarrassing and even dangerous situations with no idea how I got there. When I lived alone, I would find that hours passed in what felt like seconds, and suddenly I was in a different room, wearing different clothes or even away from my home. I’ve found myself drunk with no memory of even buying alcohol. I’ve found self-harm wounds I did not inflict upon myself. I’ve been told I behaved in a manner that’s extremely unlike me and said things I don’t remember saying. I’ve even found on a number of occasions I’ve overdosed with no memory of taking the pills. This can be the reality of someone who lives with DID. Notes are found in different handwriting styles, scribbling appears on your university essays and you find yourself slowly losing more and more time.


Myths around "DID"
DID is rare. Studies show that in the general population about 1 to 3 percent meet full criteria for DID. This makes the disorder as common as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

It’s obvious when someone has DID. Sensationalism sells. So it’s not surprising that depictions of DID in movies and TV are exaggerated. In fact, people with DID spend an average of seven years in the mental health system before being diagnosed.

People with DID have distinct personalities. Instead of distinct personalities, people with DID have different states. Having different ways of being themselves, which we all do to some extent, but people with DID cannot always recall what they do or say while in their different states.

Only people with DID dissociate. People dissociate in response to trauma or other overwhelming situations such as intense pain or anxiety. So individuals with other disorders such as anxiety disorders and PTSD also dissociate.

What is out there to help?

First thing to know is that you are not alone. There are many people around you that will offer a helping hand if you reach out. Below are a few organizations that can help get you on the road to recovery.

AN INFINITE MIND. An Infinite Mind is a 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of survivors with trauma based dissociation with a primary focus on Dissociative Identity Disorder.

ISSTD. ISSTD seeks to advance clinical, scientific, and societal understanding about the prevalence and consequences of chronic trauma and dissociation.

Dissociative Living. The largest consumer mental health site on the net. We provide authoritative information and support to people with mental health concerns, along with their family members and other loved ones.


  • Psychotherapy is the mainstay of treatment of DID and usually involves helping individuals with DID improve their relationships with others, preventing crises, and to experience feelings they are not comfortable with having.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a treatment method that integrates traumatic memories with the patient's own resources, is being increasingly used in the treatment of people with dissociative identity disorder.
  • Hypnosis is sometimes used to help people with DID learn more about their personality states in the hope of their gaining better control of those states.
  • Medications can be helpful in managing emotional symptoms that sometimes occur with DID, caution is exercised when it is prescribed in order to avoid making the individual feel retraumatized by feeling controlled.

As there is no specific diagnostic test for DID, mental-health professionals perform a mental-health interview, ruling out other mental disorders, and referring the client for medical evaluation to rule out a physical cause for symptoms.