Dissociative Identity Disorder

What is dissociative identity disorder?

Dissociative identity disorder is a condition that causes disconnected thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, and self-image. You may feel dazed, confused, and out of touch with what is happening around you.

Dissociative identity disorder used to be called multiple personality disorder.

What is the cause?

The exact cause of this disorder is not known. It may be the result of extreme abuse that started in early childhood and continued for many years. It may be caused by a horrifying event such as a vicious rape or seeing a loved one’s murder or suicide.

What are the symptoms?

If you have this disorder, you may:

  • Not remember parts of your childhood
  • Not remember buying things that you now own
  • Have long periods when you feel unreal, as if in a dream, or as if you’re really not there
  • Have memories come back to you all of a sudden, like flashbacks
  • Meet people who seem unfamiliar but who claim to know you
  • Find yourself somewhere and not know how you got there

You may also have problems with depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, or panic attacks. You may try to hurt or kill yourself.

How is it diagnosed?

You may not be aware of the condition. You may be diagnosed when you seek help for memory problems or time loss. Your healthcare provider or a mental health therapist will ask about your symptoms, medical and family history, and any medicines you are taking. He will make sure you do not have a medical illness or drug or alcohol problem that could cause the symptoms. You may have tests or scans to help make a diagnosis.

How is it treated?

This disorder changes the way you relate to others and the way you think about everyday activities. Therapy may help:

  • Psychotherapy helps you bring together your sense of self and be better able to cope with past abuse.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a way to help you identify and change views you have of yourself, the world, and the future. CBT can make you aware of unhealthy ways of thinking. It can also help you learn new ways to think and act.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy helps you be aware of your thoughts and behavior, learn how to express your needs, deal with stressful situations, and manage your emotions.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) helps you cope with feelings and thoughts about distressing past events. You move your eyes back and forth, usually following the therapist’s hand or pen, while you recall the event.

Medicine may be prescribed if you also have problems with anxiety or depression. You may be hospitalized if you are suicidal.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Get support. Talk with family and friends. Consider joining a support group in your area.
  • Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, or take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, quit. Avoid alcohol and drugs, because they can make your symptoms worse. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
  • Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all of the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take. Take all medicines as directed by your provider or therapist. It is very important to take your medicine even when you are feeling and thinking well. Without the medicine, your symptoms may not improve or may get worse. Talk to your provider if you have problems taking your medicine or if the medicines don’t seem to be working.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.

Get emergency care if you or a loved one has serious thoughts of suicide or self-harm, violence, or harming others. Also seek immediate help if you have chest pain or trouble breathing.

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-08-28
Last reviewed: 2013-05-03
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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