What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Many psychology professionals and citizens have heard of dissociative identity disorder but do not understand what the term actually means. While the term is relatively new, having only been coined in 1994, the disorder has been around for centuries and is a rare occurrence that can have a huge impact on individuals and their families. Below is a short introduction to DID, its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.


Dissociative identity disorder, known as DID, was previously known as multiple personality disorder. It is a severe condition that sees an individual create two or more distinct personalities. It is common for individuals with DID to experience periods of memory loss due to one personality taking over the individual during difficult or dangerous situations. DID is not the formation of separate personalities; rather it is considered identity fragmentation, a process in which the identity of an individual is compartmentalized with one or more personality traits defining the new personality. It affects less than 200,000 people in the United States, with more women being diagnosed than men.

See our ranking of the Top 5 Online Doctorate in Educational Psychology.

Underlying Causes

There a few causes that are linked to DID. Psychology Today states that the most prevalent of these is severe abuse, both physical and sexual, during childhood. This may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder or other disorders before DID develops. Another cause is also a family history of DID, but this is controversial because some experts believe that DID patients may claim, at their therapist’s prodding, that family history has led them to mimic family members’ behavior. However, brain imaging studies have shown that identity transitions do exist.


The most cited symptom of DID is memory loss. It can last for as little as a few hours or may last for days, depending on the situation and individual finds themselves in. It is the most cited symptom because individuals may be confronted by loved ones or even strangers about interactions they’ve had that they simply do not recall. The National Alliance on Mental Illness also reports that other symptoms include emotional numbness, a lack of self-identity, depression, anxiety, and out-of-body experiences. Family members may also witness extreme changes in personality in the individual in certain situations, including a new name for the individual, a new style, or a new approach to social situations.

Featured Programs


Diagnosis of DID can be difficult, especially in men. Women are more likely to be diagnosed because they present acute dissociative symptoms, namely memory loss. They are also more likely to seek diagnosis and treatment. Men are harder to diagnosis because they often deny their symptoms and refuse to discuss trauma; they are also far likelier to display aggressive behavior, such as violent outbursts, rather than memory loss. Diagnosis is offered by mental health professionals and is done with a series of medical and mental health tests. This is often followed by an interview with a professional, after which a diagnosis takes place.


A full treatment of DID is not possible at this point, but there are treatment options that can provide patients with relief from the disorder. Medication, such as antidepressants, may soothe the symptom of anxiety or depression that is caused by DID or a concurrent mental health condition. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, known as EMDR, may be helpful for some individuals. The most common form of treatment is psychotherapy, namely cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy; this is because talk therapies get to the root of the trauma that caused DID to develop.

Individuals familiar with dissociative disorders will know that diagnosis and treatment is a difficult path, but it can help those with the disorder. With the help of doctors and mental health professionals, it is possible for individuals to leave a normal productive life. This short primer on dissociative identity disorder does not cover the complexities of the disorder, but it will serve to give everyone a better understanding of this rare mental disorder.


Related Resources: