Dissociative identity disorder

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Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder or Split Personality Disorder) is a mental illness in which a person has two or more notably different personalities that may independently control their body; the personalities coming to the fore at different times. Its status as a real, identifiable mental illness is disputed by many psychotherapists, although recent research suggests it is a real disorder, albeit an uncommon one. A number of cases have been recorded in both the US and the UK. Most psychiatrists agree that the condition is not psychosis.

In popular perception, dissociative identity disorder is often confused with schizophrenia. Many analogies to conflicting personalities or styles are often called "schizophrenic" but this is wrong. Schizophrenia is characterized by hallucinations, paranoid delusions, and disorganized thought, but not by multiple personalities. There is a degree of consensus that DID is real but rare.

How it works[edit]

People with DID have different "alters," or personalities. These alters may have their own names.

Some systems[note 1] who've faced more trauma may have members attracted to spiritual woo who claim to be non-human, older than the body itself, or a specific fictional character. Members having a loose grip on reality like this is not a necessary part of dissociative identity disorder. (Though, as per usual, identifying as a made-up character should not be mistaken for harmlessly identifying with a made-up character, as a furry might.)


Serious and repeated childhood abuse is believed to be the most common cause of DID. It has been reported that "About 90% of the cases of DID involve some history of abuse. The trauma often involves severe emotional, physical, and/or sexual abuse."[1]

It's believed that this extreme trauma disrupts a child's ability to consolidate a core identity, resulting in the child developing multiple "states" or identities.[2]

Official diagnosis[edit]

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders diagnoses someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder if they exhibit:

  • Two or more distinctly separate personalities emerging in one person frequently for more than one month,
  • Memory loss between these personalities that goes beyond normal forgetfulness,
  • The change in personality is not triggered, affected, or manipulated in any way by external stimuli such as drugs or alcohol.

In actuality, memory loss is not a guaranteed symptom of DID. Systems on the less traumatic end may have members able to recognize and remember one another's actions, just without attributing those actions to themselves.


People with DID can benefit from treatment.[3]


Movies like Split, Psycho, and Identity portray people with DID as violent, further stigmatizing a group of people who may be in great need of help.[4]

But people with DID are not necessarily more violent than others. They're more likely to hurt themselves than to pose a threat to other people.[5]


Brain imaging

Whether it's real[edit]

Some skeptics (including doctors) have argued that DID is not real and should not be diagnosed.[6] They believe that patients may be faking it, may have false memories, or may be highly suggestible (thus believing they have multiple personalities when they don't.)[7]

However, research suggests that DID is a real condition.[8][9][10][11] Researchers have found that:

  • People with DID have physical differences in their brains, with some areas being smaller and an increase of white matter in other areas.[12]
  • Brain activity in DID is different than in people without it, including those prone to fantasies.[13]
  • People with DID aren't inherently more suggestible or prone to false memories.[14]
  • It occurs in many countries.[15]

Sybil and DID epidemic[edit]

Controversy over the diagnosis stems from the explosion of DID cases in the wake of the publication of the book Sybil and its subsequent film spin-off in the 1970s. Sybil was the pseudonym of Shirley Mason, a woman who claimed to have sixteen personalities. The release of further documentation, such as tapes of the therapy sessions, demonstrated that Mason's therapist had encouraged her to manufacture multiple personalities and engaged in questionable practices such as hypnosis and barbiturate injection.[16][17]

The DID epidemic later played into the recovered memory therapy craze and Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Since the 1990s, many DID specialists have been sued for malpractice and specialist clinics have been closed down.[18]

From their own perspective[edit]

Herschel Walker, a sports player with DID

It is notable that some "plurals" do not consider their condition to be a mental disorder so much as a natural state of being,[19] much like the autism rights movement. This subcommunity, known as the endogenic or parogenic community, rejects the idea that DID must be the result of either childhood abuse or the induction of false memories, and argues that their condition is considered a mental illness only because society has branded it as one. Thus they reserve the term "DID" for dysfunctional systems. Plurals by and large prefer the term "headmates" or "systemmates" for entities sharing a body, on grounds that "alter" is derogatory toward personalities other than the one who happens to be "in front" the most.[20]

External links[edit]


  1. "System" is a generally agreed-upon term for a collective of individuals with DID.


  1. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9792-dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder
  2. Dissociative identity disorder, 2014
  3. Dispelling Myths About Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment: An Empirically Based Approach
  4. What Shyamalan's 'Split' gets wrong about dissociative identity disorder, CNN
  5. Dissociative Disorders and Suicidality in Psychiatric Outpatients, 2008
  6. Dissociative identity disorder: Time to remove it from DSM-V?, 2009
  7. DID: Drawing the Line Between Fact and Fiction, Psychology Today
  8. http://www.researchgate.net/publication/7247074_A_new_model_of_dissociative_identity_disorder/file/9fcfd50fd969ee7029.pdf
  9. http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic351113.files/Multiple_Personality_-_Gleaves.pdf
  10. http://www.researchgate.net/publication/10726883_Interidentity_amnesia_for_neutral_episodic_information_in_dissociative_identity_disorder/file/9fcfd510a579013e68.pdf
  11. The sociocognitive model of dissociative identity disorder: A reexamination of the evidence, 1996
  12. A systematic review of the neuroanatomy of dissociative identity disorder
  13. Fact or Factitious? A Psychobiological Study of Authentic and Simulated Dissociative Identity States
  14. Is it Trauma- or Fantasy-based? Comparing dissociative identity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, simulators, and controls, 2016
  15. Dissociative disorders in DSM5DMS (vol 28, pg E17, 2011)
  16. Robert W. Rieber. Hypnosis, false memory and multiple personality: a trinity of affinity. History of Psychiatry March 1999 vol. 10 no. 37 003-11
  17. Salon.com Book Review
  18. MPD/DID: Multiple Personality & Dissociative Identity Disorder: Overview, Religious Tolerance
  19. http://www.karitas.net/pavilion/
  20. r/plural glossary Accessed 2020-09-11.