Image of a woman out of focus appearing to have three heads. Photo by Taylor Deas-Melesh on Unsplash

Have you ever heard of people who have "multiple" or "split" personalities?

This condition, now known as dissociative identity disorder (DID), isn't the exaggerated trope you see on TV and in movies.

Identifying the real signs and symptoms of DID can help you or a loved one receive timely, effective mental health care.

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What is Dissociation?

Dissociation happens when a person isn't connected to their own memories, thoughts, feelings, or identity.  It's hard to describe if you’ve never experienced it before.

A patient with DID once described a dissociative episode as being in a pool and not really feeling the water. They said it felt like watching themselves swim instead.

Others say dissociation feels like someone else using your eyes to cry.

Dissociation is the most prevalent symptom of DID.

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What is DID?

DID isa mental health condition where a person has two or more enduring separate identities. Each of these identities has its own:

  • history

  • traits

  • personality

  • likes and dislikes

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DID is not:

  • associated with "out-of-body" spiritual or religious experiences

  • voluntary — people with DID don't control when their personality shifts happen

  • schizophrenia — people with DID don't feel their delusions come from an outside source, but from inside their head

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Memory Gaps

People with DID “shut off” from their reality. Memory gaps are a natural consequence of this. The type of memory loss associated with DID is more severe than what most people experience.

The memory gaps can span hours, days, or even years. Memories often reappear much later, causing people with DID distress and confusion.

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Other Common Symptoms

People with DID experience symptoms found in other diseases and disorders, such as:

  • headaches or other aches and pains

  • depression

  • anxiety

  • delusions

  • suicidal thoughts

Knowledge Check: DID Symptoms

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  • Beth experiences auditory and visual hallucinations.

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  • Mike has severe memory loss and sometimes feels like he's not in control of his movements.

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  • Susan engages in risky behavior followed by periods of depression.


Who is most likely to be at risk of dissociative identity disorder?

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