This Byte has been authored by

Kymberly Mayfield

Have you ever heard of multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder?

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

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 can help you or a loved one receive timely, effective mental health care.

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What is DID?

DID is a 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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Dissociation is when a person is not connected to their own memories, thoughts, feelings, or identity.  It's the most prevalent symptom of DID.

So what does dissociation feel like?

Dissociation is 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.

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⚡Knowledge Check

Beth experiences auditory and visual hallucinations.

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Mike has out-of-body experiences and severe memory loss.

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Susan engages in risky behavior followed by periods of depression.

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Which patient has symptoms consistent with DID?

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.

Woman sitting in a chair thinking with cloud containing emotion-related multiple symbols above her

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

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