Dissociative Identity Disorder: How Many Personalities Do You Have?

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Biology 202
2002 First Paper
On Serendip

Dissociative Identity Disorder: How Many Personalities Do You Have?

Sook Chan

Dissociative Identity Disorder, commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is estimated to afflict at least a tenth of the American population. Patients with this disorder suffer from constant memory loss due to the presence of two or more other personalities that "take over" the patient's consciousness at random times of the day. This switching of personalities may last for a couple minutes, a couple hours, to up to several weeks at a time (1). In the past 30 years, the prevalence of Dissociative Identity Disorder has sky rocketed.

The term dissociation refers to the disruption of one or more agents that constitutes "consciousness", such the formation of memories, making sense of them and maintaining a sense of identity (1). Dissociation results from forces beyond the patient's control. Proponents of Dissociative Identity Disorder believe memory loss occurs because the patient's consciousness is taken over by alter personalities believed to be formed during childhood (2). Personalities are usually found to be extremely different from the personality of the patient. The patient is usually shy, introverted and insecure, whereas some of her personalities may be flirtatious, outgoing, confident; and yet others may have issues surrounding anger management. Personalities may be older than the age of the patient, younger, or may have lived over a hundred years ago (1).

Patients who suffer from DID are usually women who have had a history of sexual or extreme physical abuse, or who have experienced repeated trauma beyond her control (3). Because the child cannot physically escape the pain, her only option is to escape mentally: by dissociating. Dissociation is said to defend against pain by allowing the maltreatment to be experienced as if it were happening to someone else. The distress of this childhood maltreatment is also endured by employing repression: a mental mechanism that allows the child to forget the abuse happened at all (3).

Does Dissociative Identity Disorder exist? The American Psychiatric Association states that an individual displaying at least two personality states in which these personality states take control of the patient's behavior can be diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (2). The individual diagnosed with this disorder tends to be depressed, passive, and often displays feelings of guilt (2). The patient is often unable to recall important personal information and has frequent gaps in their memory due to the "take over" of alter personalities (1). This suggests the employment of repression. Instead of allowing the self to helplessly accept the abuse, the child convinces herself that she is somewhere else and not directly receiving the pain (2). By convincing herself that the trauma did not happen, the child is able to feel safe. "I was never abused, Susie was". They allow these personalities to experience their pain, and as they grow older, more personalities arise to cope with everyday stressors. The personalities become overused, and eventually, the patient allows them to take over her life.

It is basic human nature to act differently and "beside" oneself when exposed to different environments and people with variable personalities. For example, one person may act differently towards a co-worker at the office as compared to a friend on the weekends. However, that does not mean that he has more than one personality. He is conscious of his behavior in the office and at the bar. Someone who suffers from multiple personality disorder is not conscious of these different behaviors because he is not consciously carrying out these actions. When other personalities take over, that frame of experience comes through as gaps of lost memories to the main personality.

There are many variations in the accepted definition of this disorder. One startling, yet well identified fact illustrates the range of the patientís manifestation of the disorder. The disorder's most dramatic signs appear after, not before, patients begin therapy with proponents of the disorder (4). Patients who seek psychiatric help with symptoms of this disorder, skyrocket in the number and extravagance of their alter personalities as therapy progresses (4). It has been concluded from this pattern that patients who suffer from this disorder may be extremely insecure and attention seeking because they received little, if any attention when they were children. Proponents of this disorder, when approached with a case of probable DID, become extremely interested and excited by the mystery of the disorder. They validate the existence of these possible alter personalities, and the more they validate, the more arise. Is it possible that the patients, as insecure and undeserving as they feel, believe that if they do not come up with more personalities, the therapist might lose interest? Patients who suffer from DID are like emotional sponges, absorbing as much attention as they can to compensate for their childhood distress. The proponent-therapists of this disorder tend to encourage the displays of these alter personalities by engaging real-life conversations with them and accepting their stories as truth.

Another question that comes to mind is the issue of responsibility. As children, the patients managed to defend themselves from ever dealing with reality. As they reach adulthood and life becomes more complicated, these alter personalities seem like a good outlet for them to once again escape responsibility. Having a therapist who indirectly supports this principle allows the patients to escape responsibility of their actions. These personalities tend to be in the extremes of the behavioral spectra. They may be extremely promiscuous, or perform illegal activities (4). Some have anger management issues exhibited when the patient becomes scared or angry. These personalities take over to deal with the patient's emotions. When this happens, any outcome or blame is placed on the alter personality, and this is further validated by the therapist (1).

In 1988, a study found that 135 years prior to 1979, a mere twelve cases of dissociative identity disorder was found. Of these twelve, four were examples not of DID, rather "incipient" multiple personality disorder (4). In the recent years, however, thousands of adult cases have been discovered. This stark contrast cannot help but bring attention to the critics of this disorder.

Is it possible that this disease boomed in the past few years due to the bias therapy? Clinicians often become so fascinated with the psychodynamic defense constructs of the mind that they fail to adequately address the co-morbid personality, or the neurological phenomena underlying hypnotizibility and dissociative states (4). Some critics speculate the dissociation is a form of hypnosis used by vulnerable individuals to cope with trauma. It is probable that patients who come into therapy may have problems dealing with their emotions and self validation, and at the end of therapy, with the help and validation of therapists, discover multiple alter personalities.

Does Dissociative Identity Disorder exist? Maybe. Yet, one who is unable to integrate various emotions and memories should have less than one personality, not multiple.


1)Dissociative Identity Disorder: The Relevance of Behavior Analysis by Brady J. Phelps

2)Multiplying the Multiplicity in the British Journal of Psychology

3)The Treatment of Dissociative Identity Disorder With Neurotherapy and Group Self Exploration

4)An Analytical Review of Dissociative Identity Disorder

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