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Most definitions and explanations for multiple personality disorder use the dissociative identity disorder definition, which is what it’s currently known as. Others make it seem more like a pop-psychology concept. While we can all understand people wanting to paint it in a more positive light, sometimes the definition and the characterization of dissociative identity disorder can minimize the issue and make things appear less problematic than they really are.
In fact, multiple personality disorder is a chronic, long-term disorder. Understand the neurobiology of personality disorders and you’ll see that the personality cannot be changed. It has to do with the way the brain developed; it’s genetic. Personality is something you cannot change. It’s pervasive, it’s chronic, it’s long-term. It’s not a mental illness. When you think of multiple personality disorder think of it as a variety of different personalities, in a single body. It’s something that you can’t medicate.
You can, however, medicate the symptoms of a mental illness like depression, anxiety and maybe even the OCD that is sometimes associated with multiple personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder. You cannot medicate DID (dissociative identity disorder) itself; it’s impossible.
It’s really important to understand that there’s no cure for multiple personality disorder. In fact, the only goal in therapy is to help the individual see what has happened to them, provide education, treat any other mental illness that may accompany DID, integrate those personalities so that the person can live as normally and comfortably as they can, and management of the symptoms over time. Those are the real goals for treatment if you have DID.
Fewer than 200,000 people in the United States have DID. Research suggests that it’s rare. Unfortunately, it’s probably more under-diagnosed than it is rare.
It’s also important to understand that multiple personality disorder is not just a matter of switching personalities. It’s something that automatically happens when the individual is either under stress, feels trapped, overwhelmed, or feels the need to protect themselves. That’s when the “switch” happens when another personality takes over the main character. This main character that phases out is typically the character who has experienced abuse. This identity confusion can occur when they feel threatened.
These people can have more than two personalities. If it’s one or two personalities, most likely it’s not going to be diagnosed as multiple personality disorder or DID. You really do need two or more personalities to be diagnosed. There’s no brain scan, there’s no medical test that can be done to diagnose DID. It really is a psychological and psychiatric journey for the therapist and the patient. A person’s backstory, history, and genetics must all line-up in order to be diagnosed with DID.
You’re probably wondering, “how many personalities are there typically?” The average number of personalities is between 13 to 15. There have been some cases that involved over 100 different personalities, however, over 100 is very uncommon. It’s usually between 13 to 15 personalities.
You’re probably wondering what it is exactly. Well, multiple personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder is basically extreme dissociation. It’s pulling away from reality, detaching from reality. There’s extreme dissociation to the point of the complete emergence of a different personality, a different mindset, a different character, different desires, needs, wants, interests, etc. It’s really interesting how this happens. The mannerisms of the person, from eye contact habits to voice, sometimes even facial expressions, change in such a way that you intuitively sense that it’s a different person
Derealization is the idea that everything around you feels false or manufactured, it’s also a symptom of DID. Other symptoms include poor memory or amnesia. This is important to remember because the individual may do something and honestly have zero recollection minutes later. This could be caused by one of two things. One is that they really do have poor memory, a common symptom of DID. The other is that it was another personality was the one acting.
It is incredibly important we understand this from a clinical perspective and push all the pop-psychology out of the way because this is not entertainment material. We need to know the clinical data, we need to look at what’s really going on, and we need to treat this seriously.