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Dissociative Identity Disorder

Author: Winnie Mok

Editor: Angela Pan

Artist: Lalita Ma

Dissociative disorders are related to chronic dissociation. Examples might include memory issues, emotionally distant from one’s physical body and surroundings, lack of self-identity, and more. It is important to note that a person could experience symptoms like these without actually having these disorders. The American Psychiatric Association describes instances of everyday dissociation: “daydreaming, highway hypnosis or ‘getting lost in a book or movie, all of which involve ‘losing touch’ with awareness of one’s immediate surroundings.” The three types of this disorder are dissociative amnesia, dissociative identity disorder, and depersonalization or derealization disorder. This article will be focused on dissociative identity disorder.

The defining feature of DID is having two or more separate identities, called alters. The “core” identity is the alter that takes control most of the time. Alters may have different sexualities, genders, ages, and ethnicities, or even be animals. Some other symptoms include anxiety, depression, drug or alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts, and memory loss that usually occurs when different identities are switching control. The memory gaps may be about personal information, everyday events, and/or traumatic events. Some people might be aware of their altars and some might not; there are also cases where a person might know of the existence of some of their altars, but unaware of the rest of them. Patients have described the experience as being observers of their own life. People diagnosed are reported as highly violent and a threat to others (e.g. Fight Club), a lot more likely to hurt themselves, as proven by the statistic of over 70 percent of those who have been diagnosed as having attempted suicide.

The most common cause of DID is trauma relating to sexual, physical, or emotional abuse during childhood. DID can only develop in early childhood, before a person’s personality has fully matured. This disorder occurs so that the pain of the trauma is more tolerable for the victim. By dissociating, the person is disconnected from the emotions and situation around the event, separating the trauma from the person. One such survivor is Jeni Haynes, who suffered through heinous sexual and physical torture by her father. To cope, Jeni’s brain created many alters, including Symphony, a four-year-old who helped testified against Jeni’s father—recalling incredible detail of every count of rape, abuse, etc.

There is no one specific test that can diagnose DID. Most patients have spent five to twelve years in the mental healthcare system before their diagnosis. Although there is no cure, there are medications that can be used to treat certain symptoms such as depression or anxiety. The most successful symptom is psychotherapy, though hypnosis can help. Therapists focus on merging identities into one by overcoming the trauma. Although DID is not common, it is not that rare either, contrary to media misconceptions—it is estimated to affect around 1.1 to 1.5 percent of the population, which is more than the percentage for schizophrenia.



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Mao, Frances. “Dissociative Identity Disorder: The woman who created 2.500 personalities to

survive.” BBC, 6 Sept. 2019,

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