Friday, January 22, 2021
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Mental Space: Dissociative Identity Disorder


Amber Gauss
Amber Gauss is a Psychology and Russian Language double major. She has been part of staff since August 2019. She writes about Mental Health in her column Mental Space.

DID, or Dissociative Identity Disorder, is a disorder in which an individual has multiple personas, also known as “alters,” which all have different personalities and memories. A person with DID will have most likely experienced a form of trauma at a young age, causing a separate personality state to form.

An alter is typically experienced as a separate voice in an individual’s head or may be a completely different person who has their own memories, patterns of speech, may identify as a different gender from the body or host personality and may even be a different age. Alters who are younger than 10 are referred to as “littles” in the DID community.

Typically, to be diagnosed, one must experience “sudden alterations or discontinuities in sense of self and sense of agency and recurrent dissociative amnesias.” An individual does not have control over their actions and words when in the dissociative state and may not remember everything that happens while in said state. The amnesia not necessarily forgetting entire days: it can be forgetting about a drive or finding seemingly inexplicable bruises or injuries. Individuals with DID may also forget things they witnessed or even their own name at times.

I had a dissociative episode in May. My roommate in my home state asked me how old I was, and I took a few minutes to respond: my answer was “five?” I can recall everything that happened that night, but I had no control over my body and mind. I have not been diagnosed with DID, but I do experience times where I am not in control and it appears to be someone else.

It is common for individuals with DID to be misdiagnosed at first, typically with Bipolar II disorder, due to the commonality of mood shifts, which are central to Bipolar II. DID shifts tend to happen much faster, potentially within minutes. In Bipolar II, it is unlikely that a mood change would last only minutes or hours- the cycle tends to take days, weeks or sometimes months. In DID, the emotions can be linked with the various identities, which would be why it can change so quickly and last for a short amount of time.

It can happen that an individual with DID also has PTSD, as DID is brought on by trauma. When this happens, it is crucial to note that the individual has both and not just PTSD. Some of the instances that are common in PTSD are present in DID. However, there are also situations in which an individual expresses symptoms of DID that are not also part of PTSD, such as “amnesias for many everyday (i.e., nontraumatic) events, dissociative flashbacks that may be followed by amnesia for the content of the flashback, disruptive intrusions (unrelated to traumatic material) by dissociated identity states into the individual’s sense of self and agency and infrequent, full-blown changes among different identity states.”

Individuals with DID may also be misdiagnosed as having schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder, as the symptom of hearing voices may be taken to be schizophrenia or a period of psychosis. It is also possible that individuals with persecutory and/or derogatory personas will be diagnosed with major depression with psychotic features.

I hope you find this informative and interesting. I had a lot of fun researching DID and learning about it. As always, any quotes are taken from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition unless stated otherwise.

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