You may be familiar with multiple personality disorder through movies and TV shows you've seen. Based on some media depictions, what it's like to have multiple personality disorder seems straightforward enough — a person with the disorder experiences a fragmented identity, which leads to two, or multiple personality types. But according to experts, the facts about what it means to have multiple personality disorder are not that cut and dry.
"The first ‘shocking fact’ is that MPD doesn’t exist," Dr. John Mayer, licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "In fact, it has been discredited by the mental health community long ago."
Although it's fairly common to use the term "multiple personality disorder," it's more officially referred to as "dissociative identity disorder" or DID. It's a mental health condition that is often highly misunderstood, Dr. Sal Raichbach PsyD, LCSW of the Ambrosia Treatment Center tells Bustle.
"TV and movies often sensationalize the way the people with DID act, often portraying switching between very distinct and dramatic personalities," Dr. Raichbach says. But this isn’t always the case. Instead, it can be a lot less obvious. Many people tend to be unaware that a person lives with this condition. "People with Dissociative Identity Disorder don’t always pop in and out of different people, but instead, experience several states of disassociation from their true self," he says.
So it's definitely more complex than you probably think. Here are some other important facts you should know about dissociative identity disorder, according to experts.
1It's A Coping Mechanism
Patients with DID have often dealt with violent and traumatizing experiences in the past. As Dr. Bryan Bruno, Medical Director at Mid City TMS tells Bustle, these experiences could include witnessing someone die or undergoing physical abuse. "Because these moments are too stressful to remember, these patients tap into their dissociations to escape," he says. "When a moment triggers a traumatic memory, these patients might cope by daydreaming or acting differently."
EDITOR'S NOTE: If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.
2Memory Lapses Are Common
Due to their dissociations, or separation from their sense of self, a number of DID patients are likely to struggle with memory issues. Often times, they may even fail to remember key pieces of personal information. "They might recall something scary that happened to them but forget normal, everyday events, such as things that happened at work or in their personal lives," Bruno says. As you can guess, this may lead to problems in both their personal and professional relationships.
3Each Identity Has Its Own Story
In cases of dissociative identity disorder, a person can experience one or more other identities. Although it's not always going to be as obvious as you would think, each separate identity may have its own name, personal history, sometimes voice, gender and other specific characteristics. "These separate identities can take control at any given time and if severe amnesia is present, there may be no recollection of what happened during this time," Bruce Figuered, PhD, Clinical Director at Casa Palmera Treatment Center, tells Bustle.
4It Can Make Someone Feel Like They're Living In A Dream
In the case of depersonalization disorder, which is another dissociative disorder, someone may feel distant or outside of themselves. They may seem to be living in a dream-like state or feel like life is mechanical. "Mild sensations of this disorder are sometimes felt by normal individuals under severe stress, as a side effect of medications or as a result of intoxication," Mae Casanova, PsyD, Director of Admissions at Casa Palmera Treatment Center, tells Bustle. She also says depersonalization disorder may last for only a few moments or stretch out for many years.
5It's Not Always As Dramatic As Media Likes To Portray It
"Although MPD makes for great lore for films, the flip from one personality to another as dramatically as is portrayed was never a part of the description of the disorder," Dr. Mayer says. "What was often identified was slight changes in behaviors of the individual such as sitting differently, talking differently or even clearing one’s throat and voila! They were a different personality."
So what does the average person with DID look like? According to Dr. Mayer, they may appear confused, look physically anxious and at times, lost or out of it and forgetful. "I treat many individuals like this," Dr. Mayer says. "The people suffering from this call it 'depersonalization' themselves."
6It Can Last A Lifetime If Left Untreated
"People should realize that these dissociative disorders arise because of anxiety that overwhelms or floods us," Dr. Mayer says. So finding ways to effectively manage stressful situations can be super helpful. In many cases, DID stems from childhood trauma, so psychotherapy and even family therapy is highly suggested. In terms of medication, there is currently no medication that's specifically used to treat it. Instead, some people may be prescribed medication to help deal with mood disorders such as depression or anxiety. If you or someone you know may be dealing with symptoms associated with dissociative identity disorder, seeking help from a therapist is a great first step to help better cope.
7It's Not As Uncommon As You Think
"Experts argue on the prevalence of DID, but most agree that about two percent of the population meet the criteria," Dr. Raichbach says. If that number doesn't seem like a lot, it's actually comparable to other conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. "So, while it is rarer than mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, it’s not as uncommon as people tend to think," he says.
Although we may typically see dissociative identity disorder portrayed a certain way, it is important to know the facts, and remove any stigmas attached to mental health disorders so those who are dealing with the issue feel the freedom and encouragement to seek the help they need.