It is an inevitable fact of life that all human beings will experience several traumatic experiences throughout the duration of their lives. Unfortunately, these life experiences are so painful, 8% of the U.S. population suffers from a disorder in which troubling memories are separated from emotions, allowing victims to feel as if the painful event had never happened. This may eventually result in a development of several personalities. This is known as dissociative identity disorder, but is also known as multiple personality disorder or multiple identity disorder. Because this disorder can produce changes in memory, people who frequently dissociate often find their senses of personal history and identity are affected.
Multiple personality disorder is a dissociative reaction, which is categorized with dissociative amnesia and dissociative fugue. Although these three disorders are in the same grouping, they have significant distinctions. Dissociative amnesia, for instance, is when one is suddenly unable to recall his or her name, address, or past. A dissociative fugue occurs when one unexpectedly becomes confused about his or her personal identity and leaves home and starts a new life, completely forgetting about family and friends. Dissociations are most always caused by traumatic situations, because forgetting personal identity is a way of fleeing unpleasant situations and can serve as way to avoid intolerable anxiety. Dissociative identity disorder is also closely related to obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder. Multiple identity disorder is probably the most severe of the these disorders because rather than simply forgetting a traumatic experience or losing a sense of personality, the sufferer of dissociative identity disorder forms a number of new identities. The rest of the victim's life becomes a struggle for equality and a balance of power among these separate entities.
Dissociative identity disorder often begins at a young age. In many cases, children who are physically abused come up with separate personalities as a defense mechanism. According to statistics, 98 to 99% of individuals with identity disorders have documented histories of suffering from repetitive abuse or some other sort of severe trauma. Since they have no bodily way of escaping the torture, they escape it in their mind and let "others" take their place. This is a very creative survival technique because it allows the child to save some areas of healthy functioning while enduring their hopeless situations. Over time, this may become a very serious problem. If a child is continuously being abused, it will reinforce the dissociation and become a conditioned response. Even worse, it will become such a habit that the victim will dissociate every time they feel a little anxious or threatened, even if there is no real danger. The frequent dissociation leads to the creation of a separate entity in the victim, sometimes several entities.
Multiple identity disorder contains a wide variety of alarming symptoms. People with multiple identities often suffer from severe headaches, as well as pains elsewhere in the body. They also experience changes in sleeping and eating patterns and suffer from depression or mood swings, anxiety, nervousness, and panic attacks. Depersonalization also occurs, which consists of episodes in which one feels detached from his or her body. Derealization, when one feels that their environment is unreal, is also commonly experienced by those with dissociative identity disorders. In addition a sufferer of this disorder has shifts in levels of functioning that may change from being highly capable of doing things on their own to being almost disabled. They also suffer from hallucinations and amnesia. People with dissociative identity disorder may also attempt suicide and abuse illegal substances,. they can also be very violent.
One very dramatic but true story of a woman who suffered from having multiple identities was made into a book, Sybil. Like most cases of identity disorders, Sybil's began with unbearable childhood experiences. Sybil was beaten, locked in closets, sexually abused and tortured perversely, to the point where she almost died. Like most children in her situation, Sybil dissociated in order to escape and created another person who would suffer the torture in her place. Sybil's case was so severe that she had 16 different personality states. One of the personalities could play the piano, but the others could not. Each of her personalities had a different posture, voice, and way of speaking. When one of the other identities was in control, Sybil would experience a memory blackout. Cases like Sybil's have made some experts question the existence of multiple personalities, while others continue to believe in the reality of dissociative identity disorder.
It is very complicated to diagnose someone with dissociative identity disorder because many of the symptoms are also common in brain diseases, head injuries, drug and alcohol intoxication, and sleep deprivation. Also, certain medications can result in side effects very similar to the symptoms of multiple identity disorder. To help rule out these other possibilities, a patient must undergo a physical examination, blood test, a review of medical history, and an x-ray. If no physical illness is discovered, the patient is then referred to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist will then give a special interview designed to evaluate the patient for dissociative identity disorder.
Once a person is diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, the main purpose of their treatment is to relieve their symptoms by trying to reconnect all the separate identities into one personality again. On the other hand, some forms of treatment do not try to regroup the separate personalities. Instead, it aims to help the victim safely express and sort out their painful memories, develop new ways to cope, restore their ability to function in society, and improve their relationships. Both types of treatment are equally respected, the best type depends on the individual and the intensity of his or her symptoms. One popular form of treatment is psychotherapy, in which communication is strongly encouraged. Cognitive therapy, which focuses on changing someone's way of thinking, is also a common approach. A medication to treat dissociative identity disorder does not exist, but some people benefit from antidepressants or anti-anxiety medicine. Family therapy is also important because it helps educate the victim's family about the disorder, its causes, and symptoms. Creative therapies, such as art therapy or music therapy, help the patient learn to express thoughts and feelings in a safe and creative way. At times, clinical hypnosis is also used. All of these treatments are effective, and it is very important with something as severe as dissociative identity disorder that it does not go untreated.