Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): Symptoms, Causes & Treatment


This article aims to provide a comprehensive exploration of Dissociative Identity Disorder, delving into its symptoms, diagnosis process, potential causes, available treatment options, and the unique challenges faced by those living with this condition.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), previously known as multiple personality disorder, is a fascinating and intricate mental health condition that often remains misunderstood. At its core, DID is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct identities or alters, which take control of an individual’s behavior and memory in a recurring manner.

The concept of dissociation, rooted in the doctrine of “association,” is fundamental in psychiatry and refers to the separation of an idea or thought process from the mainstream of consciousness. Dissociation manifests in various forms, including hypnosis, dissociative episodes triggered by intense emotional states, such as fear, and the recognized dissociative disorders in psychiatric classification. Multiple personality disorder represents the extreme end of dissociative phenomena, while post-traumatic stress disorder can also be viewed as existing on a continuum of dissociation. In this context, dissociation can be understood as a coping mechanism.

By exploring the intricacies of Dissociative Identity Disorder, we can begin to unravel the complexity behind this condition. This article aims to shed light on the symptoms experienced by individuals with DID, the process involved in diagnosing the disorder, potential factors contributing to its development, available treatment approaches, and the unique challenges faced by those living with DID. By gaining a deeper understanding of this condition, we can foster empathy, improve diagnosis and treatment, and ultimately provide better support for individuals navigating life with Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Defining Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative Identity Disorder is a dissociative disorder that arises as a response to severe and repeated childhood trauma, often occurring before the age of nine. Individuals with DID experience disruptions in their consciousness, memory, identity, and perception of self. Alters, the different identities within an individual, possess distinct characteristics, behaviors, memories, and even physiological responses. These alters may have different names, genders, ages, and may even speak in different voices.

Alters and Identity Switching

Identity switching is a hallmark feature of Dissociative Identity Disorder. It refers to the process by which individual transitions from one alter to another, often accompanied by amnesia for the time when an alter is in control. These switches can be spontaneous, triggered by certain stimuli, or maybe consciously initiated by the individual or therapist during therapy sessions. Alters may vary in their awareness of each other and their cohesiveness as a system.

Exploring Alters: Understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder Therapy

In treating Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), an important step called history gathering and mapping is used. This step involves thoroughly exploring the different identities within the individual with DID.

During this stage, therapists aim to learn about the origins, concerns, relationships, and dynamics among the alters. They delve into the inner world of the person, where alters interact with unique rules and often reenact family dynamics or specific experiences. This exploration helps therapists better understand the perspectives, issues, and responses of each alter and how the system as a whole function.

With this knowledge, therapists can effectively use established techniques to address specific problems experienced by individual alters and within the entire alter system. It also promotes cooperation and collaboration among the alters themselves.

This research emphasizes the importance of understanding the alter system before addressing traumatic experiences. By anticipating the system’s reactions, therapists can avoid unexpected crises. For example, if multiple alters have interconnected concerns, addressing one alter’s issues may activate others. In such cases, techniques like hypnosis can be used to distract or calm related alters, reducing the likelihood of problems.

Common Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder

Individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder may experience a range of symptoms, including but not limited to:

  • Multiple identities: Presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states.
  • Amnesia: Memory gaps associated with different identities taking control.
  • Identity confusion: Persistent uncertainty and confusion about one’s identity.
  • Depersonalization: Feelings of detachment from oneself or one’s body.
  • Identity alteration: Sudden switches between identities with resulting memory gaps.
  • Flashbacks: Vivid recollections or intrusive memories of past traumatic experiences.
  • Co-occurring conditions: Often accompanied by depression, anxiety, PTSD, or substance abuse.

Individuals with DID may also experience mood swings, anxiety, self-harm, and somatic symptoms such as headaches and gastrointestinal problems. Treatment and diagnosis should be provided by specialized mental health professionals.


Diagnosing Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) can be quite challenging for several reasons. One of the main difficulties is that the condition is often misdiagnosed or overlooked, leading to delayed or incorrect treatment. This is partly due to the presence of amnesia, internal secrecy, and the ability of alters (distinct identities) to mimic other disorders, which further complicates the diagnostic process.

Moreover, individuals with DID may hesitate to disclose their experiences due to fear of stigma or disbelief, making it harder for healthcare professionals to identify the condition. As a result, many cases of DID go undiagnosed or are mistakenly diagnosed as a different type of personality disorder.

Despite recent advancements in understanding and treating DID, there are significant obstacles to optimal patient care. These include skepticism about the reality of the disorder, a backlash against trauma treatment, challenges from managed care movements, the dominance of paradigms that overlook traumatic stress, and limited research funding for studying DID. These factors have compromised access to appropriate care and revictimized a population that is already vulnerable.

Causes of DID

Childhood Trauma and Dissociation

Childhood trauma, particularly abuse (physical, sexual, emotional), neglect, and witnessing violence, is considered a primary risk factor for the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder. The severe and repetitive nature of the trauma disrupts a child’s developing sense of self, leading to the fragmentation of identity as a coping mechanism. Dissociation, a defense mechanism that involves disconnecting from one’s thoughts, feelings, memories, and even physical sensations, helps the child endure overwhelming experiences.

Other Factors Influencing DID Development

While childhood trauma is a significant contributing factor, it alone does not account for the development of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Factors such as a biological predisposition to dissociation, a lack of secure attachment during childhood, and the presence of a dissociative style may increase an individual’s vulnerability to developing DID. Cultural factors and societal influences also play a role in shaping how dissociative symptoms are expressed and interpreted.

Treatments of DID

Treatments, Dissociative Identity Disorder
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Psychotherapy for Dissociative Identity Disorder

Psychotherapy is the primary treatment approach for Dissociative Identity Disorder. The goal is to foster collaboration, communication, and integration among the alters to achieve co-consciousness and functional unity. Different therapeutic modalities, such as trauma-focused therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and dialectical behavior therapy, can be tailored to meet the specific needs of individuals with DID. The therapeutic relationship and creating a safe and validating environment are crucial for healing.

Integration and Co-consciousness

Integration refers to the process of merging alters and their identities into a cohesive whole, where there is no longer a distinct separation between them. However, integration is not the only therapeutic goal. Co-consciousness, where alters are aware of each other and can share information and experiences, is an alternative approach that focuses on fostering internal cooperation and communication while maintaining the distinctiveness of alters.

Medication for Symptom Management

Medication is often used as an adjunct to therapy to manage specific symptoms associated with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Antidepressants, anxiolytics, and mood stabilizers may be prescribed to address mood disorders, anxiety, and depression. However, it’s important to note that medication does not treat the core dissociative symptoms or underlying trauma and should be used in conjunction with psychotherapy.

The BASK Model: Applications of Dissociation in Trauma and Hypnotic Anesthesia

The BASK model, developed by Braun in 1988, is a theoretical framework used to understand and treat dissociative identity disorders. BASK stands for Behavior, Affect, Sensation, and Knowledge, representing different aspects of an individual’s experience. The model suggests that dissociated disorders occur on a continuum of awareness.

According to the BASK model, dissociation involves a disruption in the normal integration of these elements. Dissociation can manifest as a disconnection from one’s behavior, emotions, sensations, or knowledge. This disconnection can lead to symptoms such as memory gaps, identity fragmentation, and disorientation.

For example, when someone experiences a traumatic event, such as sexual assault, the BASK model suggests that the individual may dissociate as a coping mechanism. In this context, dissociation may involve a detachment from the traumatic experience, leading to disorientation and a repetitive revisiting of the event. This repetitive behavior is seen as an attempt to complete the stress response cycle and regain a sense of control.

In addition, BASK model can be applied to understand hypnotic anesthesia (reduced sensitivity to pain under hypnotic suggestion). During hypnotic induction, the hypnotherapist focuses the subject’s attention narrowly, altering their awareness and separating their effect and sensation from their ongoing behavior and knowledge of the surgical procedure. This narrowing of attention and decreased general reality orientation (GRO) is seen as a form of dissociation within the BASK framework. The model suggests that hypnosis can expand the domain of nonconscious mental processes and structures, such as hypnotic analgesia and posthypnotic amnesia.

Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder

Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder can be challenging, but with appropriate support and self-care, individuals can lead fulfilling lives. Building a strong support system of understanding friends, family, and mental health professionals is essential. Seeking peer support through support groups or online communities can also provide validation and a sense of belonging.

Coping Strategies for Alters and Switching

Developing effective coping strategies is crucial for managing alters and identity switching. Techniques such as grounding exercises, journaling, and communication among alters can facilitate co-consciousness and minimize disruptions in daily functioning. Establishing routines, practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also contribute to overall well-being.

Self-Care and Mindfulness Techniques

Self-care plays a vital role in managing the symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Engaging in activities that promote relaxation, creativity, and self-expression can be beneficial. Practicing mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help individuals stay present and reduce dissociative episodes. Taking care of physical health through regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep is equally important.


Dissociative Identity Disorder is a complex and multifaceted condition that requires comprehensive understanding and support. Through therapy, individuals with DID can work towards integration, co-consciousness, and a more cohesive sense of self. With the right treatment, coping strategies, and a supportive network, individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder can lead meaningful lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can Dissociative Identity Disorder be cured?

There is no cure for Dissociative Identity Disorder, but with appropriate therapy and support, individuals can learn to manage their symptoms and achieve greater integration and co-consciousness.

2. Is Dissociative Identity Disorder the same as multiple personalities?

Dissociative Identity Disorder was previously referred to as multiple personality disorder. However, the term “multiple personalities” is outdated and fails to capture the complexity and lived experiences of individuals with DID.

3. Can someone with DID have a normal life?

Yes, individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder can lead fulfilling and productive lives with appropriate treatment, support, and self-care strategies.

4. How can friends and family support individuals with DID?

Friends and family can support individuals with Dissociative Identity Disorder by educating themselves about the condition, offering empathy and understanding, and being patient and supportive throughout the healing journey.


Kluft, R. P., & Foote, B. (1999). SPECIAL SECTION: Dissociative Disorders. Psychotherapy, 53(3), 283. Retrieved from [https://psychotherapy.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdf/10.1176/appi.psychotherapy.1999.53.3.283]

Mitra, P., & Jain, A. (2022, May 17). Dissociative Identity Disorder. New York University School of Medicine.

Disclaimer: Please note that this article is for informational purposes only and should not replace professional medical or therapeutic advice.


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