Dissociative Identity Disorder, often called multiple personality disorder, mental illness in which a person has two or more

distinct identities or personality states, which recurrently take control of the person’s consciousness and behavior. The person often gives the alternate identities their own personal names, and these identities may have characteristics that differ sharply from the person’s primary identity. In addition, a person with this disorder experiences some degree of amnesia, in that one personality usually will not recall what occurred when another personality controlled the person. People often act and feel differently in various settings. For example, teenagers may act differently at a party than they do at school. However, people in good mental health maintain continuous awareness of themselves no matter what the situation. Individuals with dissociative identity disorder do not. They experience sudden shifts in consciousness, identity, and memory. They may find themselves in a strange apartment and not remember how they got there, or discover new clothing in their closet without knowing how it was purchased. Their identity is fragmented into pieces with different emotions, memories, and styles of interacting with people. They may shift from being passive and accepting of advice from others to being hostile and uncooperative. They are often at war with themselves, with certain personalities being quite critical of other personalities. At times one personality may go so far as inflicting physical harm on one of the other personalities. In one case, a woman with dissociative identity disorder carved the words “I hate Joan” on her forearm while in a different personality state. In 1994 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) changed the name of the disorder from multiple personality disorder to dissociative identity disorder. Psychiatrists wanted to emphasize the fact that the disorder does not really consist of many personalities living in one body, but rather of a failure to integrate various aspects of identity into a unified personality. In a sense, people with this disorder suffer not from having more than one personality but rather from having less than one personality. Typically the disorder begins in childhood or adolescence, although the symptoms may not become evident to others for many years. In childhood, individuals with dissociative identity disorder often appear moody or irresponsible because they may switch personalities suddenly or deny having done something they no longer remember. Doctors often misdiagnose people with this disorder as having other mental illnesses. Although critics claim the disorder is an invention of therapists, most experts agree it is a real but rare condition. Most individuals with dissociative identity disorder report histories of severe and repeated physical, sexual, or emotional abuse in childhood (see Child Abuse). This does not mean that everyone with the disorder was necessarily mistreated. However, most psychiatrists now understand the disorder as a reaction to chronic trauma and stress. People frequently enter altered states of consciousness during traumatic events such as physical or sexual assault, natural disasters, motor vehicle accidents, or combat. They detach or dissociate themselves from their immediate circumstances as a means of protecting themselves from overwhelming mental or physical pain (see Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). In dissociative identity disorder this useful ability may become

conditioned by repeated trauma, leading to separate personality states that may be triggered by any anxiety or stress. The best treatment for the disorder is long-term psychotherapy aimed at helping patients to gain insight into each of their personality states, work through the aftermath of traumatic memories, achieve greater self-acceptance, and reduce self-damaging behavior. Hypnosis may help a person control spontaneous switching of personality states. Many people with this disorder suffer from depression and may benefit from antidepressant medication as well. Contributed By: David Spiegel © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Microsoft Encyclopedia Standard 2004 April 17, 2009

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