What is Dissociative Personality Disorder? Understanding Multiple Identities Beyond the Self.

Dissociative Personality Disorder, also known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is a mental health condition where a person’s sense of identity is fragmented, resulting in the development of distinct personalities or identities. These different identities may have their own thoughts, behaviors, memories, and feelings which may be completely different from the person’s core identity. It is a complex disorder that has been widely recognized and studied by the psychiatric community for decades.

What Causes Dissociative Personality Disorder?

There is no single cause of Dissociative Personality Disorder, but it is usually a result of trauma that occurred during childhood. The most common cause is repeated physical, emotional or sexual abuse, but it can also be caused by other traumatic events such as neglect, natural disasters, or war experience. The traumatic experiences disrupt the normal development of a child’s personality, leading to the fragmentation of the personality.

It is essential to distinguish between Dissociative Personality Disorder and other dissociative disorders such as depersonalization or derealization. These disorders are more related to feelings of detachment or disconnection from oneself or the environment, but they do not involve the development of separate identities.

The Symptoms of Dissociative Personality Disorder

The symptoms of Dissociative Personality Disorder may vary from person to person, but usually include the following:

  • The presence of two or more identities, each with its own personality traits, behaviors, emotions, and memories.
  • The inability to remember important personal information, events or people.
  • The sense of being detached from oneself or the environment.
  • Recurrent gaps in memory or time: one may experience waking up or finding themselves in a place without any memory of how they got there or what happened in the meantime.
  • Feeling paranoid, anxious, or depressed.

The Role of Trauma in the Development of Dissociative Personality Disorder

Most people with Dissociative Personality Disorder have a history of severe trauma which has caused them to develop different personalities. When exposed to traumatic events, the brain activates the “flight or fight” response, which causes a physiological and emotional reaction. Repeated exposure to such events leads to the development of multiple personalities as a coping mechanism. These different identities are often created to help the person deal with and survive the traumatic events.

However, creating separate identities does not automatically mean that one has Dissociative Personality Disorder. What sets this disorder apart from other dissociative disorders is the degree of identity disturbance, amnesia or gaps in memory, and the presence of different identities or personalities.

The Diagnosis of Dissociative Personality Disorder

How is Dissociative Personality Disorder Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of Dissociative Personality Disorder is based on a detailed clinical interview with a mental health professional. A diagnosis takes time, and a person with this disorder may have underlying feelings of shame, denial, or fear of being misunderstood, which makes it difficult for them to open up about their experiences.

To diagnose Dissociative Personality Disorder, the clinician may use the DSM-5 criteria or the International Classification of Diseases/ICD-11 criteria. The DSM-5 criteria require the presence of at least two separate and distinct identities or personality states that take control of an individual’s behavior repeatedly. Besides, there must be gaps in the person’s memory that are beyond normal forgetfulness. These criteria must cause significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of functioning.

Treatment Options for Dissociative Personality Disorder

There is no cure for Dissociative Personality Disorder, but it is treatable. A combination of psychotherapies and medications is usually the recommended treatment. The primary goal of treatment is to stabilize the person’s life, reduce dissociative symptoms, and address the underlying trauma.

Psychotherapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) have been successful in treating individuals with Dissociative Personality Disorder. These therapies focus on helping the person identify and manage their different personalities, reducing dissociative symptoms, and developing coping mechanisms.

Medications such as antidepressants and antipsychotics may be prescribed to help manage symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and paranoia.


Dissociative Personality Disorder is a complex disorder whose symptoms may vary from person to person. It is essential to understand that it is a real and often severe mental health condition that requires treatment. Individuals with this disorder may experience significant challenges in their personal lives and daily functioning. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can improve their quality of life and help them manage their symptoms effectively.

FAQs about Dissociative Personality Disorder

  • What is Dissociative Personality Disorder?: Dissociative Personality Disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by the fragmentation of one’s identity resulting in the development of separate personalities or identities.
  • What causes Dissociative Personality Disorder?: Trauma, especially during childhood, is the most common cause of Dissociative Personality Disorder.
  • What are the symptoms of Dissociative Personality Disorder?: The symptoms of Dissociative Personality Disorder include having multiple personalities, inability to remember significant personal information, experiences or events, feeling detached from oneself or the environment, and recurrent gaps in memory or time.
  • Can Dissociative Personality Disorder be treated?: There is no cure for Dissociative Personality Disorder, but it is treatable with psychotherapies and medication. The goal of treatment is to stabilize the individual’s life, reduce dissociative symptoms, and address the underlying trauma.
  • How is Dissociative Personality Disorder diagnosed?: The diagnosis is based on a detailed clinical interview with a mental health professional, using either the DSM-5 or ICD-11 criteria.


  1. Gleaves, D. H., & Hernandez, E. F. (1999). The Dissociative Experiences Scale: Extensions and New Research. In The Dissociative Mind, (Ed.), E. Cardena & S. J. Lynn (pp. 491-504). Guilford Press.
  2. Bremner, J. D. (2002). Does Stress Damage the Brain? Biological Psychiatry, 51(1), 58-59.
  3. Sar, V., & Taycan, O. (2016). Dissociative Disorders. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 29(4), 255-262.

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