What is dissociative identity disorder?

Dissociative identity disorder has as its main feature the presence of two (or more) distinct personality states. The interruption of identity implies the possibility that the flow of experience can break up and fragment.

Sufferers may have memory holes (dissociative amnesia) and present other dissociative symptoms such as derealization (not recognizing the environment or people they know) and depersonalization (seeing oneself from the outside).


  • What is dissociative identity disorder?
    • Dissociative Identity Disorder or Multiple Personality Disorder?
    • This disturbance in the cinema
    • Symptoms of dissociative identity disorder
    • Considerations on dissociative identity disorder
    • Causes of dissociative identity disorder
    • Possible solutions

Dissociative Identity Disorder or Multiple Personality Disorder?

Dissociative identity disorder is also known as multiple personality disorder. The name used here, which as always refers to the disorder defined by the DSM-V, emphasizes the lack of unity of the subject’s identity . Transitions from one personality state to another involve alterations in affects, behaviors, memory, perception, consciousness, cognition and the way we feel and move.

This disturbance in the cinema

A few years ago an American series was released, United States of Tara , in which the protagonist, a very good Toni Collette plays a character who suffers from this disorder. It is quite common to see it transposed on the big or small screen because it is very suggestive.

The list, in fact, could be very long, just remember the beautiful Shards of Fear in which Edward Norton plays a boy with two personalities, one good and one evil, with a surprising ending; Split based on the true story of an American criminal who had 24 different personalities. In the latter, it can also be seen how the individual personalities that are formed can have traits, abilities or aspects that are precluded to the others. 

In the imaginary of cinema obviously the characteristics are exacerbated to capture the attention of the viewer but they are not entirely without foundation . It is possible that a person suffering from this disorder really forgets a previous skill or that in a certain state he may lose the sensitivity of a part of the body or speak with a different accent than usual.

Symptoms of dissociative identity disorder

The symptomatology of this disorder is very complex and often overlaps with that of other equally present mental disorders . The main one is the disruption of identity , caused by the presence of two or more personality states.

This condition causes others:

  • Discontinuity in the sense of self and in the sense of agency (the awareness of the mastery of one’s actions), accompanied by relative alterations in mood , behavior, awareness, memory, perception, cognition, and / or in motor and sensory functioning;
  • Recurring gaps in recalling daily events , important personal information, and / or traumatic events that simply cannot be forgotten.

Considerations on dissociative identity disorder

Although it can also present itself in milder ways, however in this case it is a serious disorder , in which daily life is compromised in all its relational aspects of work and personal functioning.

In most cases , PTSD, a post-traumatic stress disorder , can also be diagnosed . This suggests that dissociative identity disorder itself may arise as a reaction to traumatic events . In fact, according to the DSM-V, 90% of the cases studied in the United States, Canada and Europe were found to have child abuse and neglect. 

Causes of dissociative identity disorder

As I have already explained in post-traumatic stress disorder , traumatic life events can have devastating effects on the psyche. In this disorder the psyche does not achieve lasting stability but is completely fragmented.

Personality characteristics do not become defined traits but are specific to some mental states and can coexist with other opposite characteristics of other mental states.

The difficulty experienced by these subjects, in severe cases, is such that in 70% of cases we find at least one suicide attempt. Furthermore, they are subject to a high risk of criminal conduct – especially men – abuse and dependence on substances and life behaviors that are always at the limit and risky.

For pathologies of this severity, the treatment includes complex and multidisciplinary treatments . They are usually conducted in residential facilities where subjects remain for several years. Psychotherapy is a fundamental link in these paths. 

Specifically, in the case of Billy Malligan, the protagonist of the film Split , the decisive step in his care consisted in favoring the birth of a new personality “the Master” who could organize and favor integration among all the others. 

This disorder makes it clear that there are two antithetical forces in the human psyche . One that aims at integration, union between the parts and the other at disintegration, fragmentation and destruction. Hypothesis formulated by Freud in his writing “Beyond the pleasure principle” of 1920. The father of psychoanalysis was the first only to theorize it in these terms, but this dualism is a theme that has always been present in religion, in myths and in all cultural tradition of the human being since its origin. 

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