When a person thinks of multiple personality disorder, the first thought that usually comes to their mind is the movie Sybil. Sybil had these full alter identities that each had their own personality. They all had a history, likes, dislikes, and temperament. Sybil suffered from child abuse from her mother, which created alters because she had to escape from the world that her mother inflicted on her. Sybil exhibited bizarre behavior, and tried to kill herself when one of her personalities had taken over. This other personality was severely depressed. Eventually, though treatment, Sybil was able to “meet” the personalities and become whole once again.
In real life, people with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) (formally changed to Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)) do not always show patterns of extreme behavior. They typically have extreme memory loss from when they dissociate, or detach from their surroundings. They claim they have “lost time” from extreme memory lapses. People may have panic attacks, insomnia, or depression. They may have a history of substance abuse or suicidal thoughts.
People may go for part of their life not knowing that they have DID, or may deal with the personalities as they live their everyday life. An example of this is retired NFL player Herschel Walker. He was diagnosed with DID. During his fourteen years as a running back, he had twelve alternative personalities.
Another common myth is that DID is the same as schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia do not have alters. They have a general confusion about what is real or unreal, and typically experience delusions or hallucinations. However, people with either disorder may hear voices in their heads, withdraw from social interaction, and show increased risk of substance abuse of suicide.
Although diagnosing DID is difficult, evidence suggests that DID is a real disorder, and that people with multiple personalities are not faking it. Alternates show different patterns in heart rate, blood pressure, and brain activity. There is also evidence that people with DID have a smaller hippocampus and amygdala. Therefore, one cannot claim that a person with DID is just “faking it.” Obviously, there are cases may use multiple personality disorder for personal gain. However, this does not mean that DID does not exist.
The most commonly accepted cause for DID is early childhood trauma abuse. Many people find this controversial, as many people that have suffered early childhood abuse do not develop DID. However, this argument can be made for other types of disorders or medical problems, yet the evidence shows causation between the two. For example, not all smokers develop lung cancer, and not all alcoholics develop liver cirrhosis. The majority of people with DID experienced early childhood trauma. These experiences were too much for the child to endure, so their brain “turned off” their brain, so to speak, and developed alternative identities as a coping mechanism. Not all children develop this disorder because of abuse, but evidence does show a link between the two.
The most common treatment that psychotherapists use to treat DID is to try to have the identities coexist peacefully together. The goal is not to necessarily integrate the personalities, or eliminate them, because this could cause a personality to commit potentially violent behavior as a survival response. Therefore, people with DID usually have to find a way to live their lives with the alternative personalities.
This is a video blog of a person with MPD or DID talking about their experiences:
© Amy Burney, Amy’s Fantastical Writings