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When a Loved One is Diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder

Support for Your Loved One With DID, Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder

People with dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly referred to as multiple personality disorder, have two or more distinct identities. These personality states, which mental health professionals sometimes call “alters,” can have different characteristics, including differences in age, gender, mannerisms, and even physical appearance. 

Having a loved one receives a diagnosis of DID can come as a shock, but taking the time to learn more about this condition can help you better support your friend or family member as they seek treatment. Even though DID can’t be “cured” in the traditional sense of the word, access to personalized care and support can help patients achieve a greater sense of integration and stability in their lives. 

Looking at the Causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder

According to the National Library of Medicine, dissociative identity disorder affects an estimated 1.5% of the general population. The exact causes of DID are not fully understood, but the condition is believed to be related to a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and social factors. 

Experiencing significant childhood trauma, such as physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, is considered a major risk factor for developing DID. The dissociation that occurs in DID is thought to be the mind’s way of coping with overwhelming traumatic experiences. Other factors that may contribute to the development of DID include neurobiological factors, attachment difficulties in childhood, and sociocultural influences. For example, researchers have found that certain regions of the brain, such as the hippocampus and amygdala, function differently in people with DID compared to those without the condition.

Famous Examples of People With DID

Because DID is rare, people with this condition often attract significant interest from the public Here are a few examples of individuals of people with DID who’ve had their stories featured in the media:

  • Chris Costner Sizemore. Sizemore’s case was the basis for the bestselling book and Oscar-winning film The Three Faces of Eve. She was originally said to have had three distinct personalities, but her 1977 memoir I’m Eve clarified that she had 22 distinct personalities. 
  • Kim Noble. A gifted British artist who has been diagnosed with DID, Noble is known for artwork that depicts her different personalities. She is reported to have over 100 distinct identities. In 2012, Noble released an autobiography titled All of Me: How I Learned to Live With the Many Personalities Sharing My Body.
  • Truddi Chase. Chase’s memoir When Rabbit Howls detailed her experiences of having 92 distinct personalities, which she developed as a result of severe childhood abuse. Chase appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show several times to share her life experiences and advocate for support for other victims of childhood abuse.
  • Billy Milligan. Milligan was the first person in the United States to successfully use a multiple personality disorder defense in a criminal trial, attributing his crimes to one of his 24 personalities. Billy’s experiences are covered in the Apple TV+ series The Crowded Room. However, it is important to understand that DID does not make people violent. Statistically speaking, people with DID are no more likely to be violent than anyone in the general population. 

Shirley Mason, initially considered one of the most well-known cases of DID, had her story popularized in the 1973 book Sybil and its subsequent film adaptations. However, Mason later went on record saying that she had fabricated many elements of her story to garner attention from her psychiatrist. As a result, this should not be considered an accurate portrayal of what it is like to live with DID.

Diagnosing and Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder

Diagnosing dissociative identity disorder can be challenging because the condition often involves a wide range of symptoms that overlap with other mental health disorders. In addition, DID often co-occurs with other mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, or eating disorders. A comprehensive clinical assessment, including a detailed medical and psychiatric history, psychological testing, and observation of the individual’s behavior and cognition, is typically necessary to establish a diagnosis based on the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Psychotherapy approaches commonly used in the treatment of DID vary based on individual needs but can include:

  • Trauma-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). TF-CBT helps people with DID process and integrate their traumatic experiences by combining cognitive-behavioral techniques with a focus on better understanding trauma-related memories and emotions.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT encourages patients to develop skills to regulate their emotions, improve interpersonal relationships, and increase their ability to tolerate feelings of distress.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR uses rapid eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation to help people with DID reprocess and integrate traumatic memories.
  • Hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy can be used to help people access and explore their different identities, facilitate communication and cooperation between them, and promote the development of a more cohesive sense of self.

Medication may be prescribed to address co-occurring conditions, such as depression or anxiety. However, there are no medications that have been specifically approved for the treatment of dissociative identity disorder.

Getting Support for Your Loved One With DID

If your loved one is struggling with dissociative identity disorder, the experienced team at Raleigh Oaks Behavioral Health is here to help. We offer comprehensive, compassionate treatment tailored to the unique needs of those with DID. Contact us today to learn more about our evidence-based therapy options available at our facility in Garner, North Carolina. No-cost, confidential assessments are available 24/7. 

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