Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a complex and chronic mental condition characterized by an alteration of the individual’s identity. In some cases, it even identifies with dual personality. When a person suffers from a dissociative disorder, their memory, emotions, perceptions, behaviors and identity coexist in a discontinuous way. This disorder often occurs as a consequence of psychological trauma and is characterized by a pathological and involuntary use of dissociation as a defense mechanism to avoid traumatic memories.
What are the underlying causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder?
The underlying causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder are almost always connected to intense stress or childhood trauma, especially if the latter was severe, repeated over time and perpetrated by a significant other, such as a parent. The main documented causes of DID include maltreatment, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, early losses, abandonment and severe illness.
As a matter of fact, the idea of a “unitary identity” is not inherently present in children; instead, the latter is developed over the course of life based on the individual’s experiences through the different developmental stages. This is why children having experienced severe maltreatment, abuse or intense stress are unable to integrate their different emotions and life experiences as they grow up, thus developing a fragmented identity.
What are the symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Diagnosing a Dissociative Identity Disorder is neither easy nor immediate, since many of the symptoms that are initially reported by patients can be associated with other psychic disorders such as schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder. These symptoms include: anxiety, depression, insomnia, alcohol and drug abuse, eating disorders and mood swings.
Other symptoms associated with Dissociative Identity Disorder are:
- Frequent memory lapses concerning personal events from the past, daily life events and skills that the person has acquired;
- Suicidal impulses;
- Sexual disorders;
- Auditory, visual, tactile, olfactory hallucinations experienced by the person’s alternate identities that take over each time.
How to treat Dissociative Identity Disorder
Some of the symptoms connected to DID can disappear spontaneously, but healing from the dissociative disorder itself is impossible without therapy.
As is the case for many pathologies, different factors impact the recovery from DID, such as the severity of the disorder, the individual’s specific characteristics and the overall duration of the treatment process. The latter generally includes:
- Guided imagery and hypnosis.
How to treat Dissociative Identity Disorder with Psychotherapy
The main goal of Psychotherapy is the integration of the individual’s different personalities into a unified identity. When achieving this level of integration is not possible, Psychotherapy tries to help the different personalities coexist in a more harmonious way, so as to allow the person to have a more balance psychic functioning.
Even if Psychotherapy takes time and can be emotionally challenging, it is the main treatment option for the integration of different identities. The fundamental principles of an effective therapy include:
- Stabilizing emotions;
- Processing trauma and traumatic memories;
- Building a good therapeutic relationship between the patient and the therapist and strengthening it.
To conclude, dissociative disorders are a complex subject of study and some aspects about them remain obscure.
Events and professional development opportunities about Dissociative Identity Disorder
The webinar hosted by ISC on May 5th and 6th 2022, “Dilemmas in the treatment of dissociative disorder clients”, conducted by the clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist Suzette Boon, PhD, will try to shed some light on this very same subject. During this webinar, Dr. Boon will answer common questions like these ones: Do therapists have to stabilize dissociative patients or not? How do they know that they have completed enough stabilizing work in preparation for Phase 2?
The webinar will also include clinical vignettes and video clips and will be divided into two separate parts: on the first day, Dr. Boon will mainly focus on the “standard” treatment process, while on the second one, she will talk about therapy with the more “difficult” dissociative patients.