Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is one of the most misunderstood mental disorders. Studies show that there is a more negative stigma associated with DID compared to other well-known mental illnesses, like depression. Messages we get from pop culture can contribute to this stigma. By building awareness and educating ourselves about others’ experiences, we can foster inclusivity and acceptance of people with DID and all mental disorders.
Through this post, we’re starting a conversation about the stigma attached to DID and debunking some common misconceptions. First, let’s talk about what exactly DID is, what the symptoms are, and how it’s treated.
Symptoms of Dissociative Identity Disorder
People with DID “switch” between two or more identities. Each identity has a personality with their own preferences and characteristics. They may perceive themselves and their environment differently. These identities are called “alters.”
Alters can have different mannerisms from one another, identify as different genders, and may or may not be familiar with one another. For instance, someone with DID may switch between male and female alters who all have unique individual personalities and are aware that the others exist. Sometimes, people with DID experience co-consciousness, meaning more than one alter is present and aware at the same time.
According to the DSM-5, people with DID also experience amnesia, or gaps in their memory. They may not remember certain events, parts of their day, or important information about themselves. For someone to be diagnosed with DID, symptoms must cause them to feel distressed or have difficulty functioning in certain areas of their life.
Treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder
According to the Cleveland Clinic, the main cause of DID is recurrent trauma and/or abuse experienced in childhood. People with dissociative identity disorder can manage their symptoms through psychotherapy. Talk therapy for patients with DID may focus on coping with past trauma, managing dissociative symptoms, and working to combine alters into one identity. Medications can also be used to alleviate additional symptoms associated with DID, like anxiety or depression. With the right diagnosis and treatment, people with DID can live happy, productive lives!
Myths About Dissociative Identity Disorder
There is a lot of misinformation about dissociative identity disorder. One common myth is that people with DID are more likely to be violent than those without the disorder. In some cases, entertainment and media perpetuates this false stigma. Take the 2017 movie Split, for example. The main character is a person with DID who has an alter named “The Beast” that is portrayed as an evil and violent character. Misrepresentations like this are harmful because they depict those with dissociative identity disorder as dangerous people who should be avoided. The idea that people with DID are inherently violent is completely false. The truth is, people with dissociative identity disorder are not more likely to be violent than those without it. In fact, a lot of people with DID are passive rather than aggressive because of trauma they may have experienced early in life.
Another myth is that the symptoms of DID are obvious because there is a shift between identities. But people with DID are often misdiagnosed with other disorders several times before receiving the correct diagnosis, and may live with the disorder for many years before they are diagnosed. DID can sometimes go unnoticed until an identity “switch” happens in front of a therapist.
DID is often confused with other types of mental disorders, such as schizophrenia. People with schizophrenia may experience psychosis and changes in behaviour, but they do not have separate identities like someone with DID. Contrary to popular belief, dissociative identity disorder also is not a personality disorder. It’s a dissociative disorder, which means it causes one to disconnect from their identity and/or reality.
Making assumptions about people with DID only perpetuates stigma. It’s always better to approach situations with non-judgement and acceptance. Thinking critically about how the media you consume affects your perception of people with mental disorders can help prevent you from internalizing this stigma.
We hope this article helped you understand more about dissociative identity disorder and the stigma around it! If you’re interested in learning more about breaking the stigma around mental illness, check out our articles on OCD and borderline personality disorder.