DID is the disorder that is mixed up with schizophrenia in everyday language. It involves multiple (that is, split) personalities. Each personality that develops has its own identity (age, name, characteristics, memories, etc.) and takes control of the person while it is present. Then another takes over. Frequently, the alternative identities have characteristics quite different from the original personality. For example, they might be hostile and aggressive rather than gentle and unassuming.
Particular types of dissociative disorder are amnesia and fugue. In dissociative amnesia a person suddenly loses all recall of events that occurred during and after a particularly traumatic event. Although being able to live fairly normally in the world, the person might also have forgotten his or her name and address and the relevant details of other family members. After anything from a few hours to a few years, the person suddenly snaps back into full memory. With dissociative fugue, the person responds to a traumatic event by suddenly beginning an entirely new life, new identity, new job, new relationships, everything, with absolutely no memory of what went before.
DID usually results from extreme childhood trauma, most often involving child sexual abuse and tends to begin at about 4 to 6 years of age. It seems as though such children self-hypnotise themselves into the creation of another identity and this helps to rid them of some of the emotional turmoil that their life circumstances are forcing on them. If, later, there is another emotional trauma that their identities cannot cope with, then they might create yet another identity that allows them to cope. Sometimes one of the personalities might know about the other, but frequently they are all hidden from one another.
The most famous instance of DID, or multiple personality disorder, as it was then known, appeared in the book and movie The Three Faces of Eve, based on the true case of Chris Sizemore. DID always demonstrates a lack of integration of identity, memory and consciousness in general. It is simply as though a difficulty is dealt with by creating another personality that can manage this, whereas the usual one cannot. The child learns to cope by dissociating the memory of the painful events from memory altogether and one way of achieving this is by creating another personality that does not have those same memories.
Instances of DID are always fascinating, but they are relatively rare. The chances are that you have not known of such a case personally. It is also possible that some of the reported cases may be false. Given the usual association of DID with childhood sexual abuse and the now well-known difficulties involved in recovering memories for traumatic childhood events, there are clearly problems in finding exactly what has or has not happened. Similarly, given that people who experience DID are highly suggestible, the disorder may have been over-diagnosed in them merely because of their suggestibility.
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