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Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder)

Who Gets Dissociative Identity Disorder?

While the causes of dissociative identity disorder are still vague, research indicates that a combination of environmental and biological factors work together to cause it. As many as 98% to 99% of individuals who develop dissociative disorders have recognized personal histories of recurring, overpowering, and often life-threatening disturbances at a sensitive developmental stage of childhood (usually before age 9). Dissociation may also happen when there has been insistent neglect or emotional abuse, even when there has been no overt physical or sexual abuse. Findings show that in families where parents are frightening and unpredictable, the children may become dissociative.

How Is Dissociative Identity Disorder Diagnosed?

Making the diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder takes time. It's estimated that individuals with dissociative disorders have spent seven years in the mental health system prior to accurate diagnosis. This is common, because the list of symptoms that cause a person with a dissociative disorder to seek treatment is very similar to those of many other psychiatric diagnoses. In fact, many people who have dissociative disorders also have secondary diagnoses of depression, anxiety, or panic disorders.

The DSM-IV provides the following criteria to diagnose dissociative identity disorder:

  1. Two or more distinct identities or personality states are present, each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self.
  2. At least two of these identities or personality states recurrently take control of the person's behavior.
  3. The person has an inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.
  4. The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (such as blackouts or chaotic behavior during alcohol intoxication) or a general medical condition (such as complex partial seizures).

Are There Famous People With Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Famous people with dissociative identity disorder include retired NFL star Herschel Walker, who says he's struggled with dissociative identity disorder for years but has only been treated for the past eight years.

Walker recently published a book about his struggles with dissociative identity disorder, along with his suicide attempts. Walker talks about a feeling of disconnect from childhood to the professional leagues. To cope, he developed a tough personality that didn't feel loneliness, one that was fearless and wanted to act out the anger he always suppressed. These "alters" could withstand the abuse he felt; other alters came to help him rise to national fame. Today, Walker realizes that these alternate personalities are part of dissociative identity disorder, which he was diagnosed with in adulthood.

How Common Is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Statistics show the rate of dissociative identity disorder is .01% to 1% of the general population. Still, more than 1/3 of people say they feel as if they're watching themselves in a movie at times, and 7% percent of the population may have undiagnosed dissociative disorder.

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