Dissociative Identity Disorder

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My topic of choice for this research paper is Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID. This appellation is rather new; therefore, most are more familiar with the disorder's older, less technical name: Multiple Personality Disorder or MPD. When first presented with the task of selecting a topic on which to center this paper, I immediately dismissed Dissociative Identity Disorder (which for the sake of brevity will be referred to as DID for the remainder of this paper) as a viable topic due to the sheer scope of the disorder. However after an exhaustive examination of other prospective topics, I found myself back at my original choice. There are several reasons why I chose DID. The foremost of which is the widespread fascination of this disorder by many different types of people; most of whom otherwise have no interest in psychology or its associated fields. One would be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t been captivated at one time or another by the extraordinary, all too well known symptoms of this disorder. This fascination… dare I say ‘allure’ to this disorder is exemplified by the myriad of motion pictures that have been produced based on cases, real or fictitious, of DID. Another reason for my choice is what I feel is the insufficiency of effective treatments for DID. Despite what is known about this disorder, (which is relatively a lot) there are only two chief treatments for DID; the first and most prevalent is psychotherapy; also known as ”talk therapy”, the second is medication. The third and final reason for my choice is my own enchantment with DID. I must admit that ever since I read about Sue Tinker, a woman who was diagnosed with over 200 different personalities. In writing this paper I hope to discover more about this disorder and perhaps be able to identify a few areas that I feel might require more research on the part of psychologists specializing in DID.
What is Dissociative Identity Disorder? A proper explanation of DID necessitates a dissection of the name itself. Dissociation is “a mental process, which produces a lack of connection in a person's thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity.”1 In other words, there is a disruption in the way in which these usually integrated functions communicate. Daydreaming, highway hypnosis, or “getting lost” in a book or movie are all examples of very mild dissociation.

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Now that I have defined dissociation, I can explain Dissociation Identity Disorder with less difficulty. DID is a psychological response to trauma often suffered in early childhood. Sufferers are said to have “multiple personalities” (hence the moniker “Multiple Personality Disorder”). They develop different identities (known as “alters”), each having its own distinct set of memories, personal experiences, likes, dislikes, talents, and self-image including its own name. The different identities can have their own age, gender or even race.
How does DID develop? A familiar explanation is that DID is caused by an extremely traumatic experience typically suffered in early childhood. I feel however, that this requires further elucidation. The aforementioned traumatic experience is most often caused by a traumatizing situation from which there is no physical escape. This event is so overwhelmingly painful that the sufferer creates ‘another person’ to deal with it, or simply “goes away” in their mind; a typical child-like response. The experience may be sudden or gradual, transient or chronic. In most cases however, DID develops in situations in which the abuse is perpetrated repeatedly. No matter the length of the anxiety-producing experience, the mind ultimately responds the same way. The experience is processed in a way that breaks up the pieces of the event into differing states of consciousness. Damaging though it may be, this dissociation is a rather effective defense mechanism. For this reason, frequently even long after the traumatizing circumstances have ended, the dissociation remains.

1 Definition derived from http://www.healthubs.com/dissociative/
What are the symptoms of DID? After much research I have prepared a list of what I feel are to be the most common symptoms of DID. The symptoms that require further explanation are explained to the right. They are listed in order of incidence and are as follows:

§     Amnesia: (memory or time loss) DID amnesia usually manifests itself as large gaps in childhood memories.

§     Switching: This is the term used when one personality ‘comes out’ to replace another. This appears to be a sudden and obvious change in mood, behavior, or even appearance of the sufferer. This usually occurs when the sufferer is presented with an anxiety-producing situation.

§     Voices: DID sufferers often complain about hearing voices in their heads. These “voices” are actually the alters’.

§     Headaches: Severe headaches are common. Note: these headaches are unresponsive to pain killers.

§     Suicidal tendencies

§     Headaches: Headaches which are hard to treat with normal painkillers, and are caused by the internal pressures from the other "alters"

§     Depressions and Panic Attacks: that can suddenly appear and disappear in a short period of time**.

§     Self-harm: This is very common and usually results in drug and/or alcohol usage, cutting, head banging, or burning.

§     Auditory or Visual hallucinations

§     Speaking in first person plural: saying we or us when referring to self. Note: this symptom is not as common as the others and doesn’t always occur.

What are the treatments of DID? There is surprisingly little to say here. There are two main treatments of DID. The first of which is psychotherapy or “talk therapy”. This approach often eclectically incorporates many other techniques, the details of which are beyond the scope of this paper. It should be noted however, that psychotherapy is the main treatment for all dissociative disorders, and is not exclusive to DID. The goal of this treatment is to amalgamate the separate “personalities” into one cohesive, healthy personality. DID patients are usually highly responsive to psychotherapy, and can be cured. The second treatment is medication. This is not normally recommended, as it is hard to maintain usage due to the nature of the disorder.
There are a number of problems surrounding the misdiagnoses of DID. For this reason, many DID sufferers are often misdiagnosed the majority of their child lives. The degree of misdiagnoses abates, as the sufferer gets older as it becomes easier to diagnose. The most common misdiagnoses of DID is schizophrenia due to the great similarities between the symptoms. Although misdiagnoses is a big problem, this isn’t the main issue with the diagnoses of DID. Professionals are beginning to look at the diagnoses of DID with more scrutiny due to the onset of therapist created personalities. In other words, through the use of hypnosis, therapists have been known to inadvertently (most of the time) actually cause DID in some patients. This realization has sparked controversy and a heated debate in the psychiatric world; a discussion which is again, beyond the scope of this paper.
While writing this paper I have definitely learned many things that I didn’t know about Dissociative Identity Disorder. It is a very complex disorder and certainly not the over-embellished dramatic disorder that Hollywood portrays it as, but I digress. Although the guidelines of this paper called for a critique and recommendation of what should be researched more about the disorder, I truly have no complaints. I found the information available on DID to be more than adequate; quite ample in fact. There are a multitude of resources available on DID and an equal number of resources that seek to discredit the disorder I might add.
In conclusion I have discovered that DID is an extremely devastating disorder for the sufferer, but it is curable. I must admit that this research has made me consider a change of career goals. Suddenly, a career in psychology isn’t looking as improbable as it did 2 weeks ago.

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