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What Is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Dissociative identity disorder is defined as, “… condition wherein a person’s identity is fragmented into two or more distinct personalities. ” (Handbook of Psychology) Dissociative identity disorder, or DID, is considered rare amongst the psychological community and patients are often victims are various forms of abuse or extreme trauma. DID has several aspects of other dissociative disorders, but will vary from patient to patient due to the intricacies of the human mind. One common aspect in DID is depersonalization disorder, which is a feeling of watching oneself or that one’s body is not your own.

A common comparison is watching oneself on a movie screen without actually doing these actions. Other less common aspect are dissociative amnesia and dissociative fugue. Dissociative amnesia is a phenomenon in which the patient will temporarily lose their episodic recall memory. Dissociative fugue is when a patient has a period of travel or wandering in which they have no recollection of what happened in that time and will often adopt a new identity. Those who have DID will usually have several symptoms regarding memory, perception, hallucinations, mood swings, and pain.

Patients will often have lapses in memory beyond normal forgetfulness. These can include finding objects they have no memory of buying, discovering they are wearing clothes they don’t remember putting on, or even in extreme cases finding yourself in unfamiliar places with no memory of going there. It is common patients will have loss in time, identity, and sense of self if the case is severe enough. They may also experience hallucinations such as intrusive thoughts and emotions or hearing voices. These voices are described as “alters” or other personalities communicating rather than an outside source, which is the case with schizophrenia.

Outside of these symptoms there is not specific test for DID but psychologists will look for certain signs. Diagnosing DID is described as “… an exclusionary process… ” by Healthy Place due to DID’s symptoms overlapping into many other mental illnesses, such as auditory hallucinations. The exclusionary process involves eliminating a few key illnesses before diagnosing DID. One of the first tests they will conduct will be for malingering, in which the patient will make up or inflate symptoms in order for secondary gain.

They will account for temporal lobe epilepsy, which would account for when the patient dissociates. Then they will test for schizophrenia, which would explain auditory hallucinations. They key difference between the two is that schizophrenics report the voices being from outside their mind whereas DID patients say the voices come from within. Once any other cause that may result in DID-like symptoms, then the psychologist will follow through with specially designed interview and personality assessment. They will then diagnose and treat the patient. There are a few methods for treating DID.

Once a diagnosis for DID is completed the psychologist will being treatment and possibly recommend at home treatment. Typically there will be long term psychotherapy to reach “the goal of deconstructing the different personalities and uniting them into one. ” (Psychology Today) Other therapies are often used in conjunction with this. Such therapies include creative therapy and cognitive therapy. Creative therapy will often be about expressing oneself through an art such as painting or music. Cognitive therapy is focused on taking unhealthy and negative thought patterns and alter to be more healthy.

However this approach or “uniting” the personalities has often left patients feeling as though the psychologist is trying to get rid of or “kill” a part of them. This may cause anxiety in the client and further worsen their symptoms, therefore another approach will be taken. Hypnosis is an alternative approach being used. This method can be used to extract more information from the patient that they may not have access to. Another alternative method is finding healthy ways to cope with lapses in memory and achieve a better coexistence with the patients alters.

Along with these processes it is not uncommon for the patient to be taking medication to assist with their other symptoms. These may include antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication. Despite all of the advances in current medicine, there is currently no cure for DID. However even with this a person’s life is still different from the common experience. Living with DID can often be very distressing for those who experience it. A common experience is “waking up” into your body and finding that another personality did something totally out of character.

One woman explains her experience and how she originally coped: “… Didn’t everyone lose track of time, belongings, people? Didn’t everyone find things in their possession they couldn’t recall buying, or money spent they couldn’t recall spending? Didn’t everyone have such drastic extremes in desire and goals? Didn’t everyone regularly run into people whose names and faces couldn’t be placed? ” (Anonymous) People who suffer from DID will often go through very traumatic periods of dissociation or amnesia.

One man goes on to say, “… I was so sure that I was going ‘crazy’ and that nothing could be done about it, so I might as well pretend to be normal. ” (Anonymous) Many people will often become depressed, anxious, suicidal even. These crises are only exacerbated due to a high likelihood of being misdiagnosed. However these can be managed with proper medication and therapy. However those who go untreated may develop very severe symptoms and may even find themselves in a situation with the law due to their dissociative amnesia.

Such is the case of Juanita Maxwell. Juanita Maxwell worked as a maid at Fort Myers Hotel where a 73 year-old woman was beaten to death. She was brought in for questioning when they discovered blood on her shoes and scratches on her face. Upon waiting for the trial she went to psychologist where they discovered her alter, Wanda Weston. On the day of her trial when she was set to go up to the stand, the social worker coaxed Wanda out of Mrs. Maxwell.

Witnesses say they transformation was amazing, “… the soft-spoken Mrs. Maxwell became a giggling, boisterous ‘Wanda Weston’” (The New York Times) Wanda then went on to describe how she beat the elderly woman to death with a lamp over a dispute over a pen. She said that she had lent the victim a pen and returned later to retrieve it, but when the victim refused she entered her home and beat her to death. Wanda even goes on to say, “… she did not think death was harsh punishment for not returning the pen. ” (The New York Times) The social worker then coaxed Juanita back and asked her several questions. She had no recollection of the murder, but knew of Wanda.

She began rubbing her temples and complaining of a migraine. This is an extreme case of DID but demonstrates the hardships that those with DID experience. Dissociative identity disorder is just one of the many thousands of disorders and all must be treated case to case because humans are complicated creatures. However those who suffer from DID should not be set off from society because they are also people like you or me. We as a society should be accepting of those with mental illness and do our best to help them through their lives until we are able to find ways to help make them well.

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