Written by: Jachin Khoo (21-U5), Jacynthe Liew (21-O3), Leanne Soh (21-E6), Tan Le Kai (21-I4), Carissa Aletha Liem (21-I1)
Designed By: Katelyn Joshy (21-U1)
Introduction: What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a severe form of dissociation, a mental process where one disconnects their feelings, thoughts and sense of identity. It is usually a result of a traumatic event, and people develop it as a coping mechanism to detach themselves from the trauma. Previously known as split personality disorder, DID is a mental health condition where one person has multiple identities. The “core” identity refers to the person’s usual identity, while “alters” refer to their alternate identities. Each alter has its own personality, behaviour, traits and even personal history. Some common signs and symptoms of DID include anxiety, depression and delusions.
How do people with DID cope?
So, how do people cope with and manage DID? The most common treatment for dissociation is to go to therapy. An inpatient psychiatric program can be especially effective if symptoms of dissociation are particularly intense. Residential treatment, in particular, allows an individual to be immersed in healing practices and perspectives. It will allow people suffering from DID to develop therapeutic alliances, healthier coping skills, and a productive relationship with their stored trauma. Talk therapy can help DID patients work through the challenges they face when dealing with the condition, while stress management can help them identify and learn to deal with triggers that send them into a dissociative state.
Practising relaxation techniques can also be particularly helpful when internal monologue gets too overwhelming and some strategies include a form of physical activity like yoga or doing hands-on projects like knitting and crafting. Grounding techniques are also essential in coping with DID and distractions such as television, time with pets and hobbies would also make DID patients feel more present in their bodies.
Creating a daily schedule to structure their day is an especially important part of coping with DID. Developing a schedule can help them stay grounded and present, removing unexpected situations that create stress or lead to impulsive behaviours. This will also help them to stay focused and prevent potential gaps in their memory.
What should we not do around them/to them?
The actions of the people around those suffering from DID can have a large impact on their condition, which is why you should avoid:
- ‘Taking sides’ with any of component of their identities
- Socially ostracizing them
- Branding them as ‘dangerous’
- Reminding them of the traumatic experiences which caused DID in the first place
- Getting angry at them when they have an outburst
How can we help those who suffer from DID?
People with DID likely already feel isolated and alone in their suffering. When this person is living through the lens of an alternate personality that is unfamiliar to you, remember that this is still your loved one, and help them to feel accepted and supported regardless.
Firstly, stay calm during switches. Switching between alters can happen very subtly, and can also be more dramatic and disorienting. While this situation may be stressful and surprising, remaining level headed and meeting your friend where they are mentally can be enormously helpful.
Secondly, try to learn and avoid triggers, which are external stimuli that cause them to switch between alters. Individuals with this condition may be triggered by anything that elicits a strong emotional response, including certain places, smells, sounds, senses of touch, times of the year or large groups of people. By asking them directly or observing their behavior, try to help your loved one avoid those triggers when possible.
Thirdly, remember to take care of yourself. It can be difficult to stay vigilant of triggers and different alters. Often, people with this condition have been through intensely traumatic experiences, and hearing about these experiences can also be difficult. The best way you can serve your friend is to ensure your own physical and mental well-being.
While your ongoing support is indispensable, you will not be able to help them through recovery on your own. This is a disorder that requires knowledgeable clinical attention and proven treatment options for lasting recovery. Thus, professional care can be enormously beneficial to someone with a DID. Unfortunately, because DID is so heavily stigmatized, many people who have it never seek treatment.
If you know your friend lives with DID, let them know you care about them, and try to encourage them to seek treatment, if they are not yet already. Offer to help look for providers; lending a hand in finding a therapist or treatment center can make the idea of seeking help less daunting. You can even offer to accompany them to their first appointment, to give them support. If they are reluctant, you could also suggest getting started with teletherapy, where people can receive therapy services over the internet or phone, making it easier for them to ease into the idea of seeking treatment.
Although rare, dissociative identity disorder is a very real issue and we should all do our best to practice some empathy to those around us. We should avoid seeing it as a case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but to see them as humans like us.
- Cleveland Clinic. (2016, April 20). Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder) | Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9792-dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder
- Dissociation and dissociative disorders. (2012). Vic.gov.au. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/dissociation-and-dissociative-disorders
- WebMD. (2008, April 17). Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder). WebMD; WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder
- Hospital, B. R. B. (2021, August 13). 5 Tips to Handle a Dissociative Disorder. Baton Rouge Behavioral Hospital. https://batonrougebehavioral.com/5-tips-to-handle-a-dissociative-disorder/
- How to Overcome Dissociative Identity Disorder. (2021, April 13). The Recovery Village Drug and Alcohol Rehab. https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/dissociative-identity-disorder/related/how-to-overcome-did/
- BrightQuest Treatment Centers. (2019, June 19). How Dissociative Identity Disorder Affects Daily Life and How You Can Help. https://www.brightquest.com/blog/how-dissociative-identity-disorder-affects-daily-life-and-how-you-can-help