Multiple Personality Disorder

(aka "But I don't have it. I'm normal. BANANAS ARE GOOD!")

In a nutshell...

Multiple Personality Disorder (also called "Dissociative Identity Disorder") is a mental disorder that causes a person to have many alter egos, each having its own perception of their current environment.

What's happening, and why?

MPD can often be a survival strategy for coping with repeated childhood trauma, sometimes with alters becoming fantasies. Many persons with MPD have long histories of depression, anxiety, suicidal feelings and/or attempts, episodes of physically hurting themselves, substance abuse, or eating disorders. 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). Personalities can also change gender, or act as multiple genders at once. Some may also have aggressive tendencies. However, dissociated states are not fully-mature personalities, but rather they represent a disjointed sense of identity.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms can vary for each case, but some common ones are experiencing amnesia relating to personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness, time loss, depression, and feeling suicidal. Hallucinations also happen often, when a person is seeing or hearing things that aren't there. While some of these symptoms are often confused with schizophrenia, particularly when dealing with kids, the two diseases are distinctly different.

Do or Don't?

There are some confused whether they or another person has MPD or not. Occasionally, a person will fake having it to avoid responsibility for their behavior, or they yearn for attention so much they will deliberately fake it. Sometimes, a person will be so confused about her own identity that she incorrectly believes that they have MPD. This person has identity problems rather than the actual disease.

Diagnosement and Advances in Treatment

Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, and the average treatment lasts about four years. MPD doesn't go away fully without treating it, but as time goes on it can start to slow down. The most common treatment for MPD is long term psychotherapy twice a week, teaching coping skills or hypnosis. Family consultation sessions with the therapist are often quite helpful, for it is crucial to be supportive and to avoid being rejecting when communicating with a person with DID. Also note that about half of all people being treated for MPD require brief hospitalization, and only 5% are primarily or exclusively treated in psychiatric hospitals. Overall, MPD is most effectively used in three phases:

1- The individual is taught skills to decrease the frequency of his or her symptoms (i.e., time loss, problematic switching, flashbacks, and self-injury, substance abuse).

2- Traumatic memories are slowly processed and resolved with the help of the therapist, meaning a person is able to remember a traumatic event and tell someone what happened without becoming overwhelmed, switching, or having flashbacks.

3- The individual learns to “own” his or her own history and sense of self. Ultimately, various parts will reach the point of no longer needing the survival skill of “being someone else,” and can become one whole person. He or she can develop new life skills and abilities that allow for better functioning without the need for alters. It is important to note that integration does not mean that alters are “eliminated” or “killed off.” Instead, there is a slow process during which the separate parts of the self (i.e., the alters) unite.

In the media...

Every once in a while there are fictional stories associating with this disorder, such as the classic tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, where a man has one good personality and one evil. There's there's the character Butters from the television show "South Park", who although doesn't technically have MPD, is always talking back and forth to himself and occasionally putting on his costume to turn himself into the evil Professor Chaos.

Interpersonal Communication

If you suspect a person you know has MPD, you should talk to someone close to them, perhaps one of their family members, about seeing a doctor about it. If it's a young child it may be harder for a professional to detect the symptoms and make a diagnosis, but if they have reached adolescence it become easier for them to recognize.
Some people with MPD are highly functional, hiding their pain and confusion from others, so it may be harder to detect, while others visibly struggle with day to day life, and most people don't know they have MPD until they seek for help. Also in many cases, interaction with your friend’s or family member’s alters is inevitable.

Risk Factors

The risk factors that occur aren't exactly divided so much as immediate and long term as they are increasing the same factors with more time they are able to occur, so when it comes to MPD it is always better to fix it sooner rather than later. If not fixed, the person's possible symptoms of depression, feeling suicidal, forgetting things, and overall confusion can keep going on and getting worse.

Ana-Brit Asplen

Hour Five