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  • The Understanding

Myths of Dissociative Identity Disorder

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

3D Medical image with male figure with brain and DNA strands

Myths and misconceptions can breed stigmas, prejudice and even dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and saying a lot of incorrect things. As this Youtuber’s history suggests they’re a troll seeking attention, they will remain anonymous.

In the spirit of Pushing Perspectives in a Positive Direction, here’s a breakdown of what they get wrong in their video.

1. DID is a fun party in your head.

DID stems from trauma that’s so bad that your brain erects amnesia barriers. Even if the alters learn to communicate and gain control over switching/fronting, points which take work to reach, they can still have disagreements and arguments.

2. Dissociative Identity Disorder can be self-diagnosed.

It has to be diagnosed by a professional.

3. “Alters” are people with DID/multiple personalities.

The collective of “multiple personalities” is known as a “system”. Alters are the members of this system, which is developed due to childhood trauma.

4. Multiple Personality Disorder and DID are separate things.

I’m not sure where the certain Youtuber got this idea. Although MPD was removed from the DSM and DID added in its place, MPD and DID are NOT the same thing.

The DSM-III criteria for Multiple Personality Disorder are:

A. The existence within the individual of two or more distinct personalities, each of which is dominant at a particular time. B. The personality that is dominant at any particular time determines the individual's behavior. C. Each individual personality is complex and integrated with its own unique behavior patterns and social relationships.

The DSM-IV criteria for Dissociative Identity Disorder are:

A. The presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self). B. At least two of these identities or personality states recurrently take control of the person's behavior. C. Inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness. D. The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., blackouts or chaotic behavior during alcohol intoxication) or a general medical condition (e.g., complex partial seizures). Note: In children, the symptoms are not attributable to imaginary playmates or other fantasy play.

The DSM-V criteria for Dissociative Identity Disorder are:

A. Disruption of identity characterized by two or more distinct personality states, which may be described in some cultures as an experience of possession. The disruption in identity involves marked discontinuity in sense of self and sense of agency, accompanied by related alterations in affect, behavior, consciousness, memory, perception, cognition, and/or sensory-motor functioning. These signs and symptoms may be observed by others or reported by the individual. B. Recurrent gaps in the recall of everyday events, important personal information, and/or traumatic events that are inconsistent with ordinary forgetting. C. The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. D. The disturbance is not a normal part of a broadly accepted cultural or religious practice. Note: In children, the symptoms are not better explained by imaginary playmates or other fantasy play. E. The symptoms are not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance (e.g., blackouts or chaotic behavior during alcohol intoxication) or another medical condition (e.g., complex partial seizures). The A, B, and C criteria of MPD are lumped into criterion A of DID. Technically, this Youtuber's statement was accurate.

5. Things like gaining an English accent after spending time around English people or feeling a new emotion means you have a new alter.

Taking on or assuming aspects/traits of those around you is a normal human behavior, not DID. For example, everyone acts one way at work and another way at home; this does not mean that everyone has an alter who comes out at work and an alter who comes out at home.

6. An alter who has more (insert psychological trait here) than you is “holding your (trait)”.

Alters are not the servants of the “core personality”. They have distinct individual traits and personalities, emotions, memories, behaviors, et cetera. A “strong” alter’s strength belongs to them, not to the original person.

7. Experiencing dissociation is separate from having alters.

While it’s possible for two or more alters to be co-conscious and aware of shared experiences, the norm with DID is for alters to be separated by amnesia barriers. DID develops because a child goes through a situation too painful for a single person to remember, so the brain splits the information amongst several alters.

8. Having DID means one is “crazy”

In the video in question, the Youtuber said that a well-known system, who strive to educate people and destigmatize DID, “[seem] crazy”. This is very invalidating, not just of the alters’ existence, but of the childhood trauma from which they were born. The Youtuber also said “I know that's what I sound like now which is actually, like, really, really scary." Ie, that having DID and being “crazy” is scary.

A study done by Dr. Joseph Ciorciari of Swinburne University compared brain scans of DID systems’ various alters to those of a control group of actors. The study found that there are differences between alters’ brain scans, but no such differences were found for the control group, implying that DID alters are real.

To wrap things up, this video spreads a lot of misinformation about an already stigmatized condition. It is my sincere hope that this blog post can counteract that.

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