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This week, we talk about the dissociative identity disorder; The origin of the word, the psychotic disorder, the misconceptions around it and what it means today. 

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Ever watched the movie ‘Split’? Or let’s make it geographically closer, The Blue Elephant by Karim Abdel Aziz?

How many of you thought it was complete nonsense, switching from one personality to another in a blink of an eye?

Sounds like a fairytale story right?

It’s indeed far from the truth.
This is actually a real mental illness, called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

DID, previously known as multiple personality disorder, “is a rare condition in which two or more distinct identities, or personality states, are present in—and alternately take control of—an individual”, according to Psychology Today.

It is characterized by disruptions in identity, memory, consciousness, and perception. People who are diagnosed with DID have one or more alternate personalities (called alters) that work with or without the person’s awareness. 

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Photo by Steven Darden on flickr

Dissociative Identity Disorder‘s Origin

Multiple personality cases were viewed as “demonic possessions.”

The earliest symptoms of multiple personality disorder were shown in  Jeanne Fery’s case, a French nun. The symptoms recorded at that time around 1584 are the same symptoms for the disorder today, they include “disordered eating, self-harm, and audible hallucinations, as well as the ability of different personalities to alternate control of …knowledge, skill, and changes in behavior,” Bright Quest.  

In the early 1900’s, the term split personality was coined as mental health professionals believed a fractured identity caused by childhood abuse and trauma, developed separate identities within an individual. 

By 1994, “multiple personality disorder” changed into a more reflective name that delineated a better understanding of the condition: the dissociative identity disorder.

It depicted that different identities are fragmented from one identity rather than separate ones developing.

Who’s at Risk?

Based on Sane, Australia’s national mental health charity, “Statistics show that the Dissociative Identity Disorder can affect 0.01% to 15% of the world’s population; being prevalent in areas where large-scale trauma such as wars or natural disasters are consistent. 

The National Alliance on Mental Health states women being more likely than men to be diagnosed by the dissociative disorder(s).

Individuals who found it hard to overcome a serious trauma can develop dissociation to cope with what their conscious self did not get over, resulting in multiple identities. 

“The average number of personalities in someone with multiple personality disorder is 13 to 15 over the entire course of treatment,” says The Recovery Village.

Dissociative Identity Disorder in the Arab World

“Multiple Personality Disorder among Arabs is very much associated with the phenomenon of quasi-memory. It is common among Arab individuals in societies in the Arab world witnessing rapid environmental and political change. Socially it is understood as a dissociative disorder in which a person appears to possess, as the name suggests, more than one distinct personality, and sometimes very many,” Professor Michel NEHME said. 

Often DID in the Arab world is considered as a “jinn possession”. Whilst this might make sense to some, it is definitely false.

Effective Therapeutic Techniques

Psychotherapy: talk therapy tries to resolve whatever triggered the dissociation and helps unite the multiple alters into one personality. 

Hypnosis: is used alongside psychotherapy and aims to repress back past memories and manages any changes in behavior

Adjunctive Therapy: art therapy, for example, helps patients connect with their thoughts and the parts of their mind that they shut off due to their disorder.

A Real-Life Story:

Chris Costner Sizemore, a DID patient who inspired the famous film “The Three Faces of Eve” tells her story: 

“It began when I was 2 years old, although I really didn’t know I was different then… It wasn’t until I began at school when I talked about the other little girls seeing things that I realized I was different,” Sizemore said.

Image result for The Three Faces of Eve
The Three Faces of Eve is a 1957 American mystery drama film based on the book of the same name about the life of Chris Costner Sizemore, which was written by psychiatrists Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley. 

Chris Sizemore lived with 22 different personalities for 45 years! She was directed to therapy after one of her personalities (Eve Black) tried to choke her 2-year-old daughter. “I felt my daughter would be in danger if I didn’t get help,” she said. 

Ms. Sizemore was admitted to a hospital where she was first diagnosed with schizophrenia which is how many DID patients are first diagnosed. With shock therapy and hypnosis, doctors believed Sizemore was cured until another personality emerged, (Jane Doe).

It took 17 years to integrate all Sizemore’s personalities into her dominant one.

“I once weighed 175 pounds because I was feeding three different people in the same body different meals,” she said.

At the age of 61 her DID was “cured” and she became a mental health advocate after that. She also wrote, “A Mind of My Own” that speaks of the integration of her several personalities into who she was until she died, says Bruce Weber of The New York Times.

A Final Note

Some clinicians believe of DID’s existence and some don’t.

However, one thing is agreed upon and that is complexity and severity relative to its symptoms and nature. Although there is a controversial debate on it, DID symptoms are confirmed to be real.  

“Dissociative identity disorder should not be confused with alternations of mood from happy to sad, characteristic of the cycle temperament. These are merely emotional swings; personality splits are far more comprehensive” – Author Ralph Slovenko.

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