Multiple personality disorder is a very misunderstood mental illness more commonly referred to as dissociative identity disorder. The disorder is characterized by the apparent presence of more than one personality within the same person, but although it has been portrayed in films and books, the illness is not all that common and some mental health professionals dispute the fact the illness even exists. As with many mental health disorders, there are believed to be several causes of multiple personality disorder ranging from childhood abuse to post traumatic stress disorder.
What are the symptoms of multiple personality disorder?
Patients suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID) typically suffer from episodes of memory blackout whereby they might find themselves somewhere with no recollection of getting there. They might also meet people who know them as somebody else. Other symptoms include a sense of feeling unreal or dissociated from life and hearing voices inside their mind that are not their own.
What are the causes of multiple personality disorder?
In the majority of multiple personality disorder cases, the illness is triggered by a traumatic event in childhood. Such incidents can include episodes of sexual or physical abuse, and when the abuse continues over many months or years, the child copes by suppressing the painful memories.
This process is known as dissociation and the painful memories are effectively locked inside a small box in the child’s mind in order to prevent any further damage from being inflicted. Unfortunately, in some cases, the act of suppressing such traumatic memories leads to a fracturing of the main personality and dissociative personality disorder is the result.
Multiple personality disorder can also be caused by physical problems within the brain. For example, the symptoms of multiple personality disorder can be trigged by a type of epilepsy known as Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. Other physical causes of multiple personality disorder include strokes, Alzheimer’s, sleep or sensory deprivation, and encephalitis.
The symptoms of dissociative personality disorder can sometimes arise as a result of a severe brain injury. If the corpus callosum in the brain is severed due to injury or epilepsy surgery, the right and left sections of the cerebral cortex are no longer connected and a “Jekyll and Hyde” dissociative personality disorder can sometimes arise. This disorder is characterised by two distinct and dominant personalities, whereas multiple personality disorder patients generally exhibit one dominant personality along with several subordinate personalities.
There is thought to be a strong element of genetic predisposition in the incidence of multiple personality disorder and even when two children are exposed to the same childhood abuse, one might develop the disorder whereas the other does not. Experts also believe that certain personality types are more likely to dissociate as a coping mechanism in the face of traumatic events or childhood abuse.
Treatment for dissociative identity disorder can be challenging, but not impossible. In most cases, the patient will have to undergo psychotherapy for many years in order to successfully integrate the separate personalities, although integration is not always necessary for the person to enjoy a harmonious life.