Dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple personality disorder, is a serious mental health disorder, but despite being featured in many famous films and works of fiction, there are still a large number of mental health professionals who do not believe the illness actually exists. So is dissociative identity disorder real, or are the symptoms a product of other mental health disorders such as schizophrenia?
Of all the mental health illnesses currently being treated today, nothing causes quite so much controversy as dissociative personality disorder. There are psychiatrists who base their whole career treating patients with the symptoms of multiple personalities, and there are also those professionals who refuse to accept that the condition exists.
Is dissociative identity disorder real and what exactly is it?
Dissociative identity disorder is a rather misunderstood condition. The condition is believed to be the result of extreme trauma or physical and/or sexual abuse in childhood. As a result of the trauma, the main personality of a patient with dissociative identity disorder fractures into multiple “alters” or subordinate personalities. Each alter has a separate identity and is often unaware of the other alters, which leads to periods of memory loss and many other disturbing symptoms.
Dissociation is a fairly common experience for most people. We all dissociate at times and it is not unusual to lose track of time whilst completing a mundane or routine task before suddenly realizing you have no recollection of the previous fifteen minutes. The main difference with severe dissociative conditions is that the patient will lose much larger chunks of time and potentially find themselves in a different town with no memory of traveling there.
Most psychiatrists do not dispute the fact that some patients who have suffered great trauma or abuse early in life begin to dissociate as a way of coping with the enormous stress, but not all of them believe that such patients develop a number of distinct personalities as a result. On the contrary, they think that the dissociation mechanism is simply so bad that it is easier for the patient to believe their problems are happening to several different personalities.
Others believe that many cases of multiple personality disorder are diagnosed as a result of overeager therapists planting false memories in the minds of their patients. In 1973, multiple personality disorder hit the headlines with the enormous popularity of “Sybil”, a book about a woman with sixteen personalities. By the late 1970s, Christian Fundamentalists were claiming that satanic ritualistic abuse was endemic and before long a group of therapists were diagnosing multiple personality disorder cases in their thousands as subjects became aware of multiple alters while under the influence of hypnosis and other psychotherapeutic techniques.
By the 1990s, the whole issue of satanic abuse and multiple personality disorder had been largely discredited and even the case of Sybil was considered to be a hoax. But despite the controversy surrounding dissociative personality disorder within the field of mental health, there are still some psychologists who believe that the disorder is real, albeit an extremely rare one.