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Insight into Split Personality Disorders

written by: EmilyRose • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 2/14/2011

What is split personality disorder? Learn about the different names for split personality, including dissociative identity disorder and its common causes and signs and symptoms.

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    Split Personality Disorders: Introduction

    You may have heard of a condition in which one individual exhibits markedly different personalities or identities over the course of a single day. It is commonly depicted in television shows and movies such as The United States of Tara and Me, and Myself and Irene. There are many different names given to split personality disorder - for example dissociative identity disorder and multiple personality disorder. Which is the correct term to use? And what exactly does it mean when we talk about a 'split' personality?

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    What is Split Personality Disorder?

    Mild dissociation such as daydreaming is common among all individuals. Severe dissociation, however, results in a lack of connection to thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or even a sense of identity. Split personality disorder is now widely known as dissociative identity disorder. It is defined as having two or more distinct identities or ‘alters’ that control the individual’s behavior.

    These alters have distinct personalities and can differ in age, gender and race. Alters may number in the hundreds and can be created at any stage during the individual’s lifetime. The individual may have no recollection of time spent in different states and may be unaware of the existence of any alters. Marked memory lapses may therefore occur. Switching between alters can occur instantaneously or over a period of days. Alter changes can occur due to environmental triggers or life events. Diagnosing dissociative identity disorder can be difficult as alters may not immediately present themselves in public or whilst with a medical professional.

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    Common Causes

    Dissociative identity disorder commonly develops as a response to severe physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse. This frequently occurs during early childhood when more adaptive coping mechanisms have yet to be formed. When faced with extreme and repetitive trauma, individuals can dissociate themselves from the situation or experience. This results in a fracturing of an individual’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or sense of identity. Individuals may develop alters that enable them to cope with trauma or deal with situations they are otherwise uncomfortable in. For example an individual who is excessively introverted may have an alter who is flamboyantly extroverted and unafraid to express assertiveness.

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    Signs and Symptoms

    Individuals with dissociative identity disorder may exhibit all or some of the following symptoms:

    • Marked memory loss or amnesia that is not explained by a medical condition or illness
    • Depression
    • Suicidal tendencies or ideation
    • Sleep disruption
    • Comorbid anxiety disorders
    • Confusion about identity
    • Comorbid addiction
    • Auditory and visual hallucinations
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    Disclaimer

    This article is for information purposes only and is not designed to replace sound medical advice and opinion.

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    Sources

    Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder) - http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/dissociative-identity-disorder-multiple-personality-disorder

    Dissociative Identity Disorder - http://www.medicinenet.com/dissociative_identity_disorder/article.htm

    Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) - http://www.ementalhealth.ca/site/ottawa/index.php?m=12&ID=42