Now Accepting Blue Cross Blue Shield. Call Today!

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): Definition, Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Last Updated: November 13, 2023

Editorial Policy | Research Policy

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a primarily misunderstood but serious mental health condition that affects around 1.5% of the population. DID is often misdiagnosed and has had a negative representation in mainstream media and cinema. The media has given an inaccurate portrayal of what DID is, often painting those with DID as violent, with “split personalities,” or that medications can “fix” someone with DID. This can leave society with an unfair and unsafe understanding of what DID is. 

What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), is a rare mental health diagnosis that exhibits severe behavioral symptoms. Up until 1994, DID was known as Multiple Personality Disorder, but with more studies and education, DID was found to be linked to prolonged trauma, specifically from childhood. 

Dissociation can be a response to trauma. Dissociation allows for someone who has suffered from severe abuse, neglect or trauma to shut-off or block it out and separate themselves from the experience. DID can lead to severe mental health repercussions and is linked to suicidal behavior, self-harm, depression, anxiety and addiction. 

Dissociative Identity Disorder Symptoms

If you’re unsure if someone you know may be showing signs of DID, there are symptoms you can look for. Common symptoms of DID include:

  • Lapses in memory
  • Inability to recall personal information
  • Distorted perception of time
  • Frequent headaches
  • Blackouts or periods of amnesia
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Self-harming behavior
  • Disordered eating
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Dissociative Identity Disorder Causes

DID is thought to be caused as the result of trauma or extreme stress during childhood. This can happen through one specific event, such as a natural disaster, or recurrent trauma, such as abuse or neglect. When a child experiences a trauma that causes them severe pain, anxiety or fear, they may start to dissociate from that experience to move through everyday life. 

Dissociation may also occur as a coping mechanism that is used by someone to survive continued trauma. This may be the case for someone diagnosed with DID who experienced sexual, physical or emotional abuse in their childhood. It can also occur after periods of extreme neglect or repeated lack of bonding with a key parental figure in their life. 

How Is Dissociative Identity Disorder Diagnosed?

Although DID is a rare mental health disorder, there are diagnostic criteria that are used to diagnose someone. It can be challenging to diagnose DID and it is sometimes misdiagnosed before properly addressing DID. The diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 for DID include:

  • Two or more distinct identities or personalities, each with its own pattern of interpreting and relating to the environment. These personalities can be self-reported or observed by a therapist for diagnosis.
  • The amnesia that limits how much a person can remember about both traumatic events and daily occurrences must be present. 
  • The person must struggle in their daily functioning.
  • The symptoms are not related to a cultural or religious practice.
  • The symptoms are not a result of substance use, such as alcohol or medication.

Who Is at Risk for Dissociative Identity Disorder?

DID is a rare mental health disorder and has specific risk factors that can lead to the development of DID. Risk factors for developing DID can include:

  • Physical, sexual or emotional abuse during childhood
  • Neglect during childhood
  • Exposure to war during childhood
  • Experiencing a natural disaster
  • Witnessing violence as a child

Dissociative Identity Disorder Statistics

Dissociative Identity Disorder affects approximately 1.5% of the population worldwide. According to one study, DID was diagnosed more in females than males. Almost 65% percent of the participants had experienced abuse, while the others experienced continued neglect during childhood. Despite DID beginning during childhood, only 3% of DID patients are diagnosed under the age of 12. Due to the nature of dissociative symptoms, it can be difficult for clinicians to identify, diagnose and treat DID until a patient is older and the symptoms become more difficult to hide. 

Getting Treatment for DID Symptoms

There are multiple treatment options for treating DID. Treatment options can include:

  • Antidepressants
  • SSRIs
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

The Recovery Village Kansas City is equipped with a team of medical professionals who can help you or a loved one find the proper treatment for DID. Call the admissions office at The Recovery Village Kansas City to learn more about treatment options for DID.


Mitra P, Jain A. “Dissociative Identity Disorder.” StatPearls, May 16, 2023. Accessed October 31, 2023. 

Mass General Brigham McLean. ”Understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder.” August 29, 2022. Accessed October 31, 2023. 

Şar V, Dorahy MJ, Krüger C. “Revisiting the etiological aspects of dissociative identity disorder: a biopsychosocial perspective.” Psychol Res Behav Manag, May 2, 2017. Accessed October 31, 2023. 

Atilan Fedai Ü, Asoğlu M. “Analysis of Demographic and Clinical Characteristics of Patients with Dissociative Identity Disorder.” Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat, Dec 28, 2022. Accessed November 2, 2023.