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Multiple Personality Disorder

Alternate Names

  • dissociative identity disorder
  • dual personality disorder

Definition

Multiple personality disorder is a condition in which two or more distinct identities or personalities alternately take control in the same person.

What is going on in the body?

The symptoms of multiple personality disorder can be sudden, gradual, fleeting, or chronic. Each personality has full range of mental functions. Certain identities may emerge in certain circumstances. The personalities often have different names and characteristics. These personalities may be quite different from the primary one.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

The cause of multiple personality disorder is thought to be psychological trauma, such as chronic physical abuse or sexual abuse, in childhood. The disorder is more common in females than males.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the condition?

If trauma occurs, especially in childhood, the healthcare professional should be consulted. Psychotherapy may be helpful to the child, to minimize risk of future problems such as multiple personality disorder.

Diagnosed

How is the condition diagnosed?

The symptoms of multiple personality disorder usually begin in childhood. However, they may not become noticeable to others until many years later. The diagnosis should be made only after complete medical, psychological, and psychiatric assessments are done. Usually, psychological testing is done to confirm the presence of two or more distinct personalities.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the condition?

A multiple personality disorder is usually chronic, and the person's ability to function can be severely impaired.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Aggressive or hostile identities in a person with multiple personality disorder may place others at risk for violence.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the condition?

Treatment of a multiple personality diorder usually involves long-term therapy or counseling. Individual psychotherapy is most often the treatment of choice. Therapy focuses on helping the person to:
  • learn how to organize the day to avoid long periods of unstructured activity
  • understand the illness
  • learn how to manage the symptoms
  • increase social skills
  • improve communication skills
  • help to integrate or merge the personalities
Antidepressant medications may be used to control moods or symptoms.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Side effects depend on the medications used, but may include drowsiness or allergic reactions.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the condition?

The rate of relapse for a person with multiple personality disorder is realtively high. It is more likely when the person is under stress, or when an incident triggers childhood memories.

Monitor

How is the condition monitored?

Multiple personality disorder is monitored by the person and his or her family. If the episodes become more frequent or more intense, the healthcare professional should be consulted.

Sources

Principles and Practice of Psychiatric Nursing, Stuart and Sundeen, 1991

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV, 1994

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