If you have ADHD and have experienced trauma, you may be at increased risk of developing dissociative identity disorder. Psychotherapies and other treatments can help you cope.

When you dissociate, you detach or escape from reality. Dissociative identity disorder (DID) causes a disconnect between your thoughts, identity, consciousness, and memory. People who experience overwhelming stress or trauma in childhood may develop DID as a way to cope.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is also connected to stress and trauma, which increases your risk for dissociation. But there are ways you can manage living with ADHD and dissociative symptoms.

Experiences of extreme stress or trauma may link dissociative identity disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

DID, formerly called multiple personality disorder, is a mental health condition in which you have two or more separate identities. It’s linked to overwhelming stress or severe trauma in childhood and can cause changes in your speech, temperament, and behavior.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by attention deficit, overactivity, and impulsivity. It may also be related to early trauma and significant levels of stress.

A 2018 article suggests that developmental issues and how people with ADHD respond to stress may lead to dissociative symptoms.

Studies cited by 2022 research suggest an overlap between dissociation and ADHD symptoms, such as concentration problems and forgetfulness. Research also indicated that one-third of children with ADHD who reported abuse also had a dissociative disorder.

People with ADHD can experience a range of symptoms. These are generally categorized into three main types:

  • predominantly inattentive
  • predominantly hyperactive-impulsive
  • combined presentation (a combination of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms)

Inattentive symptoms may include:

  • short attention span
  • being easily distracted
  • making careless mistakes
  • forgetfulness or losing things
  • being unable to sustain attention or stay on task
  • constantly changing activity or task
  • difficulty organizing tasks

Hyperactive/impulsive symptoms may include:

  • inability to sit still or constant fidgeting
  • trouble concentrating on tasks
  • excessive physical movement
  • excessive talking
  • trouble waiting your turn
  • interrupting others
  • acting without thinking
  • engaging in dangerous behaviors

Symptoms of ADHD can show up differently in children and adults. For example, inattention in children may affect their focus in class or on homework, whereas adults may have trouble finishing work tasks or keeping up with bills.

In kids, hyperactivity and impulsivity may look like blurting out answers or constantly moving during class. In adults, these symptoms may appear as restlessness or interrupting others during work meetings.

People living with DID can also experience a range of symptoms.

Multiple identities

When you have multiple identities, you speak and act in an obviously different manner, as though another person or spirit has taken over. You may suddenly have thoughts, impulses, or emotions that don’t seem to belong to you.

You can have multiple thought streams or hear multiple voices at the same time.

Some people experience depersonalization, or the feeling of being detached or removed from oneself. This can feel like being an outside observer of one’s life, as if one were watching a movie.


Patients with DID may also experience dissociative amnesia. Symptoms may include:

  • gaps in memory of personal events, such as periods of childhood or the death of a loved one
  • forgetting everyday events, personal information, or stressful or traumatic events
  • forgetting certain skills, such as how to use a computer
  • evidence of things you’ve said or done but have no memory of, such as discovering an item you don’t recall purchasing in your shopping bag

Other symptoms

Additional symptoms of DID may include:

  • hallucinations (coming from an alternate identity)
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • substance misuse
  • self-injury or self-mutilation
  • non-epileptic seizures
  • sexual dysfunction
  • suicidal behavior

Zoning out vs. dissociation

Zoning out is a mild form of dissociation. While dissociation involves complete detachment from the self, when you “zone out,” you have a brief, temporary lapse of focus or attention. It happens to almost everyone at one time or another, such as when you daydream or your mind wanders from a task.

Like dissociation, zoning out can be linked to overwhelm, stress, or trauma. Other causes include information overload, boredom, or fatigue. For example, you may zone out when reading a long, slow book and find yourself reading the same line over and over again.

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Dissociative disorders typically develop in childhood as a way of dealing with significant stress or trauma.

Children develop a unified sense of identity over time through many sources and experiences. When this process is interrupted by extremely stressful or traumatic events, it may prevent some children from integrating their experiences into a single cohesive identity.

Over time, children may develop the ability to escape trauma or abuse by dissociating, detaching from their environment, and retreating into their own minds.

Causes of dissociation may include:

  • exposure to long-term or severe physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • neglect during childhood
  • natural disasters
  • military combat
  • experiencing an important early loss (such as the death of a parent)
  • serious medical illness

Your doctor may suggest a variety of therapies to help manage dissociative symptoms. Every person reacts to treatment differently, so it’s important to work with your doctor to manage side effects and find what works best for you.


Psychotherapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), aim to help you achieve integration of identity states.

When integration isn’t possible, cooperation and collaboration among the identities is the main goal.


For some, hypnosis is an effective way to manage symptoms of DID. A trained hypnotist can help:

  • access the identities
  • facilitate communication among them
  • stabilize and interpret them


Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help with symptoms related to dissociation, such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • impulsivity
  • substance use disorders
  • ADHD symptoms


In some cases, DID may require hospitalization for continuous support and monitoring as healthcare professionals help you address painful memories. They may use exposure techniques to help gradually desensitize you to traumatic memories.

If you have ADHD and experience symptoms of dissociation, talk with your primary care doctor or a mental health professional. They will review your symptoms and personal history to determine if you may be at risk for DID.

They may also perform tests to rule out other possible conditions that can cause dissociative symptoms, and help you find the most effective way to manage them.