Multiple Personality Disorder (Dissociative Identity Disorder)

This disorder used to be known as multiple personality disorder (and is still commonly referred to as such in the media), but is now known by its newer clinical name, dissociative identity disorder (DID). DID is characterized by a set of one or more distinct identities that a person believes to exist within themselves. These identities can talk to the person, and the person can answer back. The identities often are formed to help a person cope with different parts of their life, and seem to have distinct personalities that are unique and different than the person’s core personality.

Sometimes, people with DID will lose track of time or will be unable to account for blocks of time during their day. This occurs when one of the identities within the person takes control of the individual and engages in behaviors that the core personality would otherwise not engage in. For instance, the person with DID may be unable to be assertive in a situation with her boss, so the assertive identity takes over for the important meeting to ensure the individual is assertive.

Dissociative identity disorder is not commonly diagnosed within the population, and is not well understood by mental health professionals and researchers. Treatment typically involves psychotherapy to help integrate all of the identities into the core personality and can take years when successful.

For more information about Multiple Personality Disorders, please see our Multiple Personality Disorder Guide.

Contrasting the Three Very Different Disorders

People with bipolar disorder usually can lead fairly “normal” lives, hold down a regular job, have a happy relationship and family, even be very successful in a career. People with bipolar disorder do not hear voices that aren’t there, and they do not have multiple personalities in their bodies. People with bipolar disorder do best when they stick to some treatment regimen.

Many people with schizophrenia often have a more difficult time functioning in normal society. Because of the nature of the disorder, people with schizophrenia often have a hard time staying in treatment, and an even harder time with social relationships, family, friends, and work. Still one of the most stigmatized disorders in mental health, help in many communities can be hard to come by and many people with schizophrenia end up homeless and forgotten by their family and society.

People with schizophrenia who have strong community and family support and resources do well, and can lead happy, healthy, fulfilling lives, with rewarding family and social relationships. People with schizophrenia can be depressed or manic, but it is usually as a result of the schizophrenia itself (e.g. they are depressed because they have schizophrenia). If a person hears voices (not all people with schizophrenia do), they do not recognize the voices as being a part of themselves.

People with multiple personality disorder, or dissociative identity disorder (DID), can often lead successful, “normal” lives with healthy, happy relationships with others. While, like people with schizophrenia, they can “hear voices” in their head, the voices are recognized by the person as different identities within themselves (not as external voices from outside themselves). Such identities may help the person function in life, and may allow the person to live their lives with only disruption. Others with DID have a more difficult time, because the identities take over parts of their life, making accounting for time throughout the day challenging and frustrating. While a person may become depressed with DID, it is secondary to the DID symptoms themselves (e.g., the person is depressed because they are trying to cope with their DID).

People seem to most often confuse someone who is suffering from schizophrenia with someone who has dissociative identity disorder. While both are chronic, serious mental health concerns, the differences between these two disorders are stark. People with schizophrenia hear or see things that aren’t there and believe things that aren’t true, often tied into a complex, irrational belief system. They do not have multiple identities or personalities. People with DID do not have delusion beliefs, outside of their multiple personalities or identities. The only voices they hear or talk to are these identities.