Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a mental health condition that causes a person to have more than one personality state. This condition, formerly called multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder, can cause discontinuity (a distinct break) in a person's memory, perceptions, thoughts, and behaviors.
These symptoms cause significant distress and can interfere with daily life. Treatment varies from person to person and may include one or more therapies.
This article discusses psychotherapy techniques, medications, and coping strategies used to treat DID.
Dissociative Identity Disorder Stats
Dissociative identity disorder is very rare. It affects just 0.01%–1% of the population.
Psychotherapy for DID
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is the most effective treatment for dissociative identity disorder. This condition frequently develops from childhood abuse or other traumatic events. Dissociative episodes, or "shifts" from one personality to another, can be triggered by stress or other factors in the environment (sounds, sights, smells) that remind the person of their trauma.
For this reason, the goals for psychotherapy may include processing painful memories, managing sudden changes in behavior, learning new coping skills, and bringing the multiple identities back into one functional person.
This form of treatment may use several different types of therapeutic approaches, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and schema therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on the belief that dysfunctional thoughts lead to dysfunctional behaviors or emotions. For example, a person with DID who has suffered from abuse might always expect negative outcomes in their relationships. CBT challenges these negative thought patterns and replaces them with thoughts based in current reality.
CBT also helps the individual process past traumas and learn how to cope with the depression that often occurs with DID.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of therapy that focuses on both change and acceptance. DBT focuses on these four main skills:
- Distress tolerance: Learning to manage overwhelming feelings
- Mindfulness: Being aware of your surroundings and what is happening in the present moment
- Interpersonal effectiveness: The ability to effectively communicate and assert your needs and boundaries in relationships
- Emotion regulation: Understanding your emotions and learning how to ride out strong feelings without acting on them
How to Practice Mindfulness the Right Way
Psychodynamic psychotherapy focuses on helping people better understand unconscious aspects of their suffering. This type of therapy uses a variety of techniques to help a person understand how the past plays a role in their current behaviors.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
The purpose of EMDR therapy is to reduce distress associated with traumatic memories. During EMDR, a person thinks about past trauma while also performing a physical task to stimulate both sides of the brain—most commonly eye movements. This therapy sometimes includes tapping, listening to sounds, or walking/pacing.
A schema is a mental framework that a person develops to help interpret their experiences. Oftentimes, people with dissociative identity disorder have experienced childhood trauma and/or abuse that led to negative schemas and a lack of positive coping skills.
Schema therapy integrates aspects of several different types of psychotherapy (talk therapy). Goals of schema therapy include:
- Helping a person identify their schemas and healing negative schemas
- Increasing awareness of childhood memories and the emotions, body sensations, and beliefs that go along with them
- Helping a person gain control over how they respond to triggers in their environment
- Finding healthy ways to get core emotional needs met
- Removing power from past traumatic memories
Medications for DID
There's no specific medication for treatment of dissociative identity disorder. However, medications can be effective for treating depression and anxiety that often occur with this condition.
Antidepressants help manage symptoms of depression by changing levels of chemicals called neurotransmitters in the brain. There are several types of antidepressants, including:
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): Such as Lexapro (escitalopram) and Prozac (fluoxetine)
- Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): Such as Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Effexor (venlafaxine)
- Tricyclic and tetracyclic antidepressants: Such as Asendin (amoxapine) and Elavil (amitriptyline)
- Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): Such as Marplan (isocarboxzaid) and Nardil (phenelzine)
- Atypical antidepressants: Such as Desyrel (trazodone) and Wellbutrin (bupropion)
Similarities and Differences Between SSRIs and SNRIs
One group of medications commonly used to treat anxiety are benzodiazepines such as Klonopin (clonazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam). These medications have short-lasting effects and can be taken while a person is experiencing anxiety symptoms to decrease muscle tension and promote relaxation.
SSRIs are also used to treat anxiety disorders.
Antipsychotic medications are typically used to treat "psychosis," a condition in which a person has lost touch with reality. However, these medications can also be used to treat severe depression, bipolar disorder, and may treat symptoms associated with dissociative identity disorder. Examples include Abilify (aripiprazole) and Risperdal (risperidone).
Coping Strategies for DID
A variety of coping strategies can be helpful for managing life with dissociative identity disorder. These include:
- Utilizing mindfulness: Bringing thoughts and attention to the present moment can help a person with DID become more accepting of uncontrollable events.
- Exercising: Being physically active can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression that often occur with DID.
- Maintaining a healthy diet: Removing processed foods and added sugars from your diet can decrease inflammation in your body, which may contribute to anxiety and depression symptoms.
- Getting enough sleep: Getting enough sleep can decrease symptoms of DID.
- Identifying triggers: With the help of a therapist, a person's triggers for dissociative episodes can be identified, and possibly avoided.
Types of Mental Health Therapy
Dissociative identity disorder is a mental health condition that is commonly treated with psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and schema therapy. In some cases, medications might be used to treat anxiety and/or depression that often occur with DID. Positive coping strategies can also improve daily life.
A Word From Verywell
Dissociative identity disorder can affect every area of your life. In some cases, it can prevent a person from working or having meaningful relationships. However, seeking treatment through therapy and other support networks can decrease dissociative episodes, or possibly eliminate them altogether. You're not alone. There are resources out there that can help you live a full life with DID.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is dissociative disorder curable?
While there's no specific "cure" for DID, a person can learn to integrate multiple identities with consistent treatment.(Video) How to Deal with Dissociation as a Reaction to Trauma
What is the best treatment for dissociative disorder?
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is the most effective treatment for dissociative disorders.
What is the main goal of treatment for DID?
Treatment for DID focuses on working through past trauma, managing emotions, and ultimately, integrating multiple identities into one functioning person.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
Cleveland Clinic. Dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder).
National Alliance on Mental Illness. Dissociative disorders.
American Psychological Association. Different approaches to psychotherapy.
University of Washington Center for Behavioral Technology. Dialectical behavior therapy.
American Psychological Association. Psychodynamic psychotherapy brings lasting benefits throught self-knowledge.
American Psychological Association. Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy.
Positivepsychology.com: What is schema therapy? Your ultimate guide [updated 2020].
American Psychiatric Association. What are dissociative disorders?
U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Depression medicines.
Anxiety & Depression Association of America. Medication options.
National Institute of Mental Health. Mental health medications.
Sutter Health. Eating well for mental health.
SELVİ Y, KILIÇ S, AYDIN A, GÜZEL ÖZDEMİR P. The effects of sleep deprivation on dissociation and profiles of mood, and its association with biochemical changes.Noro Psikiyatr Ars. 2015;52(1):83-88.
By Aubrey Bailey, PT, DPT, CHT
Aubrey Bailey is a physical therapist and professor of anatomy and physiology with over a decade of experience providing in-person and online education for medical personnel and the general public, specializing in the areas of orthopedic injury, neurologic diseases, developmental disorders, and healthy living.
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What is the best treatment for dissociative disorder? ›
Psychotherapy is the primary treatment for dissociative disorders. This form of therapy, also known as talk therapy, counseling or psychosocial therapy, involves talking about your disorder and related issues with a mental health professional.What is the fastest way to cure dissociation? ›
Go to Therapy
The best treatment for dissociation is to go to therapy. An inpatient adult psychiatric program can be especially effective if your symptoms of dissociation are particularly intense, or if they are the result of sexual abuse.
Talking therapies are the recommended treatment for dissociative disorders. Counselling or psychotherapy can help you to feel safer in yourself. A therapist can help you to explore and process traumatic events from the past, which can help you understand why you dissociate.What is the largest cause of dissociative disorders? ›
Dissociative disorders usually develop as a way to cope with trauma. The disorders most often form in children subjected to long-term physical, sexual or emotional abuse or, less often, a home environment that's frightening or highly unpredictable.Is there anyway to fix dissociation? ›
There is no specific drug to treat dissociation, but it's possible to get better with a mix of medication and counseling. Your doctor will tailor your care based on how severe your symptoms are and their cause. Your treatment may include: Psychotherapy.Can you fully recover from dissociation? ›
Dissociative disorders rarely resolve on their own, and professional treatment is required. While medications may be some help, such as using antidepressants to manage depression or anxiety, they are not the main focus of treatment.Does dissociation ever get better? ›
Not everyone will stop experiencing dissociative symptoms completely. But treatment can help you feel more in control of your life and your identity. Some people find that being able to dissociate is comforting and may not be ready to stop dissociating completely.What triggers dissociation? ›
For many people, dissociation is a natural response to trauma that they can't control. It could be a response to a one-off traumatic event or ongoing trauma and abuse.Does dissociative disorder ever go away? ›
Can dissociative disorders go away without treatment? They can, but they usually do not. Typically those with dissociative identity disorder experience symptoms for six years or more before being correctly diagnosed and treated.What are the 3 main symptoms of dissociative disorder? ›
Symptoms of a dissociative disorder
feeling disconnected from yourself and the world around you. forgetting about certain time periods, events and personal information. feeling uncertain about who you are.