By Dr. Frank Alabiso, PhD

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), also known as multiple personality disorder, is a rare psychiatric disorder that is diagnosed in about 1.5% of the global population. DID was first described in 1906 by Dr. Morton Henry Prince, a neurologist, and founder of the American Psychopathological Association and Harvard Psychological Clinic. Since then, DID has captured our attention, and been highlighted in numerous books, movies, articles, and professional symposia.

In the United States, professional interest in DID saw a resurgence in the 1970s in response to psychologically traumatized veterans returning from the Vietnam War. Many of these men and women displayed symptoms consistent with both post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as DID in reaction to their trauma. Such symptoms included amnesia, terrifying war flashbacks, a sense of unreality, and detachment from their emotions and bodies.

Trauma is always at the core of every form of dissociative disorder. This is particularly true of DID, in which the trauma occurs before the age of five. During this time, an individual’s core personality is not yet fully formed, and significant trauma interrupts the process of unifying a child’s core self. This is also when a child’s memories of life events, feelings, and bodily reactions associated with events come together to form the child’s personality. Children subjected to trauma at this age lack the ability to protect themselves physically or psychologically, and their reaction is to develop separate, compartmentalized identities to cope with each traumatic experience. Each of these separate identities helps protect the child from the overwhelming flood of emotions and bodily memories associated with the abuse.

Treatment of DID typically involves psychotropic medication, psychotherapy, and a period of hospitalization with a goal of integration to unify the core self. This is accomplished by bringing traumatic memories into the conscious awareness where they can be processed and worked through to achieve a unified sense of self. The treatment is particularly painful for those who have been subjected to both physical and psychological trauma. Many patients undergoing this treatment are often depressed and even suicidal. However, many are inspirational in their determination to overcome their illness. Over the years, I have treated four DID patients. Two have died, one’s whereabouts are unknown, and one keeps in contact with me.

The public’s fascination with multiple identities is understandable. However, their trauma is unthinkable. My interest in these patients ultimately led to my book Lillian, A True Story of Multiple Personality Disorder, which chronicles the life of Lillian’s 10-year journey to heal from a life of traumatic childhood abuse. Her story begins in Niagara Falls, New York, and follows through to her treatment with two leading psychiatrists and the healing power of her aunt’s love, kindness, and unconditional acceptance. Lillian wanted her story told to compel each of us to speak out against child abuse.

Frank Alabiso, PhD is a clinical psychologist with more than 40 years of experience in treating individuals for the psychological effects of trauma on personality development. Dr. Alabiso’s book is available on Amazon and other booksellers.