Do I Have Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder)?

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is one of several types of dissociative disorders. DID is diagnosed based on the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5). To qualify for the diagnosis, the person must have disruption of identity characterized by two distinct personality states, which include alterations in behavior, memory, consciousness, cognition, and sense of self. People with this condition may typically experience recurrent gaps in remembering daily events, important personal information, or traumatic events that extend beyond ordinary forgetfulness.

They should also have symptoms that significantly impair a person’s social functioning at work and in other environments. The disturbance is not related to cultural or religious practices nor is it related to substance abuse or other mental disorders.

Dissociative identity disorder can vary enormously between one person and the next. Even skilled mental health professionals have difficulty diagnosing DID. Still, there are 12 questions a person can ask if they think they or a loved one has DID or another dissociative disorder. Use this test to better understand symptoms and experiences.

distressed man sitting on bed
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Do you have marked gaps in thoughts, actions, or awareness of what you were doing?

People with DID experience something called marked discontinuity of sense of agency. This means that a person’s sense of self is divided into at least two personality states. They may have a discontinuous memory of their everyday life, which may seem split into different experiences.

People with marked discontinuity can experience the sense of two separate identities, neither of which feel whole. This makes it hard to maintain a streamlined understanding of one’s awareness throughout the day.

Have you ever looked into a mirror and felt like you didn’t recognize who you were looking at?

A personality defines a person’s unique way of thinking about and relating to the world. It is important for defining one’s values and understanding who they are. People with DID struggle with a sense of self because they have fragmentation of their personality.

They may go back and forth between different personality states, which can vary between extremes. For example, a person may move back and forth between a mellow, kind personality and a serious, menacing personality.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, on average, a person with dissociative identity disorder has 10 alternate personalities. However, it’s possible to have up to 100.

Have you had moments when you’ve completely forgotten an important event in your life?

Dissociative amnesia is when a person is unable to remember the details of important events. Often, the memory loss occurs around events that are stressful, traumatic, or meaningful. People with disorders like DID are more likely to experience dissociative amnesia around such events, such as a serious hospitalization or car accident.

Have you found that, when speaking to others, you suddenly have no idea what the conversation was about?

The DSM-5 outlines three different types of dissociative amnesia a person experiences:

  • Localized amnesia: This type of amnesia makes it difficult for a person to recall specific events in time. It can span months or years. Usually, a person forgets traumatic or stressful experiences, such as the years spent in combat.
  • Selective amnesia: Individuals can recall some but not all of the events over a specific period, such as a traumatic event.
  • Generalized amnesia: This type of amnesia makes entails a complete loss of memories of one's life history. This is quite rare.

Has someone described an event or behavior you either have no memory of or felt was like a dream?

People with dissociative identity disorder have different identities, but they usually aren’t experienced in equal measure.

For example, a person with DID usually has a dominant personality, also known as the host personality. This is often believed to be the person’s true personality. The additional, alternate personalities are referred to as alters. The host is often passive, dependent, or depressed. In contrast, an alter may suddenly appear bubbly, loud, or aggressive.

Like borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder, DID is characterized by changes in mental state. However, borderline personality disorder involves a pattern of instability in relationships, self-image, and moods, and bipolar disorder is when a person has extreme shifts in mood states over periods of time.

Dissociative identity disorder is different because a person experiences periods of memory loss related to distinct personality states.

Have you found yourself in clothes you don’t remember putting on or having something new that you don’t remember buying?

The memory gaps between personality states are often asymmetrical and may not occur for a specific reason. This means that you may forget small things, like purchases you’ve made. The memory gaps can sometimes be viewed by others as deceptions or dishonesty.

Has someone close to you ever remarked that you forgot who they were or didn’t recognize them?

Dissociative identity disorder is often mistaken for other conditions, including substance abuse. This is especially true in teenagers or young adults. This may make it hard for people to accept the fact that you don’t recognize them or remember who they are, and they may seek alternative explanations for your amnesia.

Are there times when experiences seem unreal or too real?

People with DID have difficulty remembering events as they occurred.

This can be depersonalization, or when a person feels detached from the feelings, thoughts, and memories of their own life or their sense of themselves. Or derealization, in which a person feels detached from the present reality.

DID can frequently co-occur with anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, substance abuse, eating disorders, and personality disorders. 

Has someone ever told you that you’ve been staring off into space, totally unresponsive for a period of time?

Derealization makes a person feel detached from their current experiences and the feelings they create. It can make a person disconnect in real time from objects, people, and surroundings.

Some people describe this experience as highway hypnosis, in which a person can respond to external events in a safe manner without being able to remember it later.

This is different from catatonia, where a person experiences psychomotor disturbances that can cause slow or hyper reactions. Catatonia can spur a more extreme response, and is more often associated with schizophrenia.

Do you find yourself suddenly and inexplicably talking to yourself loudly when you are alone?

DID is sometimes mistaken for schizophrenia since both can cause a person to talk out loud to themselves. In schizophrenia, a person experiences delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized speech. This can cause a person to talk out loud to themselves about something that isn’t real. People with schizophrenia don’t have multiple personality states; rather, they have altered perceptions of reality. 

In DID, loudly talking to oneself is more an externalization of thought within the context of multiple personalities. DID is different from schizophrenia because it doesn’t involve a person thinking and acting upon things that aren’t real.

Are there times when you are unable to ignore pain or appear resistant to pain?

Pain-determined dissociative episodes are when a person develops a personality to help cope with the symptoms of discomfort. Researchers believe that people with chronic pain are more likely to develop dissociative states.

Some theories suggest that a person with DID has both an “apparently normal part of the personality" (ANP), which allows them to function normally. They also have an "emotional part of the personality" (EP) characterized by survival instincts. The EP is what allows a person to ignore pain. When this alternate coping state isn’t accessible, it’s hard to cope with pain. 

Are there times when you can do certain things with great ease and other times when they are difficult?

The sudden ability to play music or sport with ease is not the result of a different personality learning independently. Rather, it is associated with the loss of memory that occurs with dissociative amnesia. When a skill is approached with ease, it’s because it is remembered. When a skill is difficult, it is because it’s been forgotten.

People with dissociative identity disorder have a high rate of suicide. Research shows that 70% of people with DID express suicidal thoughts.

Are there times when you feel as if you are two different people?

People with DID may have no idea about their split personality states. They only suspect something is wrong when someone else tells them about their atypical behavior, like memory loss, or a strange event. Other times, they are aware of the differences in the personalities and can feel distressed about it, although they may appear nonreactive.

A Word From Verywell

If you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from dissociative identity disorder, it’s important to seek help from a doctor to discuss symptoms and get an official DID diagnosis. Keep in mind that although dissociative symptoms may be common, true DID is rare, and associated with experiences of overwhelming trauma and abuse. Answering yes to some or all of these questions isn’t enough to diagnose you with DID, since there could be additional explanations for these behaviors. It’s especially important to seek help if any of the experiences described are causing distress or interfering with your quality of life or relationships.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is dissociative identity disorder?

    Dissociative identity disorder, previously called multiple personality disorder, is a mental disorder in which a person switches between two or more distinct personality states (identities) without recollection of what occurred while in the other personality state.

  • What are symptoms of dissociative identity disorder?

    People with dissociative identity disorder (DID) have different identities, referred to as alters, in which there may be changes in speech, mannerisms, attitudes, thoughts, or gender orientation. These changes are accompanied by gaps in memory and, in around 30% of cases, auditory and visual hallucinations.

  • What causes dissociative identity disorder?

    Dissociative identity disorder (DID) usually develops as a means to cope with past trauma, including long-term physical, emotional, or sexual abuse during childhood. Other childhood traumas (including serious illness, natural disasters, and wars) have been linked to DID.

  • How is dissociative identity disorder diagnosed?

    Dissociative identity disorder is diagnosed based on criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The criteria for diagnosis include:

    • The existence of two or more distinct personality states
    • Ongoing gaps in memory about everyday events, personal information, and/or past traumas
    • Distress and difficulty functioning in home, work, and social environments due to the above symptoms
  • How is dissociative personality disorder treated?

    The treatment of dissociative personality disorder typically involves psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). Hypnosis has also been found to be useful.

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