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What is dissociative identity disorder?

Is Dissociative Identity Disorder Real?

Some people, doctors included, deride DID as a made-up disorder that came into consciousness specifically through mass-media portrayals such as "The Three Faces of Eve" and "Sybil." Before "Sybil" hit the screen, there were fewer than 200 diagnosed cases of DID, according to CBS Sunday Morning. Shortly after the movie was released in the United States, there were around 8,000 cases reported. But while there are dramatic liberties taken in both the book and the movie, Sibyl's case is similar to countless other accounts of DID, and questions surrounding the work shouldn't cast doubt on other research about the disease.

The satanic child molestation hysteria of the 1980s added to the perception that DID wasn't real, as wild accusations based on false "recovered memories" led to several mistaken convictions, media pandemonium, and a newly booming industry for doctors who assumed all problems were the result of repressed memories -- and who could seemingly also recover these memories in almost any patient through hypnosis and the power of suggestion. Largely because of this skepticism, the focus of treating DID switched from dealing with split personalities to addressing the root cause: dissociation of self.

Furthermore, if a clinically dissociative patient in a vulnerable state seeks help from a psychologist who specializes in DID, the psychologist may pre-suppose the form of the disease and, in anticipation of discovering hidden personalities and repressed memories, will actually coax the patient under hypnosis to "reveal" these personalities and memories -- which don't exist.

Dr. Paul McHugh, among other skeptics, believes that DID is a cultural and individual invention, that it's induced by the psychologist's own treatment, and that patients should be removed from DID treatment that facilitates or encourages the appearance of "alters."

Some mental health practitioners have undoubtedly behaved in dishonest and unethical ways, but many mental health professionals and professional associations recognize DID as a very real disease and are actively working to gain better understanding of it.

Did You Know?

Repressed memories do occur, but they're very rare, and the overwhelming majority of people remember traumatic episodes more clearly than any other life experience.