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Dissociation and dissociative disorders

Explains what dissociation and dissociative disorders are, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

What are dissociative disorders?

You may be diagnosed with a dissociative disorder if you experience dissociation regularly, and if these episodes of dissociation are severe enough to affect your everyday life.

You might experience dissociation and find it difficult to cope with even if you don't have a dissociative disorder. For example it might be a symptom of another mental health problem. You can still seek help for this.

This page has information on:

Dissociative identity disorder (DID)

Dissociative identity disorder used to be called 'multiple personality disorder'.

If you have dissociative identity disorder you will experience severe changes in your identity. Different aspects (states) of your identity may be in control of your behaviour and thoughts at different times. This can happen in various ways:

  • Each of your identity states may have different patterns of thinking and relating to the world.
  • Your identity states may come across as different ages and genders.
  • You may feel you have one 'main' part of your identity that feels most like 'you' - some people call this a host identity.
  • The different parts of your identity may have memories or experiences that conflict with each other.
  • Some people refer to these different parts of your identity as alters or parts.
  • You might not have control over when different parts of your identity take over.
  • You may experience amnesia, which means you don't remember what happens when another part of your identity is in control.

The charity First Person Plural has more information about DID.

“I have many separate, distinct and unique 'parts' of my personality. My 'parts' or 'alters' collectively add up to the total person that is me... They are each a letter, and I am a sentence.”

Do I have multiple personalities?

Dissociative identity disorder is still sometimes called multiple personality disorder (MPD). This is because many people experience the changes in parts of their identity as completely separate personalities in one body. In fact, the parts of your identity are all part of one personality but they are not joined up or working together as a whole.

Dissociative identity disorder is not a personality disorder. It is the result of a natural way of coping with sustained childhood trauma. Our page on the causes of dissociative disorders has more information.

Looking after yourself with dissociative identity disorder (DID)

DID can make looking after yourself harder. You might find that different parts of your identity have different needs. You may need to use different techniques for coping and looking after yourself, depending on which part of your identity is in control. If something isn't working for you, or doesn't feel possible just now, you can try something else, or come back to it another time.

For more information about coping with a dissociative disorder, see our page on self-care.

Other dissociative disorders

There are a number of other dissociative disorders. The diagnosis you are given will depend on the symptoms you experience most and how these affect your life.

These are the main symptoms or characteristics of each disorder:

Depersonalisation or derealisation disorder

You might experience regular depersonalisation or derealisation.

Dissociative amnesia

You might be unable to remember important information about who you are, your life history or specific events.

Dissociative amnesia with fugue

You might experience a state of mind where you forget everything about who you are (a fugue). In the fugue you may travel to a new location and act like a different person in a different life.

Other specified dissociative disorder (OSDD)

You might have dissociative symptoms that don't fit into any other diagnosis. The person making your diagnosis will explain why your symptoms don't fit into any other diagnosis.

Unspecified dissociative disorder (UDD)

You might have dissociative symptoms that don't fit into any other diagnosis but the person making your diagnosis hasn't explained why not or doesn't have enough information to make a full diagnosis (for example in an emergency).

Grey paving slabs viewed from steps, a metal handrail to the right

Depersonalisation: My four months of terror

“I now understand that fighting panic only intensifies it.”

Other mental health problems

Many people with dissociative disorders have other mental health problems too. These can include:

They may be related to dissociation or they could be a separate problem.

This information was published in March 2019. We will revise it in 2022.

References and bibliography available on request.

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