Multiple personality disorder, also known as dissociative personality disorder, is a serious but high-profile mental illness. The primary symptom of multiple personality disorder include the development in one person of more than one distinct personality. The personality or personalities can have significant control over the behavior of a person who is living with this condition. Secondary symptoms can include depression, psychosis, and hallucinations. Sleep disorders and mood swings may also accompany the disorder.
Mental health experts are not entirely sure what causes multiple personality disorder, but many believe that the condition has its origins in childhood trauma. A child who experiences particularly traumatic or long-term abuse, or who witnesses extreme violence, may attempt to forget or compartmentalize the experience as a defense mechanism. While many survivors of childhood abuse or trauma never develop multiple personalities, some disassociate so thoroughly that this disorder may develop.
It is important to note that the personalities, also known as alters, can have significant depth. An alternate personality isn't just a change in mood or attitude. For example, some people with multiple personality disorder cannot remember important life events in one or more of the alters, and this does not appear to be intentional or faked. The alters may have different handwriting, different tastes and preferences, and more seriously, may engage in risky, dangerous, or even criminal behaviors of which the other, primary personality would not approve. These symptoms can make it very difficult for those with the disorder to hold a job or maintain healthy relationships.
For many people, the symptoms of multiple personality disorder can be the cause of significant stress. Someone with the condition may not recognize herself in a mirror or may wonder why others are calling her by a name that she does not recognize as her own. In some cases, sufferers may experience blackouts after their personalities switch from one to another and may suddenly find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings with no idea of how they got there.
Treatment for multiple personality disorder varies depending on the needs of the patient and the severity of the condition. Patients usually participate in psychotherapy and may be treated with electroshock therapy or psychiatric medications. Some therapists also use hypnosis, in part to help uncover and work with the alternate personalities and, in some cases, to uncover repressed trauma.