Formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is not a surprising diagnosis for kids who have been through traumatic events in their lives.
People may be frightened by the diagnosis of DID but its existence is perfectly logical. Some of our kids have been through horrific episodes of abuse and neglect. Estimates on the number of kids in foster care who have been sexually abused range from 75% – 85%. In case that isn’t traumatic enough, kids may have also suffered physical and emotional abuse as well as neglect in addition to the sexual abuse. Is it really any wonder that they develop ways to cope with the abuse?
Rape victims sometimes report that they dissociate during the rape. This does not mean that they immediately develop an alternate personality, but rather that they mentally dissociate from the trauma that is happening to them.
Our kids can do the same thing. They can mentally dissociate and focus on something entirely different than the abuse that is happening to them. With repeated abuse the victim develops a personality designed to keep the child safe. Sometimes that personality may be an adult, other times it may be another child who then becomes the victim of the abuse. How it manifests is different in each person. When the child feels threatened, the alternate personality will emerge to help the child feel safe.
DID differs greatly from Bi-Polar disorder and Schizophrenia. In Bi-Polar disorder there are different behaviors, the mania and the depression, but they are not separate personalities, just behaviors. In Schizophrenia, the affected person has both delusions and hallucinations. Both Schizophrenia and Bi-Polar are treatable with medication while DID is not. Medications may be prescribed to help with symptoms of DID such as depression or anxiety, but the actual disorder itself cannot be treated with medication.
Psychotherapy and treating the trauma are the normal route of treatment. Dealing with the trauma that caused the dissociation is the key to helping the child.