For those with the disorder, when an alternate identity takes over, the person may lose track of time and have no memory of what the other personality did while “out”. Ms. Marshall said a woman who treated her had an alternate personality who was a shoplifter and when she returned to her main identity, she had no idea how she acquired all of the things in her apartment.
Dissociative identity disorder is both underdiagnosed and often misdiagnosed as depression or anxiety disorder and consequently abused, said Dr. Mirror. Once affected people realize they have a problem, it takes an average of six years to learn what is causing their symptoms when they should seek help, said Dr. Mirror.
Some people with this disorder never do and somehow manage to lead normal lives until something very stressful causes their alternate identities to take over and disrupt their functioning. For example, Ms. Marshall told me that one person in the film performed well as a company director for many years until a family trauma annoyed them so much that their identities split, very hostile and disabling personalities emerged, and she was no longer able to do her job.
Dr. Spiegel said some people with the disorder “are afraid of or ambivalent about treatment; They do not believe that I am here to help them because, based on their history, they see helpers as potentially harmful. “
At the same time, alternative identities can also arise, as if the person were two people facing each other. The identities develop special roles that emerge under certain circumstances, said Dr. Mirror. For example, one identity can “protect” from another that can be aggressive or harmful. The protective identity might think, “I’ll stay outside while this is so,” he said. As Ms. Marshall explained, people can have one or two identities that act as gatekeepers and keep the others inside.
During treatment, by identifying and highlighting the person’s core values and beliefs, the adult person’s identity that enables them to function normally can learn to adopt identities that are distressing or troubling, Ms. Marshall said.
Her approach to treatment doesn’t necessarily seek to rid people of their alternate identities unless of course they want to. Rather, she said they could learn to use their alternatives constructively so that as adults they could lead normal lives in society.