Multiple personality disorder may be rooted in traumatic experiences

May 26, 2016

A new King's College London study supports the notion that multiple personality disorder is rooted in traumatic experiences such as neglect or abuse in childhood, rather than being related to suggestibility or proneness to fantasy.

Multiple personality disorder, more recently known as (DID), is thought to affect approximately one percent of the general population, similar to levels reported for schizophrenia.

People who are eventually diagnosed with DID have often had several earlier misdiagnoses, including schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. DID is characterised by the presence of two or more distinct 'identities' or 'personality states' - each with their own perception of the environment and themselves.

Despite being recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) controversy remains around the diagnosis. Some experts argue that DID is linked to trauma such as chronic emotional neglect and/or emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from early childhood. Others hold a non-trauma related view of DID, whereby the condition is believed to be related to fantasy proneness, suggestibility, simulation or enactment.

This new study, published today in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, provides support for the trauma model of DID and challenges the core hypothesis of the fantasy model, according to the study authors.

The researchers compared 65 women on a variety of questionnaires which measured , suggestibility, fantasy proneness and malingering of psychiatric symptoms. The sample comprised women with a genuine diagnosis of DID, female actors who were asked to simulate DID, women with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and healthy controls.

They found that patients with DID were not more fantasy prone or suggestible and did not generate more false memories compared to patients with PTSD, DID simulating controls and controls.

The researchers found a continuum of trauma-related symptom severity across the groups, with highest scores in patients with DID, followed by patients with PTSD, and the lowest scores for healthy controls. This supports the theory that there is an association between severity of trauma-related psychopathology and the age at onset, severity and intensity of traumatisation.

Dr Simone Reinders from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King's College London, said: 'Our findings correspond with research in other areas of psychology and psychiatry, which increasingly implicate trauma with mental health such as psychosis, depression and now, dissociative identity disorder.

'We hope these insights into the causes and nature of DID will inform, among others, clinicians and forensic experts regarding differences between simulated and genuine DID.

'Ultimately this would lead to faster diagnosis and treatment for patients and greater recognition of DID as a mental health disorder.'

Dr Reinders added: 'We now want to understand the neurobiological underpinnings of DID and whether psychological or pharmacological therapies are more effective in treating the disorder.'

Explore further: Understanding multiple personality disorder

Related Stories

Understanding multiple personality disorder

July 2, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- New research from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry brings us closer to understanding the mechanisms behind multiple personality disorder.  The study is the first of its kind ...

Childhood maltreatment predicts range of negative outcomes in bipolar patients

February 9, 2016
Child maltreatment could predict a range of negative outcomes in patients with bipolar disorder (BD), according to new King's College London research, which adds to growing evidence on the enduring mental health impact of ...

Childhood trauma gets under the skin

June 2, 2015
Long-term changes in immune function caused by childhood trauma could explain increased vulnerability to a range of health problems in later life, according to new research by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience ...

The mental trauma of severe breast cancer

March 2, 2016
According to a study led by Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich researchers, a majority of patients diagnosed with breast cancer go on to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and in most of these ...

ADHD may emerge after childhood for some people, according to new study

May 18, 2016
While it is well established that childhood ADHD may continue into adulthood, new research by King's College London suggests that for some people the disorder does not emerge until after childhood.

Scientists discover dissociative subtype of post-traumatic stress disorder

July 2, 2012
A recent study by Erika J. Wolf, PhD, and Principal Investigator Mark W. Miller, PhD, both from the National Center for PTSD at the VA Boston Healthcare System and Department of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine ...

Recommended for you

How the shape and size of your face relates to your sexuality

September 19, 2017
Men and women with shorter, wider faces tend to be more sexually motivated and to have a stronger sex drive than those with faces of other dimensions. These are the findings from a study led by Steven Arnocky of Nipissing ...

Behavioral therapy increases connectivity in brains of people with OCD

September 19, 2017
UCLA researchers report that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, when treated with a special form of talk therapy, demonstrate distinct changes in their brains as well as improvement in their symptoms.

Cognitive scientists find that people can more easily communicate warmer colors than cool ones

September 18, 2017
The human eye can perceive millions of different colors, but the number of categories human languages use to group those colors is much smaller. Some languages use as few as three color categories (words corresponding to ...

Why bad sleep doesn't always lead to depression

September 18, 2017
Poor sleep is both a risk factor, and a common symptom, of depression. But not everyone who tosses and turns at night becomes depressed.

People with schizophrenia have threefold risk of dying

September 18, 2017
People with schizophrenia are three times more likely to die, and die younger, than the general population, indicating a need for solutions to narrow this gap, according to research published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association ...

Happiness is not determined by childhood biomarkers

September 18, 2017
Happiness is not determined by childhood biological markers such as height or body fat, according to a team of European researchers involving UCL.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.