In detail

Multiple personality or dissociative personality?

Multiple personality or dissociative personality?


  • 1 What is dissociation?
  • 2 Types of dissociation
  • 3 Can a person really have multiple personalities?

What is dissociation?

Dissociation is a mental process, which produces a lack of connection in a person's thoughts, memories, feelings, actions or the sense of identity.

A person may be "dissociating" when, for a period of time, certain information is not associated with other information in their life and circumstances. For example, during a traumatic experience, a person can dissociate the memory of the place and circumstances of the trauma from their current memory, resulting in a temporary mental escape from the fear and pain of the trauma and, in some cases, a memory space surrounding the experience. Because this process can cause changes in memory, people who often dissociate, their memory of personal history and identity are affected.

Types of dissociation

Most doctors believe that there is dissociation according to various levels of severity. These levels reflect a wide range of experiences and / or symptoms. On one end are the mild dissociative experiences, common to most people, such as daydreaming or "getting lost" in a book or movie, all of which implies somehow "losing touch" with the conscious awareness of their immediate surroundings. At the other end is a more complex dissociation, the chronic dissociation, which can result in severe impairment or inability to function. Some people with severe dissociative disorders may have high responsibility jobs without our knowledge, contributing to society in a variety of professions, such as arts and public service, etc. and they seem to function normally in front of peers, neighbors and other people with whom they interact daily. Although we do not panic, they do not have to represent any danger to those around them or to society.

There is a great deal of overlapping of symptoms and experiences among the various dissociative disorders. People with these symptoms can seek the help of mental health professionals to answer questions about their own circumstances and particular diagnoses.

Can a person really have multiple personalities?

Yes and no. One of the reasons for the decision of the psychiatric community to change the name of the disease of multiple personality disorder of dissociative identity disorder is that "multiple personalities" is a somewhat misleading term. A person diagnosed with multiple personality feels as if they have within themselves two or more entities or personality states, each with their own way of relating, perceiving, thinking and remembering about themselves and their life. But only if two or more of these entities take control of the person's behavior at any given time, a diagnosis of multiple personality can be made. These symptoms were previously simply called "personalities", although the term did not accurately reflect the definition of the pathology, as well as the total aspect of our psychological structure.

Other terms often used by therapists and patients are: "alternate personalities," "alters," "parts," "states of consciousness," "states of self," and "identities." It is important to keep in mind that although these alternative states may seem very different, they are all manifestations of a single person.


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Gelinas D. Cohen L. Dissociative identity disorder. New York: Jason-Aronson; 1995. Dissociative identity disorder and the trauma paradigm; pp. 175-111

Nissen MJ, Ross JL, Willingham DB, and others. Memory and awareness in a patient with multiple personality disorder. Brain Cognition 1988; 8: 17-134

Putnam FW. Recent research on multiple personality disorder. Psychiatrist Clin North Am. 1991; 14 (3): 489-502