Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a rare mental health condition. Learn more about risk factors, early symptoms, and when to consult with a healthcare professional.

DID is a dissociative disorder that affects about 1.5% of the global population, according to research from 2022.

Other dissociative disorders include dissociative amnesia and depersonalization disorder.

It’s estimated that 1% to 5% of people around the world experience a dissociative disorder, the researchers note.

You’ll notice that the language used to share stats and other data points is pretty binary, fluctuating between the use of “male” and “female” or “men” and “women.”

Although we typically avoid language like this, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.

Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, women are more likely to receive a diagnosis of DID.

This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more common among women. Men may be more likely to deny symptoms or trauma histories and might not seek out or receive a diagnosis.

Dissociative disorders are trauma responses. This means they are more common among people who have experienced severe trauma, particularly childhood abuse and neglect.

The two distinct symptoms of DID are experiencing gaps in your memories about everyday events or personal life and having several distinct identities.

As an outsider, you might notice that someone’s identity changes — not just their mood but their personality, behavior, and mannerisms, perhaps even their accent and language.

Other symptoms may include:

According to the American Psychiatric Association, a person with DID may feel distressed when transitioning from one alternate personality (or “alter”) to another.

They might also feel somatic changes — in other words, they might feel like their body is changing (for example, becoming smaller or more muscled).

Seek medical help immediately if you’re considering acting on suicidal thoughts. Call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988. They have trained staff available 24/7 to speak to you.

    Mental health professionals can diagnose mental health conditions like DID. They will ask you — and, if appropriate, others — about your symptoms. They will then compare those symptoms with the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, text revision (DSM-5-TR).

    The DSM-5-TR is a manual used to diagnose mental health conditions in the United States.

    To receive a diagnosis of DID, you have to meet the following criteria:

    • having two or more distinct identities (personality states) that have distinct behavior, memory, and thinking
    • having ongoing gaps in your memory about everyday events, your own personal information, and past traumas
    • experiencing the above symptoms in a way that causes you significant distress and negatively affects your day-to-day living (perhaps affecting your relationships, home life, or work life)

    As noted by the American Psychiatric Association, the DSM-5-TR notes that the diagnosis can’t include experiences that are part of broadly accepted cultural or religious practices.

    Possession, for example, is a traditional spiritual experience in many cultures. For that reason, it is not DID.

    Dissociation is where you feel “out of your body” or detached from your body and emotions. You might feel like nothing around you is real or like you’re watching a movie of yourself.

    Experiencing dissociation doesn’t necessarily mean you have a dissociative disorder. About 75% of people experience dissociation at some point in their lives.

    However, if you frequently dissociate, consulting a therapist might help you identify your triggers and work toward feeling better.

    It’s also a good idea to seek mental health help if you:

    • experience memory loss of certain time periods or about certain subjects (or both)
    • find it difficult to cope with day-to-day life due to emotional or mental difficulties
    • often feel depressed or anxious
    • experienced trauma, no matter how long ago the event was
    • feel that you might benefit from talking with someone

    Dissociating and dissociative disorders can be challenging to experience. Therapy can help empower you to manage your symptoms in a healthy way.

    DID can be treated with forms of talk therapy, like:

    In some cases, medications might help you manage symptoms like depression and anxiety.

    Although dissociation is a relatively common experience, DID is a rare and often misunderstood condition.

    If you think you’re dissociating or if you think you have a mental health condition, consider making an appointment with a therapist — if possible, one who specializes in dissociative disorders. With treatment, you can begin to feel better.

    Read a personal story about living with DID or visit the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation to learn more.

    Sian Ferguson is a freelance health and cannabis writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. She’s passionate about empowering readers to take care of their mental and physical health through science-based, empathetically delivered information.