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Mental Health For Teens

Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment for Teens

Learn more about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) treatment for teens.

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What is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)?

Dissociative Identity Disorder previously referred to as multiple personality disorder, is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct identities.

A person with DID can have anywhere from 2 personalities or “alters” to 100. Someone with DID may hear voices in their head that are trying to take control. Their identities may have different names, voices, or characteristics.

When personalities take over, they may use different vocabulary, have different habits, or use different gestures. Teens who have DID may often experience gaps in their memory of daily events, memories, or trauma.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, the types of dissociative disorders include:

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DID can also occur with other disorders such as:

Depression and Anxiety
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Eating Disorders

Can you be born with DID?

No, you cannot be born with DID; the development of DID comes from experiences.

Can a teenager develop DID?

Anyone can develop DID, but it most commonly develops during childhood.

It often begins in childhood but may not be acknowledged until the teenage or adult years. Common signs of DID can include:

  • Experiencing two or more personalities
  • Significant changes in a person’s sense of self
  • Gaps in memory, including a loss of memory of forgetting daily events, that are not caused by forgetfulness
Symptoms of DID
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What are the major risks of dissociative identity disorder?

People diagnosed with DID are at a higher risk of:

  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Substance use disorders
  • Depression and anxiety disorders
  • PTSD
  • Personality disorders
  • Insomnia or sleepwalking
  • Eating disorders
  • Non-epileptic seizures
  • Lightheadedness
  • Problems in relationships, work, or school

How do you treat dissociation in teens?

Treatment is always unique to the individual to fit their specific needs.

Age-specific treatment for teens involves a highlight of family involvement in the treatment process and academic and vocational support.

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How is DID diagnosed?

A doctor may diagnose DID through a review of symptoms and personal history.

Doctors often perform tests that can rule out physical conditions that may cause symptoms associated with DID, such as memory lapses or a sense of unreality.

It can be difficult to diagnose DID because some mental health professionals may not have enough experience with dissociative disorders or mistake it for other mental health conditions.

DID is often misdiagnosed and requires several assessments to ensure an accurate diagnosis. It is also possible for one “alter” to have an illness or disorder that the others don’t.

What are the most common causes of dissociation?

According to Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, dissociation and dissociative disorders usually relate to childhood trauma.

Dissociative disorders commonly form in children exposed to long-term physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. Sometimes, DID may not stem from abuse but from living in a highly stressful or unpredictable environment.

Experiencing a natural disaster can also play a role in developing a dissociative disorder.

Is dissociation common in teenagers?

Because teenagers are experiencing major brain development throughout their mid-twenties, they are more vulnerable to developing mental illnesses.

Children and teens who experience trauma can also be vulnerable to dissociation and derealization.

Dissociation refers to a disconnect from yourself and the world around you. Derealization refers to a detachment from your surroundings or environment.

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What is the best treatment for dissociative identity disorder?

Treatment plans often involve some form of psychotherapy, along with medications to help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with DID.

Psychotherapy, however, is the main form of treatment for DID. Psychotherapy treatment for DID focuses on learning how to cope with traumatic experiences and how to join together a person’s identity.

With psychotherapy, a therapist will try to meet as many alters as possible to understand their roles better. The therapist will try to form relationships with each alter, specifically ones responsible for destructive behaviors, so they can learn how to fix them.

Another important part of treatment for dissociative identity disorder is identifying difficult and traumatic memories so they can understand how they all function as one.

Other low-stress therapies that may help connect the mind can include art therapy, wilderness therapy, or movement therapy.

Medications, like antidepressants, are sometimes used to manage symptoms associated with DID.

Can you fix Dissociative Identity Disorder?

There is no cure for dissociative identity disorders.

However, treatments like psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can help people manage their symptoms.

Can you get DID without trauma?

While any person can develop DID, it usually develops in those who have experienced trauma.

Is Dissociative Identity Disorder difficult to treat?

It can sometimes be difficult to find effective DID treatments.

Someone with DID may have difficulty trusting others, making it difficult to open up in therapy.

DID is a complex condition, making treatment complex as well.

It is also important to receive treatment from someone experienced with DID. Therapists will try to communicate with alters, understand each of them, and help in the places that need it.

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Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical-behavior therapy (DBT) is another form of psychotherapy that was originally designed for individuals who were chronically suicidal or diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

However, today, DBT is used as an effective approach for treating various mental illnesses, including DID.

DBT focuses on four main skills: mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation.

DBT is specifically effective for teens and young adults because it targets specific thoughts and feelings that lead young people to make destructive choices.

What does DID switching feel like?

Switching refers to the process of changing from one personality to another.

DID switching can differ based on the person. Each person’s circumstance is unique and may be extremely different than what another person with DID experiences.

DID switching is typically involuntary and can cause a lot of distress. However, some people have more control over their switching than others, and some people may not even notice they’re switching.

A person may also experience symptoms like anxiety or anger when switching, as they may fear the change.

What are signs of alter switching in Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Sometimes family members can tell when their loved ones are switching; other times, they may never know.

Physical signs that may indicate someone is switching can include:

  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Muscle twitching
  • Slow blinking
  • Changes in their voice or vocabulary
  • Change in posture
  • Adjusting their clothing or appearance
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Appearing “they’re switching paced out”
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What triggers Dissociative Identity Disorder and switching?

There are a variety of different triggers for DID and switching.

Stress can play a big role in switching. When someone with DID is experiencing large amounts of stress, they can switch to multiple personalities within minutes.

Teens may experience large amounts of stress when it comes to new experiences, school, friends, family, and other personal problems. Struggling with DID as a teenager can be extremely difficult to manage without treatment and therapy.

Memories can also trigger switching, whether they are good or bad. For example, if someone is talking about the past or when they see something that reminds them of strong feelings, it can trigger an episode.

Certain senses like smells, sounds, or tastes can bring up past experiences that trigger an episode.

Other triggers can include substance use, changing seasons, or certain events.

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Childhood trauma splitting is a psychological coping mechanism for difficult or overwhelming experiences.

When someone experiences stressful events in their childhood like violence, verbal abuse, or neglect, they may internalize their feelings.

This causes them to withdraw both internally and externally.

When childhood trauma splitting is carried into adulthood, a person may constantly struggle with internal conflict. One part may still feel like a child, while the other part thinks and acts like an adult.

In childhood trauma splitting, a person shuts out things that remind them of their trauma as a way to get through every day.

It can lead to symptoms such as memory loss, emotional numbness, dissociation, isolation, and shame.

Alters switch, or come out, when there is a trigger, whether it is positive or negative.

Switching is typically involuntary, and some people have more control over it than others.

Everyone’s system is unique and different, and some may not have control of when different alters come out.

Internal signs that may indicate you are switching to a new alter can include:

  • Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Mind seems foggy
  • Feeling your expressions, posture, or movements change
  • Feeling dizzy or light-headed
  • Chills or shivers
  • Thoughts feel that they are getting louder
  • Feeling detached
  • The emergence of new alters can feel different from person to person

One of the most helpful things to do is to go to therapy.

You can also use grounding techniques, including slow breathing, walking barefoot, listening to sounds, feeling something that brings comfort, or smelling something with a strong scent.

It may also help to write down your experiences. Keeping a journal can also help you identify your triggers so you can learn how to manage or cope with them.

Healthy activities like exercising may also help to feel present in your body.

Having a strong support network that includes clinicians, family members, and friends can help when you need someone to talk to and is an important part of treating DID.

It is difficult to tell if someone is faking DID.

People with DID have unique situations, so it would be hard to tell whether someone is faking DID or not.

Rather than trying to determine whether someone is struggling with DID or not, the best thing to do is reach out for professional help to receive a proper diagnosis.

Splitting is different for each individual.

It can be uncomfortable and distressing for some people, while it may not be as significant for others.

Each person has unique experiences when it comes to splitting, but they often have no control over it.

Testing for DID may include physical exams, psychiatric exams, and reviewing the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5, which is published by the American Psychiatric Association.

According to StatPearls, dissociative identity disorder is a rare disorder diagnosed in approximately 1.5% of the global population.

DID is also commonly misdiagnosed for other mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

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