Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Dissociative identity disorder

3-minute read

Dissociative identity disorder is a type of dissociative disorder. It was previously known as ‘multiple personality disorder’. It is a disturbance in a person’s sense of identity, causing them to feel or observed by others to have 2 or more separate personalities.

Dissociative identity disorder signs and symptoms

A person with dissociative identity disorder can go through dramatic changes in behaviour, appearance and speech patterns from one occasion to the next. They may not remember what they have done for large chunks of time, or people they have met while in a different ‘identity’. The person switches from identity to identity, or feels the presence of two or more people living inside their head. Each identity may have its own name and characteristics such as gender, voice and mannerisms. Often each identity emerges to perform a particular role, such as to deal with anger or fear.

The main characteristics of dissociative identity disorder are:

  • A disruption of identity, where the person has 2 or more distinct personality states – this is understood in some cultures or religions as ‘possession’ by a spirit or entity.
  • A change in identity involving altered behaviours, emotions, thoughts, memories and perceptions – these may be observed by others or reported by the individual.
  • Repeated and excessive gaps in memory for everyday events, important personal information, or traumatic events.

What causes a person to have a split personality?

The main cause of dissociative identity disorder is severe and repeated trauma in childhood, often beginning before the age of 5. This may include verbal, physical or sexual abuse or severe neglect.

Diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder

The diagnosis of dissociative identity disorder is controversial, with some experts debating whether it even exists at all.

If you or someone you care for has symptoms that could suggest dissociative identity disorder, it is best to see a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist with experience of this condition. They will want to talk to you, or the person with the symptoms, to understand what is going on. Find a mental health professional in your region.

There is no single test or symptom that makes the diagnosis clear and simple.

Dissociative identity disorder treatment

The main form of treatment for dissociative identity disorder is long-term psychotherapy. This usually involves frequent and regular sessions with a therapist for a number of years.

Many people with dissociative identity disorder will also have other mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. There is no medicine specifically for dissociative identity disorder, though these other mental health disorders are often treated with medicine.

Not sure what to do next?

If you or someone you know are finding it difficult to manage mental health issues, try healthdirect’s symptom checker and get advice on when to seek professional help.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: August 2017

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Dissociation and dissociative disorders - Better Health Channel

Dissociation is a mental process where a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Dissociative disorder (split personality) information | myVMC

Dissociative disorder is a psychological condition in which consciousness, memory, identity or perception are disrupted e.g. multiple personality disorder.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

Antisocial Personality Disorder | WayAhead

Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) is a mental disorder where a person shows no regard for right or wrong and is not concerned with the feelings or rights of other people. Someone with this disorder will manipulate, antagonise and treat others with indifference. They show no remorse or guilt for the actions and

Read more on WayAhead Mental Health Association NSW website

What are personality disorders? | Personality disorders | ReachOut Australia

Personality disorders are mental health problems in which your personality and behaviour cause you or others distress.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

Personality disorders information | myVMC

Personality disorder, a psychological condition, causes a pattern of predictable behaviours that lead to social rejection or occupational dysfunction.

Read more on myVMC – Virtual Medical Centre website

What is a personality disorder?

Personality disorder is a term used to describe personality traits when they have become extreme, inflexible, and maladaptive.

Read more on Project Air Strategy for Personality Disorders website

Personality disorders | ReachOut Australia

People with personality disorders tend to think and behave more extremely than those around them, and find it difficult to adapt to or change their views and feelings.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

What is a personality disorder?

This brochure talks about personality disorders, outlining the main types, possible causes, treatment options, and where to go for help.

Read more on Department of Health website

Talking to children about personality disorder

Talking to children about personality disorder is a way to increase shared communication and understanding within the family.

Read more on Project Air Strategy for Personality Disorders website

Support services for personality disorders | Personality disorders | ReachOut Australia

A personality disorder is a condition where someones personality traits, the way they think, feel and behave are extreme and dysfunctional, causing them great distress.

Read more on ReachOut.com website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice and information you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo