Dissociative Identity Disorder in Teens and Young Adults

Commonly referred to as “multiple personality disorder” up until 1994, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is a condition where someone has two different personality states, or identities, which control the person’s behavior at different times. These alternate identities are referred to as “alters” and may exhibit differences in thought, manners, speech, and gender identity.

What Does Dissociative Identity Disorder Look Like?

  • An extreme sense of confusion and sense of helplessness, as they can’t control the behavior of their alters. This combination of symptoms often causes teens to feel detached from their own lives, experiences, and the world around them.
  • Severe memory loss, including personal information such as their name, phone number, and address. This memory loss can create a sense of time loss, as large gaps of time seem unaccounted for.
  • It’s extremely common for teens to have multiple personality disorder as a co-occurring disorder, along conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar, and eating disorders. Self-harm also somewhat common among those with the disorder.

Causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder

When children first learn to interact with the world and become sociable and tactile creatures, absorbing knowledge and processing information, they do not have a unified concept of self or identity. This causes traumatic experiences to fragment their development, sometimes leading to multiple personalities.

Trauma – a very traumatic event usually triggers fragmented personalities, and can be the cause of a multiple personality disorder.

Family history – as with other personality disorders, a family history of anxiety and personality disorders can make it more likely for one to develop in the face of a traumatic event.

Childhood abuse – a collection of very negative experiences early on in a child’s formative years can lead to symptoms of multiple personality disorder. Some children develop imaginary friends as a way to explore and deal with their environment, and while most grow out of it, some get stuck.

How Can I Help My Teen with Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Encourage therapy – psychotherapy is at the core of treating a multiple personality disorder, yet other therapies are available as well. It’s important to discuss with your teen and a mental healthcare provider what your options are, and what would work best. Art therapy, music therapy, and meditation can be practiced regularly to help ease feelings of anxiety and to supplement talk therapy, while alternative therapies such as EMDR and hypnosis are also worth a shot.

Learn more about the disorder – Dissociative Identity Disorder is undoubtedly a complex disorder, and much progress has been made on better understanding how and why it occurs. By knowing where your child’s symptoms began, you can better understand why they act the way they do, and you can discuss with therapists how best to provide a supportive home for them to return to.

What Types of Teen Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment Are Available?

Treatment for teen Dissociative Identity Disorder often involves several different approaches. Because the disorder commonly exists along with other disorders, therapists will design each patient’s treatment in accordance with their circumstances, addressing the symptoms accordingly.

The goal of teen Dissociative Identity Disorder treatment is for the therapist to discover and address as many of the different personalities as possible, to then help unite them all into a single identity. The therapist may use different techniques to work with different personalities and will try to focus on those that may have dangerous or self-destructive behaviors. In a sense, therapists treat those personalities just as they would individual people, trying to help empower them toward recovery. Special attention is given to alters who may have experienced some sort of trauma, such as sexual abuse. It’s important to remember that these alters are separate fragments of a whole personality, and to unite them, a therapist’s goal is to help each unique individual treat their issues.


While there is no medication specifically designed for Dissociative Identity Disorder treatment, sometimes medication will be given for symptoms of depression and anxiety. Because depression especially can be so intense in those with the disorder, medication may be prescribed to provide relief from these symptoms.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy is the primary form of treatment for Dissociative Identity Disorder. A person with DID often struggles with a very traumatic past, and a fragmented sense of self. Helping each fragment find its way into a cohesive whole is very challenging and requires a lot of time spent in therapy.

The difficulties arise in addressing each issue. Often, people with DID have codependent disorders that their fragmented identity engages in, including mood disorders such as depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse. Working through these issues is not easy.

Teen Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment at Paradigm Treatment

A good place to start when treating a complex disorder is having a location dedicated to healing, and the right staff capable of addressing DID. Psychotherapy for DID is the crux of the treatment but giving teens a place to stay among other teens, surrounded by nature, in a safe place, can help speed up the process.

At Paradigm Treatment, teens are given a place to live and enjoy life, while working on their issues. But the treatment program only lasts so long – which is why much emphasis is placed on equipping teens and parents with the resources and help necessary to continue treatment long after the program is done, through supportive care, medication for specific conditions or symptoms, and resources to continue therapy and engage in other therapeutic treatments, including eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, family therapy, art therapy, and meditation.

After identifying a few options on the internet, I started calling programs to find one that could help us. Then we visited our top three options and decided upon Paradigm Treatment. We, including our son, are truly satisfied with our experience and the support and learning that we received. The people here are compassionate, professional, and transparent. The facility is comfortable and you get what you see on their website. The location, a stroll to the beach, allowed our son to experience surfing and hiking, things he really wasn’t interested in, but now we see him being more physically active. Overall, he is more social, more confident, and happier. He has had a couple of tough days, being back home, around old friends, but it is a reassurance to know that he and we can call Paradigm anytime and they are there for continued support. They helped us find a therapist in our area, who has been great, and they offered support in working with our family doctor. Their aftercare has been outstanding. Thank you for all you have done for us.

– Victor

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Dissociative Identity Disorder

Why does dissociative identity disorder occur in people?

The cause of teen Dissociative Identity Disorder is often debated among mental health care professionals. The most commonly understood cause is trauma, especially the very severe kind. It’s thought that this trauma leads children to dissociate as a means of coping, or in other words, to identify themselves as being in a different, and healthier situation, rather the one they’re experiencing. This behavior, over time, leads to the “splitting off” of different personalities.

Do people with dissociative identity disorder have multiple personalities?

Not in the sense as it is commonly understood. The proper terminology for it is “disruption of identity”, wherein a person can experience a significant loss of self, and loss of agency. Instead, they develop a discontinuity, wherein their personality shifts drastically between states, or “alters”. Instead of thinking as one person having multiple fully-fledged individuals, think of one person’s self, fragmented, yet still whole. Understandably, this condition comes with memory issues and severe impairment in social settings and at work – but it can be treated.

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