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Potential causes of dissociative identity disorderEdit

Dissociative identity disorder is attributed to the interaction of several factors: overwhelming stress, dissociative capacity (including the ability to uncouple one's memories, perceptions, or identity from conscious awareness), the enlistment of steps in normal developmental processes as defenses, and, during childhood, the lack of sufficient nurturing and compassion in response to hurtful experiences or lack of protection against further overwhelming experiences. Children are not born with a sense of a unified identity--it develops from many sources and experiences. In overwhelmed children, its development is obstructed, and many parts of what should have blended into a relatively unified identity remain separate. North American studies show that 97 to 98% of adults with dissociative identity disorder report abuse during childhood and that abuse can be documented for 85% of adults and for 95% of children and adolescents with dissociative identity disorder and other closely related forms of dissociative disorder. Although these data establish childhood abuse as a major cause among North American patients (in some cultures, the consequences of war and disaster play a larger role), they do not mean that all such patients were abused or that all the abuses reported by patients with dissociative identity disorder really happened. Some aspects of some reported abuse experiences may prove to be inaccurate. Also, some patients have not been abused but have experienced an important early loss (such as death of a parent), serious medical illness, or other very stressful events. For example, a patient who required many hospitalizations and operations during childhood may have been severely overwhelmed but not abused.[1]

Human development requires that children be able to integrate complicated and different types of information and experiences successfully. As children achieve cohesive, complex appreciations of themselves and others, they go through phases in which different perceptions and emotions are kept segregated. Each developmental phase may be used to generate different selves. Not every child who experiences abuse or major loss or trauma has the capacity to develop multiple personalities. Patients with dissociative identity disorder can be easily hypnotized. This capacity, closely related to the capacity to dissociate, is thought to be a factor in the development of the disorder. However, most children who have these capacities also have normal adaptive mechanisms, and most are sufficiently protected and soothed by adults to prevent development of dissociative identity disorder.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Merck Manual.
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