Diagnosing Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

TikTok has recently popularized dissociative identity disorder. As a consequence, today, increasingly more adolescents are claiming to be suffering from this mental condition. But, how can genuine clinical symptoms be distinguished from the mythical kinds?
Diagnosing Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 24 April, 2023

Do you feel that somebody outside of you sometimes takes control of your reality? Do you carry out actions or even trips that you later don’t remember? Or, perceive that you sometimes disconnect from your own body and emotions? As striking as these situations may seem, increasingly more individuals are claiming to suffer from them. It’s a condition known as dissociative identity disorder (DID).

DID is a complex mental condition in which the individual’s personality dissociates and various entities arise in their mind. It’s a clinical disorder in which failures in the integrity of memory, consciousness, and identity occur. Until 1994, it was known as multiple personality disorder. A number of books and movies have been inspired by the condition.

For a few years now, young people have been visiting psychologists and psychiatrists with a self-diagnosis of this disorder. This is because TikTok influencers suffering from the disorder describe their daily routines and thousands of users of this social media platform identify with them. However, is their concern justified? How can they tell if they’re really suffering from the disorder? You can find out here.

Behind dissociative identity disorder, usually lies a severe trauma that originated from being exposed to adverse situations for a long time.

Teenage girl suffering wondering how to tell if I have dissociative identity disorder
Dissociative identity disorder can manifest in adolescence and adulthood.

Are you suffering from dissociative identity disorder?

We usually think of DID as a serious mental condition that impairs all areas of psychological functioning. Until now, experts considered it to be rare. So much so that a study conducted by the University of New York claimed that the recognized incidence was around 1.5 percent of the world population. However, there’s one decisive nuance.

This is the fact that DID is a personality disorder that isn’t easy to diagnose. In fact, it’s often confused with other mental conditions. In addition, in the past, due to the stigma, patients were often not completely honest about their symptoms. That said, in recent years this trend has changed. It’s now suspected that the prevalence is around five percent.

Young people—particularly adolescents —who claim to suffer from DID are increasing. The origin lies in various public figures who describe in detail on TikTok what it’s like to live with this disorder. But, professionals are sensitive to this reality and prefer to be prudent. They know the key lies in carrying out an adequate psychological evaluation.

Let’s see what myths and truths surround this clinical disorder that arouses so much interest in today’s world.

1. Childhood traumas are significant, but not sufficient for diagnosis

It seems that childhood experiences are highly associated with dissociative identity disorder. They’re the kinds of stories that many young people identify with. For example, suffering from abuse, mistreatment, parental abandonment, or living with a dysfunctional family often lays the foundations of psychological trauma.

But, although this feature is decisive for the detection of DID, it isn’t enough. In this regard, research published in Psychological Bulletin refers to certain truths and fiction about the disorder. The study focuses on the importance of early trauma for the development of DID.

While it’s true that experiencing severe and continuous traumatic events is crucial for an individual to suffer from dissociative identity disorder, further psychological characteristics must also occur. Therefore, trauma shouldn’t be the only guiding factor.

Social media has recently popularized dissociative identity disorder. This is a complex condition that may have a higher prevalence among the population than we think. That said, an appropriate psychological evaluation is always necessary.

2. The manifestation of another “I”

“Suddenly I have the feeling that I’m leaving my body and I no longer recognize myself. It’s as if another voice is speaking for me”. One of the experiences that many young people often describe is depersonalization. It consists of moments when they see themselves as external observers of their own bodies, thoughts, and emotions.

But, is this enough to detect if they’re suffering from dissociative identity disorder? The answer is no. Indeed, around this clinical entity orbit multiple processes, characteristics, and experiences. For instance:

  • Memory losses that the individual can’t explain.
  • The sudden perception that what’s surrounding them isn’t real.
  • The sensation that, suddenly, one or more people are speaking, thinking, and acting for them. These personalities have their own characters different from the sufferer’s. Moreover, they have their own needs and hobbies.
  • Feelings of clinical discomfort on a continuous basis. For example, anxiety, sadness, despondency, and difficulties in focusing attention.
  • Dissociative fugues. This means they don’t remember certain actions they carry out, like moving from place to place.
  • Great social deterioration. They can barely perform at work or in their studies. Their relationships also deteriorate.

3. No violence but self-destruction

Movies like Split by M. Night Shyamalan paint a totally distorted picture of this mental condition. In fact, DID isn’t a violent or dangerous condition. It’s a complex and serious clinical disorder due to the fact that it’s associated with self-injurious and suicidal behaviors. Unsurprisingly, the psychological suffering it causes is immense.

For instance, sufferers experience memory gaps that they can’t fill which causes them great anguish. Furthermore, they feel invaded and possessed by other personalities. Nonepileptic seizures occur and admissions to mental health departments are frequent.

4. Despite what social media may suggest, symptoms are difficult to explain

For an individual to figure out if they’re suffering from dissociative identity disorder (DID), they must also attend to other particularities. In fact, there are some extremely complex associated symptoms that are often difficult to detail. Yet, they completely alter the sufferer’s quality of life. They’re as follows:

  • Tiredness, lack of energy, and mental fog.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Seizures and strange physical sensations.
  • The constant feeling that they’re not really part of the reality that surrounds them.
  • Sleep disturbances. Insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleep) may appear as well as nightmares.
  • Dissociative flashbacks. They suddenly find themselves reliving traumatic events from the past in an extremely real way.

Even if an affected individual isn’t diagnosed with dissociative identity personality disorder, they’re clearly suffering mentally. Consequently, they have needs that must be addressed. 

Woman in psychological therapy wondering if I have dissociative identity disorder
Dissociative identity disorder requires long-term talking therapy.


Specialists in the clinical field are well aware of this phenomenon. Many young people request their help because they believe they’re suffering from this clinical condition. In all cases, a correct diagnosis is essential. One certain fact is that DID has a higher prevalence than we previously thought. The trend of young people reporting their symptoms may make it easier to identify.

It must be clarified that not all those who present some evidence of this condition are suffering from it. But this doesn’t mean that they don’t have other psychological needs that require treatment. Therefore, it’s positive and advisable for them to request expert help. The therapeutic approach for this disorder includes conversational therapies and cognitive therapy.

The objective is to deconstruct the different personalities of the patient and gradually integrate them into one. It’s a long process. The pharmacological approach is also used in the form of antidepressants and anxiolytics.

Final reflection

Recently, there was a similar phenomenon associated with TikTok. Videos about Tourette syndrome went viral, with thousands of children exhibiting symptoms associated with the condition. However, we must be really careful with what’s published on social media and what our adolescents are exposed to.

Of course, it’s perfectly acceptable and recommendable to promote issues associated with mental health. But, this must be done responsibly and by the relevant medical authorities. Sometimes, all that’s achieved is the misinterpretation of certain realities. This adds even greater emotional discomfort to those already suffering from certain psychological conditions. This is something we all need to think about.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Frankel F. H. (1993). Adult reconstruction of childhood events in the multiple personality literature. The American journal of psychiatry150(6), 954–958. Consultado el 31 de marzo de 2023). https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.150.6.954
  • Lynn, S. J., Lilienfeld, S. O., Merckelbach, H., Giesbrecht, T., McNally, R. J., Loftus, E. F., Bruck, M., Garry, M., & Malaktaris, A. (2014). The trauma model of dissociation: inconvenient truths and stubborn fictions. Comment on Dalenberg et al. (2012). Psychological bulletin140(3), 896–910. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035570
  • Mitra P, Jain A. Dissociative Identity Disorder. [Actualizado 2022 May 17]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK568768/
  • Rabasco, A., & Andover, M. S. (2020). The interaction of dissociation, pain tolerance, and suicidal ideation in predicting suicide attempts. Psychiatry research284, 112661. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2019.112661
  • Ross, C. A., Anderson, G., Fleisher, W. P., & Norton, G. R. (1991). The frequency of multiple personality disorder among psychiatric inpatients. The American journal of psychiatry148(12), 1717–1720. https://doi.org/10.1176/ajp.148.12.1717

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.