How Child Abuse Leads To Dissociative Identity Disorder

The condition of having multiple personalities, now called dissociative identity disorder or DID, is a widely misunderstood condition. Media portrayals of DID usually show patients as having menacing and psychopathic personalities. Even the scientific community differs in opinion, with a significant number of psychologists insisting that DID is not a real condition. However, one aspect of DID that’s relatively established is its most common cause: childhood abuse.

Child abuse is a significant problem affecting families worldwide, and virtually everyone acknowledges this. Among its different effects is that it can lead to DID. Roughly 99% of patients have at least one significant traumatic and abusive experience during childhood. The prevalence of DID is a significant mental health problem, which is why we need to find more effective ways of prevention. Only by understanding the link between abuse and DID further can parents be able to protect their children.



Coping Mechanisms And Identity

Whenever people encounter a negative stimulus, they tend to react so that they can reduce the detrimental effects of the stimulus. The actions they take are called coping mechanisms. For example, people who are victims of bullying tend to feel powerless. To cope, they might take steps that make them seem more powerful, such as by becoming bullies themselves.

In the case of DID, abused children can face very different scenarios. Their guardians meet their basic needs, such as food and shelter. However, these same people cause them psychological, and sometimes physical, harm. How can someone be both caring and hurtful?

The usual victims of abuse in the household are young children. They are usually in the stage of development where their self-identities first begin to take root. Their view of themselves isn’t just influenced by themselves, but also by their interactions with each other. In typical cases, children grow up with a unified belief of who they are as a person. They acknowledge that they have various traits that compose one personality.

The conflicting viewpoints caused by child abuse interfere with identity development. If a child is hurt, they might start thinking that they are inadequate and undeserving of care. The child might then believe otherwise when the abuser feels guilty and tries to compensate by being more indulging.

Repeated cycles of this type of behavior will prevent the child from forming a single identity. The mismatch between what they think and what they observe is called cognitive dissonance, and it imposes some mental strain on them. To resolve the disagreement, they will be forced to adopt multiple identities. Thus, abuse eventually leads to the formation of DID.



Here are some ideas that you must know about coping up:

  • “Medication alone is easy but does not teach people how to cope with the situations that may have created the depression in the first place.” – Margaret Wehrenberg, PsyD
  • “Self-care can include seeing a psychologist, talking with a support group or mentor, carving out more time for friends and family, and relieving stress by exercising or by practicing tai chi or meditation.” – Jeffrey Barnett, PsyD
  • “Social support and even the perception of social support is highly protective.” –  Lindsay Sortor, PsyD


The link between child abuse and DID is another reason for taking an aggressive stance against violence. Parents and guardians should maintain a loving and caring environment for their children. They should support their children’s healthy mental development by protecting them from psychological trauma.

Being a caring guardian is sometimes easier said than done, especially if the guardian was also a victim of childhood abuse. In this case, they should opt for counseling where a mental health professional will guide them in proper parenthood.

Additionally, there must be stronger policies that will help detect and prevent child abuse. Psychologists should continue working on better diagnostic and treatment tools so that authorities can better deal with child abuse. Only then will we be able to prevent another person from suffering from DID.