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Causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) causes are virtually always thought to be environmental and, specifically, related to early-life trauma.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) causes are virtually always thought to be environmental and, specifically, related to early-life trauma. There are no known biological causes of dissociative identity disorder but DID does tend to run in families. While Putnam et al noted that 97% of patients with dissociative identity disorder reported a history of abuse, part of the controversy of DID, however, is that some clinicians claim that there is not a direct enough association between early-childhood trauma and dissociative identity disorder due to the bias in self-reporting.

What Causes Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)?

The causes of dissociative identity disorder appear to be complex. People with dissociative identity disorder tend to have personal histories of recurring, overpowering, severe and often life-threatening traumas such as physical or sexual abuse before the age of nine; which is thought to be a key developmental age. The cause of dissociative identity disorder may also be extreme neglect or emotional abuse even if no overt physical or sexual abuse occurred. DID may also be related to a natural disaster, such as war. According to WebMD, findings indicate that parents who are frightening and unpredictable tend to raise children who experience dissociation.

Richard Kluft, an expert in dissociative identity disorder, suggests that DID is caused by four factors:

  1. Individuals have an innate potential to dissociate that is reflected in the fact that they are easy to hypnotize (have a high hypnotizability rating).
  2. Traumatic experiences in early childhood may disturb personality development, leading to greater potential for dividedness in mental or emotional areas.
  3. Individuals may be denied the chance to spontaneously recover because of continued emotional and/or social deprivation.
  4. The final presentation is shaped by mental or emotional and external factors, including social influences.

Causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

Why Does Trauma Cause DID in Some and Not Others?

Research indicates that dissociative symptoms are a psychological response to extreme environmental and interpersonal stressors. In order to survive this stress, the person separates his or her thoughts, feelings, actions and memories associated with the traumatic experience from his or her usual level of consciousness. Because everyone is different, some people who have experienced extreme trauma will experience this type of response while others will not. Some studies indicate that males are more likely to experience dissociation due to early-age trauma than females. (More dissociative identity disorder statistics and facts here.)

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APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2015, May 14). Causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/abuse/dissociative-identity-disorder/did-causes

Last Updated: May 10, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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