The Theory of Structural Dissociation and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)

In this blog post, I will be discussing Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), and how it is formed using the Theory of Structural Dissociation.

The theory of structural dissociation is based off the assumption that no one is born with a fully integrated personality. In other words, no one is born with a whole personality. It is thought that every infant is born with several different ego states that handle different facets of growing. These are designed to take care of one part of the child’s life – for example, one part for eating, one part for attachment to the child’s primary caregiver, and one part for exploring. Researchers believe that over time, these ego states evolve into one cohesive personality.

While there is not a specific age or way to know when this occurs in development, most professionals believe that the ego states integrate between the ages of 6 to 9 in the majority of children (Our Dissociated Life, 2018).

If an individual has a relatively safe and secure childhood, they will have the opportunity to fully integrate their personality, sense of self and personal history. However, early development is not the only relevant factor in dissociation. A combination of genetics and trauma or extreme stress can cause an individual to dissociate later in life, leading to dissociative disorders such as depersonalization/derealization disorder or dissociative amnesia or to a trauma- and stress-related disorder, most notably posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (DID Research Org., 2015).

Children who endure repeated trauma prior to the integration of the different facets of their personality can develop differently to those who do not. Failure to integrate is not solely possible in children, though an extreme disruption of state that occurs in DID can only occur before the self has ever fully integrated. This is because, in cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder. where children undergo severe and repeated trauma, amnesiac walls go up in the brain between the different facets of the personality in order to protect the child from the memories of the trauma, and the understanding of it. These amnesiac walls are what prevent the child’s mind from fully integrating and are formed in order to keep the child safe.

During the development of the disorder, the child’s brain learns that the formation of amnesiac walls is the way in which iy deals with trauma. When trauma happens or the brain undergoes periods of high stress that none of the formed alternate states of consciousness (alters) are equipped to deal with, the mind will create a new alter with a specific role that is capable of dealing with the new situation

While the term “alter” is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition – the manual used to diagnose all mental illnesses – it does contain the criterion of multiple personality states being present in an individual with DID (Tracey, 2019). These personality states must each have their own enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to and thinking about the environment and self.


DID Research Org., 2015. Primary Structural Dissociation. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 20 March 2020].

Our Dissociated Life, 2018. What is Structural Dissociation. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 20 March 2020].

Tracey, N., 2019. Understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder Alters. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 20 March 2020].

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