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What is an Identity Disorder?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Identity disorder may refer to very different conditions that can affect people. The two identity disorders most commonly cited are not at all similar to each other. One of these is gender identity disorder, and the other is usually better know as multiple personality disorder, though it may also be called dissociative identity disorder.

When gender identity disorder is present it may first be noted in childhood, which is common but not always the case, as a marked preference for all aspects of a lifestyle as lived by the opposite gender. People may feel they are in the wrong body, and that they were meant to be in an opposite gender body. Some kids works this out as children and do not continue to feel this way as adults, while others may more strongly identify with opposite gender roles as adults. The psychic pain that this can create is significant, and since choices like sexual reassignment surgery or trans-sexualism may be disapproved of in many cultures, the issue of stating this feeling to family or friends could not only be embarrassing but might be life-threatening. The person may thus try to hide these feelings for years, though some are now able to get the support of family to make a transition to the other gender.

There is discomfort among some intimately connected with this condition about calling a disorder. Many have advocated calling gender identity disorder something else. Others who have been open about this issue suggest that it’s really not the mind that is disordered but the body; once that is altered satisfactorily, anxiety about belonging to the wrong gender may cease to exist. Many still require some form of therapy as they adjust to a new life and continue to recover from the psychic scars that rejection of society or of loved ones has caused.

Dissociative identity disorder or multiple personality disorder (MPD) is a condition where a person has several discrete and identifiable personalities that are separate from each other and that may have little to no communication with each other. This is a difficult condition too, that requires therapy. Emphasis in therapy is made to draw out different personalities and to get them to communicate with each other. In other words, therapy hopes to knit together the fractured personalities in an effort to give the main personality fully conscious control of life at all times.

As with gender identity disorder, there remains doubt as to the validity of MPD. Both conditions are viewed with skepticism by some, or believed to be deliberately fueled by media acceptance and portrayal of these conditions. Medical authority disagrees with this interpretation, and the psychiatric community accepts both disorders as very real and establishes diagnostic criteria for them. These two conditions are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
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Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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