Dissociative Identity Disorder: Trauma Experienced in Childhood and Dissociative Amnesia

Dissociative identity disorder (DID), also known as multiple personality disorder, is characterized by the existence of two or more different personality identities, each having unique characteristics. DID is usually caused by trauma experienced in childhood and psychological symptoms include dissociative amnesia. The disturbed identity and memory states are used as a coping mechanism to avoid the trauma experienced in the past. The two identities present are called the avoidant identity or the trauma identity. The avoidant identity is one that the person uses to avoid trauma experienced, while the trauma identity is one that the person uses when they are preoccupied with the trauma. These identities are differentiated based on the purpose in the person’s life. In the academic article, “Transfer of episodic self-referential memory across amnesic identities in dissociative identity disorder using the Autobiographical Implicit Association Test”, found in the databases of Shatford Library, authors Rosemary Marsh, Martin Dorahy, Bruno Verschuere, Chandele Butler, Warwick Middleton, and Rafaele Huntjens use the autobiographical Implicit Association Test to determine if memory transfers across identities of those with dissociative identity disorder. The information found in this article presents both the same and different information than what is found in the textbook.

In this empirical study, participants included nineteen people diagnosed with DID, all of which were female and were “recruited from a hospital program in Australia specializing in trauma and dissociative disorders and from referrals via clinicians”. Seven of these participants were removed from the study because they were either unable to switch identities, or there was a discrepancy from a third identity, leaving the study with twelve diagnosed DID participants. The participants also included forty-one comparison participants who were undergraduate students majoring in psychology from Australia and New Zealand recruited by flyers and emails and had no memory issues. These comparison participants were split into either an amnesic or non-amnesic group. The last set of participants included sixteen DID simulator participants who were actors from New Zealand and were recruited by word of mouth. All participants were aged eighteen and older and were given $20 for participating. The researcher conducting this test was also unaware of who was placed in which group, therefore it was a single-blind study.

Participants were exposed to the experience of producing episodic events, by listening to vignettes in each identity. The DID patients, DID simulators, and non-amnesic and amnesic groups, listened to the first vignette, tried to remember as much as they could, and rated the vignette on how embarrassed they felt. The DID patients, DID simulators and the non-amnestic group then listened to the second vignette and repeated the same procedure. The researcher of this study then used the autobiographical Implicit Association Test (aIAT), on all groups, to determine if memory transfers across identities, in a controlled environment. The aIAT is a test “within social psychology designed to detect the strength of a person's subconscious association between mental representations of objects (concepts) in memory”. All participants were to categorize the sentences given about the vignettes.

The most significant results from the aIAT showed that the amnesic comparison participants, who listened to one vignette, were embarrassed by one vignette. While the non-amnestic comparison participants, DID patients, and DID simulators, who listened to both vignettes, were embarrassed by both vignettes. This is important to note because these results show that DID patients were able to transfer these memories across identities.  This makes psychologists believe that memories transfer from avoidant identity to trauma identity, but those with DID are not willing to retrieve the memories filled with trauma. Researchers state, “The discrepancy between the ability to retrieve experiences on the one hand and the inability to take ownership of what is retrieved on the other hand requires further attention”.

The information found in this empirical article presents the same information found in the textbook, specifically in chapter 8, memory, and chapter 15, psychological disorders. In chapter 8, the text briefly discusses amnesia. Chapter 8 gives an overview of amnesia, and explains how amnesia is the result of physical or psychological trauma. In chapter 15, the book goes on to further discuss amnesia, specifically dissociative amnesia. The book states that “an individual with dissociative amnesia is unable to recall important personal information, usually following an extremely stressful or traumatic experience”. Chapter 15 also discusses how trauma contributes to DID, as other identities or personalities serve as a coping strategy to avoid trauma. The article has very similar information and explains how one with DID avoids trauma and learns how to cope through the development of other personalities or identities. The article extends the known information of amnesia and explains how “this reported amnesia has not been well assessed experimentally”.

However, there was also information in the article that was different than what was found in the textbook. Chapter 15 did not talk about the different personality identities found in one with DID. The article presented new information by explaining the difference between traumatic identities and avoidant identities. Because identities are used based on what is more beneficial to the person diagnosed, DID is very controversial. Chapter 15 explained that many people believe that those with DID fake symptoms and change personalities to get out of the consequences of their actions. This information would be important to note in the article to show why the study was so important.

Although the information found in the text did not contradict the information found in the article or vice versa, there are still some questions left unanswered. What will psychologists do with the results of the findings? Is every person diagnosed with DID able to transfer memories across the identities, or was it easier to transfer memories that were produced in an experiment? There are also very important questions I would like to know the answers to. Will the psychologists learn how to help those with DID transfer traumatic experiences in different identities through the findings in this study? If I were the author of this article, I would take the information I learned from the findings and do various clinical studies with a person diagnosed with DID to determine whether or not their specific traumatic experience would transfer between identities. I would try to determine ways to help a DID patient find coping strategies to handle the trauma other than going into a dissociative state.


  1. Marsh, R., Dorahy, M., Verschuere, B., Butler, C., Middleton, W., & Huntjens, R. (2018). Transfer of episodic self-referential memory across amnesic identities in dissociative identity disorder using the Autobiographical Implicit Association Test. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 127(8), 751–757. Retrieved from https://web-a-ebscohost-com.ezp.pasadena.edu/ehost/detail/detail?vid=3&sid=5b4cc267-1228-4565-aa5f-4cdfc5a17a6d@sessionmgr4007&bdata=JnNjb3BlPXNpdGU=#db=pdh&AN=2018-52634-001
  2. Spielman, R. M., Dumper, K., Jenkins, W., Lacombe, A., Lovett, M., & Perlmutter, M. (2017). Psychology. Houston, TX: OpenStax, Rice University.
  3. Implicit-association test. (2019, August 28). Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Implicit-association_test.
01 August 2022
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