Neurology and Psychophysiology

DID Research

“As an undergraduate student in psychology, I was taught that multiple personalities were a very rare and bizarre disorder. That is all that I was taught on ... It soon became apparent that what I had been taught was simply not true. Not only was I meeting people with multiplicity; these individuals entering my life were normal human beings with much to offer. They were simply people who had endured more than their share of pain in this life and were struggling to make sense of it.”

― Deborah Bray Haddock, The Dissociative Identity Disorder Sourcebook

Neurology and Psychophysiology

* Chalavi, S., Vissia, E.M., Giesen, M.E., Nijenhuis, E.R.S., Draijer, N., Barker, G.J., . . . Reinders, A.A.T.S. (2015). Similar cortical but not subcortical gray matter abnormalities in women with posttraumatic stress disorder with versus without dissociative identity disorder. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 231(3), 308-319. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2015.01.014

Abstract: Neuroanatomical evidence on the relationship between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dissociative disorders is still lacking. We acquired brain structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans from 17 patients with dissociative identity disorder (DID) and co-morbid PTSD (DID-PTSD) and 16 patients with PTSD but without DID (PTSD-only), and 32 healthy controls (HC), and compared their whole-brain cortical and subcortical gray matter (GM) morphological measurements. Associations between GM measurements and severity of dissociative and depersonalization/derealization symptoms or lifetime traumatizing events were evaluated in the patient groups. DID-PTSD and PTSD-only patients, compared with HC, had similarly smaller cortical GM volumes of the whole brain and of frontal, temporal and insular cortices. DID-PTSD patients additionally showed smaller hippocampal and larger pallidum volumes relative to HC, and larger putamen and pallidum volumes relative to PTSD-only. Severity of lifetime traumatizing events and volume of the hippocampus were negatively correlated. Severity of dissociative and depersonalization/derealization symptoms correlated positively with volume of the putamen and pallidum, and negatively with volume of the inferior parietal cortex. Shared abnormal brain structures in DID-PTSD and PTSD-only, small hippocampal volume in DID-PTSD, more severe lifetime traumatizing events in DID-PTSD compared with PTSD-only, and negative correlations between lifetime traumatizing events and hippocampal volume suggest a trauma-related etiology for DID. Our results provide neurobiological evidence for the side-by-side nosological classification of PTSD and DID in the DSM-5.

Coons, P.M. (1988). Psychophysiologic aspects of multiple personality disorder: A review. Dissociation, 1(1), 47-53.

Abstract: Multiple personality disorder has been associated with marked psychophysiologic alterations ever since careful clinical observations have been made on this perplexing disorder. Physical symptoms known to be associated with multiple personality include headaches, conversion symptoms, changes in voice, seizure-like activity, unexplained pain or insensitivity to pain, alterations in handedness or handwriting style, palpitations, alterations in respiration, gastrointestinal disturbances including bulimia and anorexia, menstrual irregularities, sexual dysfunction, and dermatological conditions including unusual allergic responses and differential responses to medication. Early scientific studies on the galvanic skin response in multiple personality disorder were conducted by Prince in the early twentieth century. Since 1970 there has been a resurgence of interest in multiple personality disorder including sophisticated studies of physical symptoms, brain-wave activity, visual evoked potential, regional cerebral blood flow, visual refraction, muscle activity, cardiac and respiratory activity, galvanic skin response, and the switch process. In addition to describing these studies, the etiology of multiple personality disorder and future directions in research will be discussed.

Ehling, T., Nijenhuis, E.R.S., & Krikke, A.P. (2008). Volume of discrete brain structures in complex dissociative disorders: Preliminary findings. Progress in Brain Research, 167, 307-310. doi:10.1016/S0079-6123(07)67029-0

Abstract: Based on findings in traumatized animals and patients with posttraumatic stress disorder, and on traumatogenic models of complex dissociative disorders, it was hypothesized that (1) patients with complex dissociative disorders have smaller volumes of hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, and amygdala than normal controls, (2) these volumes are associated with severity of psychoform and somatoform dissociative symptoms, and (3) patients who recovered from dissociative identity disorder (DID) have more hippocampal volume that patients with florid DID. The preliminary findings of the study are supportive of these hypotheses. Psychotherapy for dissociative disorders may affect hippocampal volume, but longitudinal studies are required to document this potential causal relationship.

Reinders, A.A.T. S., Nijenhuis, E.R.S., Paans, A.A.J., Korf, J., Willemsen, A.T.M., & den Boer J. A. (2003). One brain, two selves. NeuroImage, 20(4), 2119-2125. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.08.021

Abstract: Having a sense of self is an explicit and high-level functional specialization of the human brain. The anatomical localization of self-awareness and the brain mechanisms involved in consciousness were investigated by functional neuroimaging different emotional mental states of core consciousness in patients with Multiple Personality Disorder (i.e., Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)). We demonstrate specific changes in localized brain activity consistent with their ability to generate at least two distinct mental states of self-awareness, each with its own access to autobiographical trauma-related memory. Our findings reveal the existence of different regional cerebral blood flow patterns for different senses of self. We present evidence for the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and the posterior associative cortices to have an integral role in conscious experience.

Sar, V., Unal, S.N., & Ozturk, E. (2007). Frontal and occipital perfusion changes in dissociative identity disorder. Psychiatry Research, 156(3), 217-223. doi:10.1016/j.pscychresns.2006.12.017

Abstract: The aim of the study was to investigate if there were any characteristics of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in dissociative identity disorder. Twenty-one drug-free patients with dissociative identity disorder and nine healthy volunteers participated in the study. In addition to a clinical evaluation, dissociative psychopathology was assessed using the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV Dissociative Disorders, the Dissociative Experiences Scale and the Clinician-Administered Dissociative States Scale. A semi-structured interview for borderline personality disorder, the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, and the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire were also administered to all patients. Normal controls had to be without a history of childhood trauma and without any depressive or dissociative disorder. Regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) was studied with single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) with Tc99m-hexamethylpropylenamine (HMPAO) as a tracer. Compared with findings in the control group, the rCBF ratio was decreased among patients with dissociative identity disorder in the orbitofrontal region bilaterally. It was increased in median and superior frontal regions and occipital regions bilaterally. There was no significant correlation between rCBF ratios of the regions of interest and any of the psychopathology scale scores. An explanation for the neurophysiology of dissociative psychopathology has to invoke a comprehensive model of interaction between anterior and posterior brain regions.

Schlumpf, Y. R., Nijenhuis, E.R.S., Chalavi, S., Weder, E. V., Zimmermann, E., Luechinger, R., . . . Jäncke, L. (2013). Dissociative part-dependent biopsychosocial reactions to backward masked angry and neutral faces: An fMRI study of dissociative identity disorder. NeuroImage: Clinical, 3, 54-64. doi:10.1016/j.nicl.2013.07.002

Abstract: Objective: The Theory of Structural Dissociation of the Personality (TSDP) proposes that dissociative identity disorder (DID) patients are fixed in traumatic memories as “Emotional Parts” (EP), but mentally avoid these as “Apparently Normal Parts” of the personality (ANP). We tested the hypotheses that ANP and EP have different biopsychosocial reactions to subliminally presented angry and neutral faces, and that actors instructed and motivated to simulate ANP and EP react differently.

Methods: Women with DID and matched healthy female actors (CON) were as ANP and EP (DIDanp, DIDep, CONanp, CONep) consecutively exposed to masked neutral and angry faces. Their brain activation was monitored using functional magnetic resonance imaging. The black-and-white dotted masks preceding and following the faces each had a centered colored dot, but in a different color. Participants were instructed to immediately press a button after a perceived color change. State anxiety was assessed after each run using the STAI-S. Final statistical analyses were conducted on 11 DID patients and 15 controls for differences in neural activity, and 13 DID patients and 15 controls for differences in behavior and psychometric measures.

Results: Differences between ANP and EP in DID patients and between DID and CON in the two dissociative parts of the personality were generally larger for neutral than for angry faces. The longest reaction times (RTs) existed for DIDep when exposed to neutral faces. Compared to DIDanp, DIDep was associated with more activation of the parahippocampal gyrus. Following neutral faces and compared to CONep, DIDep had more activation in the brainstem, face-sensitive regions, and motor-related areas. DIDanp showed a decreased activity all over the brain in the neutral and angry face condition. There were neither significant within differences nor significant between group differences in state anxiety. CON was not able to simulate genuine ANP and EP biopsychosocially.

Conclusions: DID patients have dissociative part-dependent biopsychosocial reactions to masked neutral and angry faces. As EP, they are overactivated, and as ANP underactivated. The findings support TSDP. Major clinical implications are discussed.

Schlumpf, Y. R., Reinders, A. A., Nijenhuis, E. R., Luechinger, R., Osch, M. J., & Jäncke, L. (2014). Dissociative part-dependent resting-state activity in dissociative identity disorder: A controlled fMRI perfusion study. PLoS ONE, 9(6). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0098795

Abstract: Background: In accordance with the Theory of Structural Dissociation of the Personality (TSDP), studies of dissociative identity disorder (DID) have documented that two prototypical dissociative subsystems of the personality, the “Emotional Part” (EP) and the “Apparently Normal Part” (ANP), have different biopsychosocial reactions to supraliminal and subliminal trauma-related cues and that these reactions cannot be mimicked by fantasy prone healthy controls nor by actors.

Methods: Arterial spin labeling perfusion MRI was used to test the hypotheses that ANP and EP in DID have different perfusion patterns in response to rest instructions, and that perfusion is different in actors who were instructed to simulate ANP and EP. In a follow-up study, regional cerebral blood flow of DID patients was compared with the activation pattern of healthy non-simulating controls.

Results: Compared to EP, ANP showed elevated perfusion in bilateral thalamus. Compared to ANP, EP had increased perfusion in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, primary somatosensory cortex, and motor-related areas. Perfusion patterns for simulated ANP and EP were different. Fitting their reported role-play strategies, the actors activated brain structures involved in visual mental imagery and empathizing feelings. The follow-up study demonstrated elevated perfusion in the left temporal lobe in DID patients, whereas non-simulating healthy controls had increased activity in areas which mediate the mental construction of past and future episodic events.

Conclusion: DID involves dissociative part-dependent resting-state differences. Compared to ANP, EP activated brain structures involved in self-referencing and sensorimotor actions more. Actors had different perfusion patterns compared to genuine ANP and EP. Comparisons of neural activity for individuals with DID and non-DID simulating controls suggest that the resting-state features of ANP and EP in DID are not due to imagination. The findings are consistent with TSDP and inconsistent with the idea that DID is caused by suggestion, fantasy proneness, and role-playing.

Vermetten, E., Schmahl, C., Lindner, S., Loewenstein, R., & Bremner, J. (2006). Hippocampal and amygdalar volumes in Dissociative Identity Disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 163(4), 630-636. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.163.4.630

Abstract: Objective: Smaller hippocampal volume has been reported in several stress-related psychiatric disorders, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder with early abuse, and depression with early abuse. Patients with borderline personality disorder and early abuse have also been found to have smaller amygdalar volume. The authors examined hippocampal and amygdalar volumes in patients with dissociative identity disorder, a disorder that has been associated with a history of severe childhood trauma.

Method: The authors used magnetic resonance imaging to measure the volumes of the hippocampus and amygdala in 15 female patients with dissociative identity disorder and 23 female subjects without dissociative identity disorder or any other psychiatric disorder. The volumetric measurements for the two groups were compared.

Results: Hippocampal volume was 19.2% smaller and amygdalar volume was 31.6% smaller in the patients with dissociative identity disorder, compared to the healthy subjects. The ratio of hippocampal volume to amygdalar volume was significantly different between groups.

Conclusions: The findings are consistent with the presence of smaller hippocampal and amygdalar volumes in patients with dissociative identity disorder, compared with healthy subjects.

This page was last updated 7/30/2016.