Neuroimaging techniques and dissociative identity disorder treatment

Neuroimaging techniques and dissociative identity disorder treatment
© iStock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Neuroimaging techniques can distinguish between healthy brains and those with multiple personality disorder – could this lead to dissociative identity disorder treatment?

Machine-learning and neuroimaging techniques have been used to accurately distinguish between individuals with dissociative identity disorder and healthy individuals, on the basis of their brain structure. Published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, this research could lead to better therapy and dissociative identity disorder treatment.

Neuroimaging techniques

Performing MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scans on 75 female study participants, 32 with independently confirmed diagnoses of dissociative identity disorder and 43 who were healthy controls. The two groups were carefully matched for demographics including age, years of education and ancestry.

Using machine-learning techniques and neuroimaging techniques to recognise patterns in the brain scans, the researchers were able to distinguish between the two groups with an overall accuracy of 73%, significantly higher than the level of accuracy typically expected.

This research, using the largest ever sample of individuals with dissociative identity disorder (DID) in a brain imaging study, is the first to demonstrate that individuals with this condition can be distinguished from healthy individuals on the basis of their brain structure.

The path towards dissociative identity disorder treatment

Dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, is one of the most disputed and controversial mental health disorders, with serious problems surrounding diagnosis and misdiagnosis. Many patients with the condition share a history of years of misdiagnoses, inefficient pharmacological treatment and several hospitalisations.

It is the most severe of all dissociative disorders, involving multiple identity states and recurrent amnesia. Dissociative disorders may ensue when dissociation is used as a way of surviving complex and sustained trauma during childhood, when the brain and personality are still developing.

Dr Simone Reinders, senior research associate at the department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, England, led the multi-centre study. Reinders, commenting on the research, said: “DID diagnosis is controversial and individuals with DID are often misdiagnosed. From the moment of seeking treatment for symptoms, to the time of an accurate diagnosis of DID, individuals receive an average of four misdiagnoses and spend seven years in mental health services.

“The findings of our present study are important because they provide the first evidence of a biological basis for distinguishing between individuals with DID and healthy individuals.

Ultimately, the application of pattern recognition techniques could prevent unnecessary suffering through earlier and more accurate diagnosis, facilitating faster and more targeted therapeutic interventions.”

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