Dissociative identity disorder: a pharmacological challenge?

Antje A. T. S. Reinders*, Allan Young, Dick J. Veltman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Antje A. T. S. Reinders^1*, Allan H. Young^1 & Dick J. Veltman^2 ^1=Centre for Affective Disorders, Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), King's College London, UK; *=Corresponding author ^2=Department of Psychiatry, Amsterdam UMC, Location VUmc, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. We welcome the opportunity to respond to Corrigan and Hull’s response to our editorial[1] that presented neurobiological evidence for a trauma-related aetiology of DID. Corrigan and Hull offer an important additional reason to our proposed DID-dismissive perspectives, namely that DID treatment is considered prohibitively expensive. Not only do they point out costs due to the length of phase-oriented treatment[2] and its unpredictable non-linear course, they also highlight the costs involved in training of staff because DID treatment requires specialized skills currently not developed during psychiatrists’ training. They conclude that the evidence for DID should be followed by clinicians and that appropriate treatment will cost less overall than leaving disorders involving pathological dissociation untreated. An important avenue that might reduce treatment length, and therefore treatment costs, is pharmacological intervention. Corrigan and Hull state that medication is of limited value, but to date no double-blind placebo controlled studies have been performed with the aim to develop evidence-based pharmacotherapy to alleviate pathological dissociative symptoms in DID. However, it has been proposed that kappa-opioid receptor antagonists may be of interest for the selective pharmacological targeting of debilitating dissociative symptoms in posttraumatic stress disorder and transdiagnostically[3]. Abnormal serotonin neurotransmission in frontal and temporal regions has been found in relation to dissociative amnesia in a positron emission tomography receptor binding study[3] and therefore serotonergic medication might also be of interest to treat pathological dissociative symptoms. In addition, the authors would like to offer the consideration of a glutamate hypothesis for dissociation on the basis of scientific evidence that 1) the glutamatergic agent ketamine induces dissociative symptoms in humans[4] and in animal models[5], 2) the psychotropic drug lamotrigine can reduce dissociative symptoms induced by ketamine in healthy individuals[6], 3) glutamatergic hyperactivity could be relevant in the neurobiology of depersonalization and 4) lamotrigine can be an augmenting treatment to reduce dissociative symptoms in depersonalisation disorder[6], and 5) anterior cingulate glutamate concentration correlates positively with dissociative symptoms in individuals with borderline personality[3]. Glutamate concentrations in the brain of individuals suffering from pathological dissociation can relatively easily be measured using magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), which may provide information on whether glutamate is a neurochemical biomarker of dissociation. Although more has become known about what happens in the dissociated brain and functional neurocorrelates of pathological dissociation[1,3] are being unravelled, it remains largely unknown how dissociative symptoms are mediated in the brain at a neurotransmitter level. Neurobiological research into the neurochemical biomarkers of pathological dissociation could possibly lead to the development of pharmacological agents that facilitate more rapid symptom alleviation. Although the development of such pharmacological interventions offer a challenge for the scientific community, they are expected to reduce treatment costs of individuals with DID. References: [1] Reinders AATS, Veltman DJ. Dissociative identity disorder: out of the shadows at last? Br J Psychiatry 2020: 1–2. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.2020.168. [2] Nijenhuis ERS. The Trinity of Trauma: Ignorance, fragility, and control: The evolving concept of trauma / The concept and facts of dissociation in trauma. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015. [3] Roydeva MI, Reinders AATS. Biomarkers of Pathological Dissociation: A Systematic Review. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2021; In press: j.neubiorev.2020.11.019. [4] Luckenbaugh DA, Niciu MJ, Ionescu DF, Nolan NM, Richards EM, Brutsche NE, et al. Do the dissociative side effects of ketamine mediate its antidepressant effects? J Affect Disord 2014; 159: 56–61. [5] Vesuna S, Kauvar I V., Richman E, Gore F, Oskotsky T, Sava-Segal C, et al. Deep posteromedial cortical rhythm in dissociation. Nature 2020; 586: 87–94. [6] Belli H, Akbudak M, Ural C, Aslaner D. A Case of Depersonalization with Treatment-resistant Depression Successfully Treated with Sertraline-lamotrigine Combination. West Indian Med J 2014; 63: 115.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Psychiatry
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 23 Mar 2021


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