Recently I took part in a conversation about the difference between the "many hats" of a successful corporate executive, and "multiple personality disorder." Although humorously bantered, the ideas shared in that conversation shed a light on the fuzziness between when consistent multiplicity of personality characteristics is useful and good (to better adapt to a variety of environments), and when is it counter-productive or self-defeating, and labeled multiple personality disorder? What are the "cross-over" points?

Multi-tasking in executive management positions require being able to speak in the vernacular of many stake holders and to be able to communicate effectively with a wide variety of groups and collaborators. Corporate cultures vary between industries, countries, even regions, and size of the enterprise, etcetera, and yet, a successful corporate executive can walk in any of these with ease. How can the effective use of these "chameleon expressions" be distinguished from split personality?

I use this example tongue in cheek, but Mitt Romney is the perfect example of someone whose personalities clashed in company with one another (fund raiser, 47% vs. 100%). He is a very successful businessman, did his changing faces in the media unravel a persona that didn't really exist?

  • $\begingroup$ Great question with clarity! I have always wondered this myself... $\endgroup$ Mar 9, 2013 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ Did you look at the multiple personality disorder wiki page? This in particular seems to answer your question: "The criteria require that an adult be recurrently controlled by two or more discrete identities or personality states, accompanied by memory lapses for important information that is not caused by alcohol, drugs or medications and other medical conditions". We expect users to at least read the wikipedia article when doing their initial research. $\endgroup$ Mar 14, 2013 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ Is MPD/DID still considered a real disorder? $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2013 at 0:05

2 Answers 2


I think the difference comes down to awareness and control. A person who "wears many hats" and can step into different archetypes is a sort of personality chameleon, whereas a person with dissociative identity disorder has little or no control over changing personalities, and certain personalities within that person may be only partially or completely unaware of other personalities.


The cardinal diagnostic trait of "multiple personalities," or dissociative identity disorder (DID), is dissociative states. Following Putnam (1991), dissociation can be defined as follows:

Dissociation is a process that produces a discernible alteration in a person's thoughts, feelings or actions so that for a period of time certain information is not associated or integrated with other information as it normally or logically would be.

At first glance, executives and DID patients do both engage in multiple roles, to some extent. However, executives' coordinated, strategic utilization of multiple roles strongly imply that their roles exist in an integrated, interdependent form, rather than the disorganized form that characterizes DID patients. This means we have every reason to think the executives are not dissociated, and that the relationship is therefore likely spurious (something which seems plausible at a glance, but which is essentially a coincidence).


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