By Dr David Laing Dawson
Multiple personality disorder (MPD) is fiction, is fiction, is fiction. It is not, not, not a bona fide clinical entity, a bona fide human experience, at least it is not a bona fide human experience that occurs on its own, and without the collaboration of an energetic therapist.
I am writing this because I recently ran into two situations involving the ongoing collusion of a believing therapist and a suggestible patient maintaining this fiction, and I watched “Split”, an M. Night Shyamalan horror film featuring MPD and some prodigious acting and special effects. After the embarrassing debunking of MPD by investigative journalists (and a few lawyers) 20 plus years ago, MPD was renamed and diffused (so to speak) as DID, (Dissociative Identity Disorder), which is what it is called in “Split”.
To be conflicted is to be human. To be deeply conflicted is to be a troubled human. To have urges and impulses that are entirely unacceptable to your civilized and socialized self is also human. To say, “I wasn’t myself.” when we find we have done something we should not have done, is also human.
Taking this internal conflict and dramatizing it by embodying each vector in a separate being is a literary technique traceable to the Ancient Greeks, and then famously used by Robert Louis Stevenson in his novella “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in 1886.
This technique became a natural for film, for mystery and suspense, especially as acting and special effects improved. And then, unfortunately, a psychiatrist wrote a book called “The Three Faces of Eve”, which was made into a very successful film. Multiple Personality became part of popular culture and then migrated to professional culture, adopted by both naïve and excited therapists, and not a few charlatans. How wonderful for therapists to be able to talk directly to those disparate conflicts and impulses, to see them fully fleshed out with voices and names, and not simply talk about them through the filter of the patient’s observing ego. An industry was born. Therapy became theater.
Psychoanalysis is at fault here too, for it assumes a great deal about the integrity of the single human. It ignores the extent to which we are social, interpersonal beings, the extent to which we actually see and experience the world according to the social influences that surround us. The way we answer each and every question according to who is asking and the circumstances of the asking. (Sheldon excepted)
One line among five becomes longer if the others say it is longer. There is a ghost in the building if others say there is a ghost in the building. A sound effect or two and we are convinced. We know the patients of Freudian therapists report Freudian dreams while the patients of Jungian therapists report Jungian dreams. We know it takes a mere ten minutes to convince a child that there is a snake under his bed, a monster in his closet, 20 minutes for an adolescent, and about 60 minutes to convince an adult. We are all impressionable, some more than others. The more uncertain we are of our selves, our reality, our worth, our boundaries, the more malleable we are by social circumstances, other people and therapists, especially intense, believing, well-meaning therapists. Good God, I just read the American Government has spent millions studying ESP, psychics, the paranormal, from bending spoons to cat brains interfering with the electronics of incoming ballistic missiles. Our gullibility has no bounds. Did we learn nothing from that entirely fictitious and therapist manufactured pandemic of Satanic ritual child abuse that swept North America a few years ago?
Our brains do many things to protect us from the harshest, the most painful realities and moments of powerless terror. These include the phenomenon of dissociation (shutting off the experience and going elsewhere in the mind) but one of those things is not concocting a string of alternative identities, a cast of three to fifty, at least not without the encouragement of a colluding and abetting therapist. It may be method acting, but it is still acting. Without an audience it dwindles away.