Dissociative Identity Disorder And Abuse The condition once known as multiple personality disorder (MPD) is a very real psychological phenomenon that until recently was mis-understood and often mis-diagnosed. Dissociative identity disorder, DID, as we now call it, is a mental illness where a person’s thoughts, feelings, and memories are scattered throughout two or more separate personalities within the victims mind (Appelbaum 107). In 1973 perhaps the world’s most famous psychiatric patient ever, Sybil brought attention to what was until then a rare diagnoses. Sybil was ritually abused as a child and was later found to possess sixteen separate personalities, including women with English accents and even two little boys (Schreiber 43). The case brought DID to the attention of the public as a real psychological disorder. Through recent research we can now clearly depict the connection between child abuse and dissociative identity disorder. There have been stories throughout history of people who have behaved strangely and then later were unable to recall their actions.
These people were often seen as “freaks” or as people that were lying to either gain attention or justify a wrongful act that they had committed (Putnam 54). The first medical studies of what we now call DID did not appear until the late 1800s. The cases were of people that had no recollection of things they had done. As early as 1896 researchers recognized that early childhood seduction experiences were responsible for 18 female cases of hysteria, a condition closely associated with dissociative disorders (Putnam 56). In a famous case of hysteria, Anna O, who suffered from dual personality, the initial trauma was the death of Anna O’s father. It was not until the publication of Sybil in 1973 “that childhood physical and sexual abuse became widely recognized as precipitants of dissociative identity disorder”(Schreiber 43).
Since 1973 numerous investigators have confirmed the high incidence of physical and sexual abuse in multiple personality. In 100 cases Putnam found an 83% incidence of sexual abuse, 75% incidence of physical abuse, 61% incidence of extreme neglect or abandonment and an overall 97% incidence of any type of trauma (Putnam 53). It wasn’t until the 1900s that these events were linked to DID (Appelbaum 110). A fictional novel, presented as a documentary, The Three Faces of Eve (1956) described a woman who was believed to have three personalities. This was the first multiple personality book to catch the attention of the public. It was later made into a movie which various sources date as being released in 1956 or 1957.
The movie had a profound effect on the public, convincing many that multiple personalities were both possible and common. A second book, also presented as a documentary, described a woman who was believed to be possessed by 16 personalities. This was Sybil (1973), which also came out as a made for TV movie in 1976 (Schreiber 49). Those therapists who accept DID as a valid, common diagnosis believe that it is induced by extreme, repeated, physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse during early childhood. DID has been diagnosed for over a century, often amid great controversy, but it wasn’t until 1980 that there was clear definition.
According to the American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry Dissociative Identity Disorder is defined as.. A. The existence within the individual of two or more distinct personalities, each of which is dominant at a particular time. B. The personality that is dominant at any particular time determines the individuals behavior. C.
Each individual personality is complex and integrated with its unique behavior patterns and social relationships (Allison). Many DID specialists consider DID in the same class as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety (Sidran). DID has been found to exist “predominantly in females in a clinical population, but mainly in males in a criminal offender subpopulation” (Allison). Although it is diagnosed almost entirely among women, therapists speculate that it may be equally common among men. However, men are less likely to seek treatment. They often end up in jail because of the behavior induced by DID. Research shows that the average person who is just diagnosed with DID has spent seven years in the mental health system, and has usually been previously misdiagnosed with several other disorders (Klut 82).
Since Dissociative Identity Disorder is believed to be a result of childhood trauma, including abuse, witnessing violence, and even near death experiences sufferers find it hard to lead normal lives. Severe sexual abuse is suspected to be the most common cause (Sidran). The disorder is similar to post traumatic stress disorder found in adults. Many of the symptoms of PTSD are found in DID, such as flashbacks and depersonalization. Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a serious psychological reaction that develops in some people following experience of overwhelmingly frightening or traumatic events. It can result from many types of trauma, especially those which threaten life. Such events include, but are not limited to, combat, assault, sexual assault, natural disaster, accidents and torture.
PTSD can affect people of any age, culture or gender (Australian National Centre For War-Related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). A study using a sample of 48 soldiers suffering PTSD following the Vietnam war, showed results that suggested that trauma in the form of combat and the witnessing of violence can trigger dissociation (Klut 93). Patients diagnosed as suffering DID are not regarded as having entirely separate, fully elaborated, alternative multiple personalities, but are regarded as experiencing difficulties in integrating various aspects of their own single personality. Nonetheless, they are seen as behaving as if they had alternative ego states which do in many ways appear as if they were alternative personalities (Putnam 51). It is known now that overwhelming trauma can cause complex adaptations to ones personality when they are subjected to abuse at such a developmental age (Putnam 52). “Trauma has long been recognized as an essential criterion for the production of dissociative disorders including multiple personality” (Appelbaum).
Treatment for DID takes many years of painful, intensive therapy as childhood memories of vicious abuse are slowly recovered. The condition of the patient’s mental state is severely effected during therapy. Therapists believe that the patient can be restored to health after all of the abusive memories are uncovered and the many alters are reintegrated into a single personality (Putnam 53). Through recent research we can now clearly depict the connection between child abuse and dissociative identity disorder. What once was a mysterious mental illness is now found to be fairly common throughout our population. In the past sufferers of DID were forced to be ashamed and remain anonymous of there disease.
Today those patients can now seek help and through treatment live relatively normal lives. Without the help of such famous cases as Sybil and Anna O. it may have taken several more years for researchers to realize the reality of this disorder. Sufferers of DID are now able to work, raise families, and function normally in everyday life. Psychology.