In the media, the disorder is often portrayed as the reason behind a characters' villainy. The most famous example of this being Robert Louis Stevenson's ‘The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde', where a good man with an evil side brings out this demon through chemical formulas. However, this evil side begins to consume him and eventually takes over.
Another famous example is Chuck Palahniuk's ‘Fight Club' where the main character develops another personality from his own hatreds of the mundane life that he has come to live in. Through his utter distaste of the corporate America, the character (who is nameless and no one, just like the life he has come to live) develops a relaxed, anti-consumerism personality that eventually leads to violent behavior and suicidal tendencies in the narrator.
And there are many other forms of the disease that are well-known throughout our pop culture, but the actual cases are far less extreme. While some versions of DID can have violent entities, most of the cases are not as often perceived in our culture. Diagnosed most often in people in their middle years, DID in patients is defined as when a patient will "suffer from alternation of two or more distinct personality states with impaired recall among personality states of important information" (1).
The diagnosis of the disease is often shown through a series of signs and symptoms. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Diseases (DSMIV) mentions that there is no medical cause to the disease and it cannot be diagnosed scientifically. The disorder will make the individual personalities in the person have to adapt to certain characteristics in their ‘host' body (2). Each personality is able to adapt to their surroundings and hold understanding of their ‘lives'. However with rare physical changes to the organism, the noticeable symptoms appear only in the behavior of the person.
One of the worst factors of DID is the altered state of behavior over which the ‘host' has no real control. They cannot remember what happened during the time that they were not mentally there and so cannot truly be held responsible for what they do during that time.
Individuals with the disorder will often change involuntarily to their personalities when under some sort of emotional or physical stress. The main cause of the defense mechanism has been seen to be abuse in the person's childhood, especially sexual abuse. Since the being has survived their entire life through this coping method, the escaping to the alternate personality allows for the individual to, in essence, pretend that the abuse is happening to someone else (2).
The actual mental breakdown comes from the inability to process the emotional stress. A normal person is able to take in all extrinsic and intrinsic situations of their environment and successfully process these values. A person with DID has made their mind process these aspects differently so that they can cope with their stress (3). The person will experience what is called emotional dysregulation, where their ego (or self) completely collapses due to the emotional trauma (3).
The imagery is so real to the person during the abuse that parts of their mind ‘dissociate' or pulled apart aspects of themselves and slowly become these other parts of the person (2). The personalities manifest and can even be physiologically different from the body that hosts them (2).
While there is a scientific explanation for DID, the multiple personality aspect of the disease is what remains a controversy. Many people do not believe that the disease is necessarily mental and may come from a more spiritual point (2). The current controversy over the disease is that the personalities are manifested as demons instead of coming from a mental breakdown.
From a contemporary Christian point of view, the personalities can be demons or alter egos that have taken over the part of the person's soul and appear in everyday life (2). Dr. James G. Friesen, a Christian psychologist of the American Association of Christian Counselors, argues that because the alter egos in the person will band together and become united they must be more of a demonic legion (2).
Dr. Friesen also argues that because alter egos are hateful of therapeutic treatment and
‘have a negative voice which has no corresponding personality' (2), they may not be from the original host and may have a satanic beginning. Friesen and many other of the AACC believe that the only real way to cure the disease is through spiritual counseling.
Another controversy over the veracity of split personalities is whether or not the disease is an iatrogenic disorder or a disease caused by malpractice of the practitioner (4). If the person treating the patient with the disease simply doesn't take their time or doesn't try hard enough with the therapy for the patient, the dissociation may manifest into the different personalities (4). And this can happen because therapy is the in the only real way to treat the disease.
Since DID has no real medical beginnings, the only real way to treat the disease is through therapy and recognition of it by the host. They most common type of therapy used for the patient has become behavior treatment (which comes from the theory that the personalities have come from bad treatment) and the practitioner will only speak to the actual ‘host' and make the person speak constantly in first person (3).
Other types of therapy are dedicated to the entire person and the other people in their lives. Family therapy is associated with the family of the patient and helps to educate the families on the disease and to live with their loved one. Psychotherapy focuses on the emotional duress of the patient and cognitive therapy tries to change the dysfunctional thinking patterns in the patients (1).
While there is still no cure for this long standing and confusing disease, there are still victims out there (about 1% of the population has this disease although many have not been diagnosed). There are treatments for such a controversy and research being done to help the people who suffer from it. However, it is important to understand that this is a disease, and that the people who suffer from it must be helped and cannot be treated poorly for such a horrible thing that they cannot control.
1. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Revised. 2000. American Psychiatric Association. http://www.behavenet.com/capsules/disorders/did.htm
2. Dissociative Identity Disorder : Questions and Misconceptions http://members.aol.com/MinEncourg/WbPgMPDQuestions.htm#HowMany
3. Wikipedia. ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder.' http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissociative_Identity_Disorder
4. Medical Dictionary ‘The Wrong Diagnosis' http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/medical/iatrogenic_disorder.htm