Dissociative Identity Disorder And Abuse Essay Research

Dissociative Identity Disorder And Abuse Essay, Research Paper

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.



Allison, Ralph B. The American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry,

volume 2, 1981-82, p.32-38

Appelbaum, S. A. Journal of Contemperary Psyco-therapy “Multiple

Personality Disorder and the Choice of Self” 1996 103-116

Australian Centre for War Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

http://www.ncptsd.unimelb.edu.au/ Nov. 28, 2000

Klut, Richard P. “Clinical Perspectives on Multiple Personality

Disorder” New York, NY June 1993 78-94

Putnam, E. W. “100 Cases of Multiple Personality Disorder”

American Psychiatric Association. Washington 1983 48-57

Schreiber, F. R. “Sybil: the True Story of a Woman Possesing Sixteen

Seperate Personalities” Regenery, Chicago, IL 1973 34-52

Sidran Traumatic Stress Foundation

www.sidran.org/didbr.html 1995-2000 (Nov. 25 2000)


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