It is arguable that our current understanding of DID, including manifestations of what clinicians label abreaction, or the physical re-living of a traumatic event out of dissociated consciousness, might explain the description of demonic possession within the Christian faith. Going back even further, images of humans morphing into animal forms in cave paintings may represent a shamanic experience of dissociation. Such shape-shifting correlates can be found within many cultural traditions, even though examples may not be currently accessible for clinical testing.
What is clear from the testimony of individuals who’ve been diagnosed with DID is that alters may adapt many imagined physical forms, including animals, as the childhood gift of magical thinking is put into service of overcoming unbearable experiences. It is also clear that the story of humans beset with more than one personality has long been a part of our cultural output, not only in the West but reflected in some form or another in many societies.
Although accounts can be traced to the late 1600’s, in Western history, in 1791, Eberhardt Gmelin was among the first to record a case of multiple personality. Later, in the early 19th century, the father of American psychiatry, Benjamin Rush, theorized that the cause for the doubling of consciousness related to a disconnection between the two hemispheres of the brain, and was one of the first to do so.
The first case to popularize the condition and its definition by evolving Western psychology was that of Mary Reynolds. Described and verified in 1816 by Dr. Samuel Latham Mitchel, the case helped bring the public’s attention to the condition. It was covered in an article in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1860, and Mary herself wrote an autobiography.
During the late 19th century and early 20th century, Pierre Janet, a French psychologist, described a number of cases of multiple personality disorder. Many contemporary clinicians and researchers consider him to be the father of dissociative disorders.
In the US, Morton Prince spent a long career studying the sequelae of trauma, documenting cases such as Christine Beauchamp in “The Dissociation of A Personality.”
For a number of reasons, some of which are cultural and some have yet to be delineated, the study of multiple personality waned until the mid to late 20th century. During the 1970’s, several researchers embarked on a re-enlightenment and generations that followed built upon their work.
Late 20th Century Medicine
Multiple Personality Disorder was first included in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (DSM-III) in 1980. In 1994, with the publication of the DSM-IV the condition was renamed from Multiple Personality Disorder to Dissociative Identity Disorder. The renaming was a reflection of the thought at the time that DID existed at the extreme end of a continuum of dissociative experiences and disorders.
Controversy, What Controversy?
“Nowhere else would a body of research data be so entirely discounted. This empirical base includes clinical case studies, series studied with structured interview data; studies of phenomenology, prevalence, memory, hypnotizability, neurobiology, imaging, and psychophysiology; and psychological assessment profiles, among others. These studies include samples of children and adolescents and cross-cultural samples from North America, Europe, Latin America, Turkey, and Asia.
-Richard J. Loewenstein, MD
Issues in The Iatrogenesis Controversy
Traumatic Dissociation: Neurobiology and Treatment, p. 275
See these articles and books for clear refutations and cultural analyses to inform any argument over a potential controversy.
- Trauma And Dissociation in a Cross-cultural Perspective: Not Just a North American Phenomenon
- The duality of the brain and the multiplicity of minds: can you have it both ways?
- The sociocognitive model of dissociative identity disorder: a reexamination of the evidence.
Has This Disorder Been Weaponized?
(The Diva would term any controversy about this disorder politically motivated propaganda, but then, the Diva does not pretend to be unbiased.)
MK-ULTRA Subproject 36 states:
In working with individual subjects, special attention will be given to disassociative states, which tend to accompany spontaneous ESP experiences. Such states can be induced or controlled to some extent with hypnosis and drugs… The data used in this study will be obtained from group ESP experiments which have yielded significant results, high scoring subjects from special groups such as psychotics, children and mediums, and from psychological tests in which answers are of the multiple choice type…
MKULTRA Subproject 136 Proposal, 30 May 1961, Experimental Analysis of Extrasensory Perception, approved by the Chief, Technical Services Division/Research Branch, Central Intelligence Agency, 23 August 1961, $8,579.00.
This is one of 18 thousand documents released during and subsequent to the Church Committee hearings in the late 1970’s. This document, as well as the testimony of numerous survivors, suggests that DID came under and maintains the special interest of people in power and the experts who serve them. There is much other evidence to suggest that whatever controversy this disorder is subjected to is in fact political, including the criticism produced by so-called False Memory advocates. The founding members of the False Memory campaign were also employed by the US government to carry out projects like #136.