Ultius, in our commitment to highlight issues of importance, is devoted to demonstrating how to formally, logically, and academically address topics such as Dissociative Identity Disorder, as discussed in this sample essay.
What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Dissociative identity disorder, sometimes called multiple personality disorder, is a mental disorder in which two or more distinct identities alternately take control of an individual. Typically, each personality has its own memories, thoughts, and feelings that are totally independent of the others. Rather than a proliferation of separate personalities, dissociative identity disorder is characterized by identity fragmentation.
Though some believe that the disorder is nothing more than a result of therapist suggestion, brain scans have corroborated identity transitions in some cases. It was referred to as multiple personality disorder until 1994, when the name changed in order to reflect a more accurate understanding of the condition; specifically, that it is a fragmentation of an individual’s identity instead of the growth of separate identities.
A closer look at dissociative identity disorder
Dissociative identity disorder is a result of the individual failing to integrate a number of aspects of memory, consciousness, and identity in a single self with multiple dimensions. In most cases, the primary identity is the one with the person’s given name and tends to be passive, depressed, and dependent. Each personality is able to take control and possesses its own history, memories, and self-image.
The characteristics of each personality can differ from those of the primary identity- name, age, gender, mood, knowledge, etc. Certain triggers can cause a specific identity to emerge. How aware each personality is of the others varies depending on the individual.
Statistics regarding dissociative identity disorder report that about one percent of the adult population in the United States suffers from the condition and up to twenty percent of patients in psychiatric hospitals have been institutionalized because of the disorder. Dissociative identity disorder effects children of both genders equally but in adults, appears in women nine times as often as it does in men.
Those who suffer from the condition often experienced some kind of trauma or child abuse that they were unable to cope with, causing their identity to split into someone who might have to coping abilities that the primary personality does not possess.
Those who are eventually diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder will display certain specific symptoms. They often report experiences lapses in memory, blackouts in time, and finding oneself somewhere and having no idea how they arrived there. Individuals with this condition are also often accused of lying when they are confronted with things another personality may have done or said that they have no memory of, finding things in their possession without any recollection of how they were acquired, and encountering people who call them by another name because they have had previous interaction with another alter.
Others reports hearing voices inside their head, not recognizing themselves when they look in the mirror, and feelings detached from themselves, as if they are watching their life play out rather than actually living it.
Famous Cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder
Judy Castelli suffered from physical and sexual abuse as a child and suffered with depression. Just one month after she enrolled in college in 1967, Castelli was sent home by the school psychiatrist for her troubling behavior. She spent the next several years battling with the voices in her head that constantly urged her to harm herself. By burning and cutting herself, she almost permanently ruined her face, almost completely lost sight in one eye, and nearly lost the use of one of her arms.
She was hospitalized several times following suicide attempts and was diagnosed with chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia each time. Castelli began singing in clubs during the 1980s in Greenwich Village and was able to headline a successful off-Broadway show, in addition to finding success in stained glass and sculpting. Suddenly, during a therapy session in 1994 with her long-time therapist, multiple personalities began to emerge.
At first, there were only seven, but continued therapy drew out a total of forty four personalities (Grimminck 2015). She has since become a strong advocate for the disorder and serves on the board of the New York Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation. Today, she teaches art to people who suffer from mental illnesses.
Robert Oxnam, established American scholar, has been a college professor, served as the president of the Asian Society, and currently works as a private consultant in matters regarding China. Though clearly intelligent and very accomplished, he suffers from dissociative identity disorder. He was diagnosed with alcoholism in 1989 by his psychiatrist. Then, during a session in March of 1990 when Oxnam planned to leave therapy, his therapist was addresses by another personality.
The personality was named Tommy and was a dark, angry little boy. Further therapy uncovered a total of eleven personalities (Grimminck 2015). Years of treatment have helped Oxnam to reduce the number of personalities to three. The core personality is Robert, sometimes called Bob, and is the scholar of the three. The second personality is Bobby. Bobby is a young, twenty-something year old man who is famous for his roller blading tricks in Central Park. Though Robert is married, Bobby once had an affair, which came as quite a shock to both Robert and his wife, who has since forgiven Bobby.
The third personality is named Wanda, who is a calm, meditative personality. Wanda used to be part of another personality that was only known as ‘The Witch’, whom Robert’s wife recalled as terrifying and cruel. Oxnam wrote a memoir about his life with his disorder called A Fractured Mind: My Life with Multiple Personality Disorder in 2005.
Kim Noble was born in 1960 in the United Kingdom to unhappily married parents who physically abused their daughter almost from birth. During her adolescence, Kim suffered from an array of mental problems, overdosed more than once, and was placed in a mental institution. When Kim reached her twenties, her other personalities emerged and they turned out to be quite destructive. One of them was a van driver named Kim and another personality named Julie crashed Kim’s van into several parked cars. Another personality, Hayley, got involved in a pedophile ring (Grimminck 2015).
When her other personalities discovered that Hayley was involved in such terrible things, she went to the police with the information should could string together. After that, she began receiving death threats, her house was set on fire, and someone threw acid on her face. Kim herself can remember nothing about any of it. In 1995, she began seeking psychiatric help and was diagnosed finally with dissociative personality disorder. Kim does not know exactly how many personalities she has, but estimates that there are up to one hundred. She goes through around four or five personalities every day.
Patricia is the dominant personality and is always calm and confident. Patricia appeared with Kim’s daughter on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2010 and published a book about her life in 2012.
Another famous case of dissociative identity disorder took place in 1990 and involved a twenty nine year old man named Mark Peterson. Peterson went out on a date with a twenty six year old woman in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Having met two days prior, they did not know each other well, but the woman’s twenty one personalities began to emerge during their date. One of her personalities was rather promiscuous and when Peterson suggested the two go have sex in his car, she agreed (Grimminck 2015).
A couple of days after the incident, though, Peterson was arrested for sexual assault. Two personalities did not consent; one of which was a twenty year old girl who emerged during the sexual encounter and the other was a six year old who reported witnessing the whole thing. Because it is illegal to knowingly have sex with someone who is mentally ill and therefore unable to give consent, Peterson was convicted of second-degree sexual assault.
One month later, the verdict was overturned and the case was dropped. Prosecutors were hesitant to put the young woman through the stress of a second trial, as her personality count has increased to forty six between the incident and first court case (Grimminck 2015). Peterson was never retried for the crime and the case was dropped.
One of the most famous cases of dissociative identity disorder is the case of Shirley Mason, or ‘Sybil.’ Born in January of 1923, Mason had a traumatic childhood. Her mother was frequently described as ‘barbaric’ and her abuse included giving the girl enemas, forcing ice water into her bladder, sexually assaulting her with a flashlight, and stuffing cotton balls in her mouth and nose so she was unable to breathe (Grimminck 2015).
In 1955, Shirley described to her therapist strange episodes in which she would end up in strange cities with no clue as to how she ended up there. She would go into a store and then find herself standing in front of destroyed products or displays and have no idea that she was the one who had done all the damage. In therapy, shortly after, her personalities began to emerge. Mason wrote a book about her struggle with her horrifying childhood and her multiple personalities and it was turned into a TV miniseries called Sybil and staring Sally Field (Nathan 2011).
Though this is perhaps the most famous case of dissociative identity disorder, it has also come under scrutiny for its authenticity. Skeptics believe that Mason was indeed mentally ill and had become devoted and dependent on her therapist. Those people believe that her therapist planted the idea of multiple personalities in Mason’s head in order to gain notoriety and fame exploiting her patient’s illness. In 1958, Mason even wrote a letter to her therapist and admitted to making the entire thing up, but her therapist told her that her mind was trying to convince her she was not mentally ill, so the therapy continued (Nathan 2011).
Over the next few years, sixteen alternate personalities emerged from Mason’s psyche. Though the television version of Mason’s life ends happily, her reality did not end up being quite as rosy. She became addicted to barbiturates and was entirely dependent upon her therapist, who ended up paying Mason’s bills and giving her money to survive. Mason passed away from breast cancer in 1998.
Most often, the preferred method of treating dissociative identity disorder is psychotherapy. Therapists often attempt to help their patients confront feelings and emotions they have been afraid to deal with and encouraging them to nurture their relationships with others (“Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment”). Dialectical behavior therapy is also helpful, as it helps the patient decrease their negative reactions to stressful stimuli. Patients are also encouraged to find ways for the identities to peacefully coexist with each other in an attempt to reintegrate them all into one identity again. Those with this condition often suffer from others as well, like depressions or PTSD, and are often medicated for those purposes in conjunction with their psychotherapy.
Dissociative identity disorder is a complex condition that hugely impacts the life of the individual who has it. Traumatic experiences that the individual cannot cope with cause their personality to split into alters as a way to deal with the damaging events. Through intensive and long-term psychotherapy, the condition can be managed and the individual can live as normal of a life as the possibly can- while some patients are unable to live alone and are safer in mental institutions, others are able to live relatively regular lives.
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