Multiple Personality Disorder, now renamed Dissociative Identity Disorder, has strong links to PTSD and the human traumatic response, which only became formally known as PTSD in 1980 in the wake of the Vietnam War. Alongside the development of understanding of PTSD, two cultural touchstones, Sybil and The Three Faces of Eve, defined the condition for a generation, forming the story of the heroic therapist assisting a fractured person in the psychological work of integration and construction of a single self.
In the 1980s and 90s, there was a surge of interest in the phenomenon with memoirs and talk-show drama around childhood sexual abuse, multiple personality disorder (MPD), and Satanic ritual abuse, eventually styled the Satanic Panic. Therapists made their name and brand based on their accounts of heroism in the face of the terror of “Satan’s Children,”
that resulted in the linking of MPD/DID to ritual abuse. As the CBC Podcast Uncover: Satanic Panic explores in its final episode, although Satanic conspiracies were debunked by the FBI, there is no doubt of horrific abuses of children — a few kilometres down the road from a town obsessed with “Believe the Children!” lay a government-led residential school system full of unheard children being systematically institutionally, ritually, religiously, and genocidally abused.
The first wave of therapist and Satanic panic-driven memoirs were joined by a number of more multiple-centred works. Perhaps not so surprisingly, it’s male bodied authors who were able to publish and lead this genre, beginning with First Person Plural, followed by China scholar Robert B. Oxnam’s A Fractured Mind and the currently-infamous Trump supporter and athlete Hershel Walker’s Breaking Free.
Although there is a body of belief that MPD, renamed Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) was also debunked as being iatrogenic, the actual evidence is the reverse and DID is more common than you likely think, present across multiple cultures, and visible on fMRI.
The question of legal responsibility for multiples is also deeply entrenched in the cultural discussion.
Beyond the cultural and practical matters, the existence of multiples raises significant philosophical questions about the nature of human experience, with some hoping it might explain things. For multiples, however, these are not thought exercises but every day, closely held issues as even the question of what “one’s” favourite ice cream flavour says about you becomes an issue of being in or out of the closet — so please keep in mind that you may be speaking with a multiple.