MPD / DID: Multiple Personality
& Dissociative Identity Disorder:
The term "Multiple Personality Disorder" (MPD) has
been largely replaced by "Dissociative Identity Disorder" (DID).
As the former name implies, MPD/DID is a mental condition in
which 2 or more personalities appear to inhabit a single body. A simple
definition of DID by two conservative Christian counselors, Arthur Zeilstra and Janet Howden, is:
"Dissociation is an act of disconnecting, locking the memory or pain
in a 'suitcase' and storing the 'suitcase' in the back of the brain.
Dissociation Identity Disorder is the phenomena of completely disconnecting
oneself from a memory (or memories) and the emotions around the memory(ies),
creating a separate identity to hold memories and emotions." 1
Bob Larson of Bob Larson Ministries, a fundamentalist counter-cult, and anti-Occult group, defines MPD as follows:
"MPD is a mental condition in which the
personality becomes fragmented ("dissociated") into two or more distinct
identities, each of which may become dominant and control behavior from
time to time to the exclusion of the others. These identities are called
"alter personalities" (often simply "alters") and each maintains its own
integrity of characteristics and habits. Each has its own age, name, sex,
intelligence, and personal tastes." 2
A minority of mental health professionals accepted MPD/DID as a real
phenomenon during the 1980s and early 1990s. Very few continue this belief today.
Most professional therapists believe that it is an iatrogenic (physician
induced) disorder that either does not appear naturally, or is almost
non-existent. However, belief in MPD/DID is still commonly found among
conservative Christian counselors, perhaps because it meshes so well with their
concept of Satan, demons, and demonic possession.
Views of MPD therapists:
Since the 1970s, those therapists who accept MPD as a real phenomenon generally
believe it to be caused by very severe abuse during childhood -- violence so extreme that the child
cannot absorb the trauma in its entirety. The child dissociates, and creates an
alternative personality (a.k.a. "personality state," "alter,"
"part," "state of consciousness," "ego
state," "fragment," "identity.") to
handle the abuse. If the abuse continues, additional alters are created as needed. "Trying
to escape overwhelming fear and pain by imagining you are somewhere else - or someone else
-seems to lay the groundwork for separating off some parts of your identity." 3
Dissociation itself is a common experience. Most people have observed mild dissociative
episodes in which they lose touch with their surroundings. Examples include daydreaming,
highway hypnosis, or losing oneself in a movie or book. MPD is viewed by some as an
extreme and continuing level of dissociation, "which may result in serious impairment or
inability to function." 4
According to therapists who specialize in MPD, the "host" (the victim/survivor's basic
personality) is not necessarily aware of the existence of these alters. The abuse memories
contained within the alters are not typically accessible to the dominant personality.
These therapists believe that various "triggers" can cause one of the alters to emerge and take control of the
mental processes of the victim for periods of time. This is called "switching."
Control later passes back to the dominant personality or to another alter. This may be
sensed by one alter or by the host as if there are entire blocks of missing time. She/he may detect MPD as a result
||the sudden appearance of new possessions that they cannot recall having purchased,
||withdrawals from their bank account that are signed for in a strange handwriting.
||friends and family referring to past events of which they are not
Some therapists who support MPD believe that alters can create new alters as needed. Other
alters perform a system regulatory function;
they determine which alter will be in charge at a given time.
A new term, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) was created in
1994 to replace MPD. One of the reasons was that the original term was being thrown into
disrepute by many people giving phony demonstrations of alter switching
during television talk shows.
MPD specialists generally believe that people:
"... with DID (MPD) may experience
any of the following: depression, mood swings, suicidal tendencies, sleep disorders
(insomnia, night terrors, and sleep walking), panic attacks and phobias (flashbacks,
reactions to stimuli or "triggers"), alcohol and drug abuse, compulsions and
rituals, psychotic-like symptoms (including auditory and visual hallucinations), and
eating disorders...headaches, amnesia, time loss, trances, and 'out of body experiences.'
Some people with DID(MPD)/DD have a tendency toward self-persecution, self-sabotage, and
even violence (both self-inflicted and outwardly directed)." 4
They generally believe that the appropriate therapy involves:
the recovery of childhood abuse memories, through recovered
memory therapy, and
||re-integration of the alters into the dominant personality.
Views of skeptics:
||Many therapists and investigators are skeptical about the widespread natural
occurrence of true MPD. They assert that "real" MPD is a non-existent or extremely rare phenomenon
that affects only a handful of persons
in North America. They view almost all cases of diagnosed MPD as having been
artificially created by an iatrogenic (physician induced) process. That is,
it created by a therapist and their client/patient during therapy, perhaps without
either recognizing that the process exists. At the same time, skeptics are aware of the suffering
by those diagnosed
with MPD. They regard MPD survivors as victims of bad therapy. Their cure for MPD is to
isolate the patient from the therapist and mutual support groups.
||Some Roman Catholics and conservative Protestant Christians believe that the symptoms of MPD
are created by multiple, indwelling demons or "unclean spirits" as mentioned
frequently in the Christian Scriptures (New Testament). The appropriate method of treatment is to exorcise the
demons. They would disagree with any therapy that involves actually talking to the
||Finally, a few individuals believe that MPD is a naturally occurring
phenomenon, and unrelated to childhood abuse or creation by an iatrogenic
process. As one web site describes it, MPD is a gift.
Judging by certain developments during the 1990s:
||Increasing numbers of malpractice suits against MPD specialists,
||Increasing numbers of cancellations of MPD therapists' licenses to
A drop in membership of their professional organization, the International
Society for the Study of Dissociation (ISSD),
||Decreasing numbers of new books being written on MPD/DID therapeutic methods,
||The closing of all 28 MPD/DID specialist clinics in North America,
the skeptical position appears to be gaining acceptance in the culture.
In time, MPD/DID will probably be relegated to the trash heap of mental
health techniques, along with recovered memory therapy,
and frontal lobotomies.
"Dissociation and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): [Seminars]
Led by Arthur Zeilstra and Janet Howden." See: http://www.cornerstonechristian.ca/
"MPD," Bob Larson Ministries, at: http://www.boblarson.org/
William H. Smith, "Overview of multiple personality
disorder." Essay is no longer available online.
Sidran Foundation, "Dissociative Identity
Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder)" essay, (1994) at: http://www.sidran.org/
Copyright © 1998 to 2009 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-JAN-11
Last updated on 2009-JUL-11
Author: B.A. Robinson