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MPD / DID: Multiple Personality
 & Dissociative Identity Disorder:

Overview

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Overview of MPD / DID

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.

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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 of:
bullet the sudden appearance of new possessions that they cannot recall having purchased, 
bullet withdrawals from their bank account that are signed for in a strange handwriting.
bullet friends and family referring to past events of which they are not aware

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:
bullet the recovery of childhood abuse memories, through recovered memory therapy, and
bullet re-integration of the alters into the dominant personality.

Views of skeptics:

bullet 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.
 
bullet 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 demons/alters.
 
bullet 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:

bullet Increasing numbers of malpractice suits against MPD specialists,
bullet Increasing numbers of cancellations of MPD therapists' licenses to practice,
bullet A drop in membership of their professional organization, the International Society for the Study of Dissociation (ISSD), 
bullet Decreasing numbers of new books being written on MPD/DID therapeutic methods,
bullet 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.

References:

  1. "Dissociation and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID): [Seminars] Led by Arthur Zeilstra and Janet Howden." See: http://www.cornerstonechristian.ca/
  2. "MPD," Bob Larson Ministries, at: http://www.boblarson.org/
  3. William H. Smith, "Overview of multiple personality disorder." Essay is no longer available online.
  4. 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

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