Multiple personality disorder is a serious personality disorder more commonly referred to as dissociative identity disorder. Genuine dissociated identity disorder is relatively rare, but it has appeared as a plotline in many films and books over the years, and one famous alleged example of a multiple personality disorder case study eventually became the subject of a book and two films.
What exactly is dissociative identity disorder?
Patients suffering from the disorder develop several personalities, all of which are completely separate from the main identity. The “alters” can be different genders, ages, races, or even species, but the one thing that the “alters” have in common is that they usually appear as a result of severe emotional, sexual or physical abuse.
Shirley Ardell Mason
A famous example of a multiple personality disorder case study was Shirley Ardell Mason, otherwise known as Sybil, whose life was fictionalised in a book in 1973, and later in two films. Shirley Mason was the daughter of a schizophrenic mother. After suffering from blackouts and breakdowns for many years as an adult, she began having psychotherapy in an attempt to find a resolution to her emotional problems.
The account of Mason’s psychotherapy sessions with the psychologist, Cornelia Wilbur, later formed the basis for the book about her life, which revealed that she was alleged to have multiple personalities after suffering severe sexual abuse from her father.
The story of Shirley Mason received a great deal of publicity once the book was published. Many experts believed that Cornelia Wilber had made an incorrect diagnosis and Mason was in fact a suggestible hysteric as opposed to suffering from multiple personality disorder, but despite the controversy that persisted in the case of “Sybil”, her story was later made into a popular TV film in 1979 starring Sally Field and Joanne Woodward, and remade again in 2007.
Another example of a multiple personality disorder case study is that of “Paula”.
Paula was the daughter of extremely strict Baptist parents. Her mother subjected her to physical abuse on many occasions and from the time Paula was five years old, she began to suffer sexual abuse at the hands of her father. The abuse took a turn for the worse once Paula turned fifteen and she was later to recall several incidents in which she was raped, both by her father and by a neighbour.
As an adult, Paula fell into a series of dysfunctional relationships with men, but it was not until she began to suffer episodes of amnesia and intense headaches whilst studying at night school that she was referred for counselling by her professor. Although Paula was initially diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, following a hypnosis session, she was finally diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.
Further sessions of therapy revealed three alters: Sherry, Janet and Caroline. Sherry had been created to help protect Paula from the sexual abuse, Janet manifested as an angry teenager, and Caroline was a five year old child. Another suicidal personality called Heather later appeared. This escalation of events prompted Paula’s psychologist to try and reintegrate the different personalities more quickly than he had planned, but unfortunately, Paula’s treatment was ultimately unsuccessful and she ended up being forcibly committed to a mental institution in order to protect her from further self harm.