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Breaking the Status Quo: The Truth About Dissociative Identities Disorder By: Nila Rajakumar

Updated: Jan 30, 2021

The movie Split “plays on the common belief that people with mental illnesses are dangerous and even threatening...”(hro4). The main character of this movie is an individual with Dissociative Identities Disorder (DID). This thriller portrays a variety of the main character’s personalities giving the illusion that he is a violent and uncontrollable person. It focuses on other stigmas of this disorder such as how people may be fabricating their symptoms. DID is a mental health disorder in which two or more completely different personalities, often called identities or alters, inhabit a person’s mind. These personalities have distinct names, characteristics, and mannerisms. This disorder is often accompanied by gaps in memory. An individual is usually unaware that they are switching between identities, but most know about their alters. Many other movies and media portrayals have created a false depiction of DID that takes away from the severity of the disorder. Individuals with Dissociative Identities Disorder may endure the hardships of being unable to differentiate between what is real and what is not, eventually leading to strained relationships.

It is difficult for some people with Dissociative Identities Disorder to decipher between reality and imagination. Mary Jo Nissen, James L. Ross, and other professors at the Department of Psychology in the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis concluded that this stigma exists because “‘implicit’ memories could be best stored and retrieved mainly during discrete behavioral states of consciousness”(Gillig). “Implicit memories” are the important and usually essential memories which, in the case of DID patients, cannot be remembered if in an altered state. Being unable to recall these memories will cause a person to forget certain crucial facts such as who a person is or where they are. This demonstrates a DID patients’ inability to comprehend what is happening around them and often get mixed up between what is real and what is going on inside their heads. However, altercations in one's brain is what causes patients to be uncertain of what state they are in. A group of neuroscientists in the Netherlands conducted a study on the psychobiological characteristics of people with DID and concluded that, while being in their identity state, individuals have heightened amygdala and insula activity and less activity in their cingulate gyrus and parahippocampal (Krause-Utz et al.). The amygdala and insula control the experiencing of emotions while the cingulate gyrus involves the processing of emotions and behavior, and the parahippocampus stores and retrieves memories. Because of their heightened emotions, people with DID are too involved with themselves to understand what is going on around them. In addition, once a personality takes over a patient's mind, they have less function in the part of the brain that controls memories, meaning that this person has trouble keeping intact with reality because they cannot remember key events. The brain malfunctions of a person with DID and their inability to comprehend and decipher the truth may flood their mind with an abundance of emotions.

Because of their lack of control over reality, people with Dissociative Identities Disorder cannot manage their emotions properly. They are threatened by their surroundings and are unable to restrict their inner thoughts and feelings. According to experts at Sidran Insitute, an institution dedicated to traumatic stress education and advocacy, the identities switch from personality to personality causing differing attitudes to come about abruptly and eventually leading to 70% of the patients attempting suicide (What Are Dissociative Disorders?). The inability to control what state they are in leads the patient to go through an immense amount of distress. Some, if not most, individuals with DID feel unsafe in their own mind and believe the only way to end their suffering is to kill themselves. The majority of DID patients resort to suicide, demonstrating thier lack of healthy emotional regulation. Furthermore, the feeling of insecurity and danger promotes DID patients to rage out on others. Helen M. Farrel, MD, published an article associated with Clinical Psychiatry News in which she stated, “A study that tracked 21 reported DID cases found that 47% of men and 35% of women reported engaging in criminal activity, including 19% of men and 7% of women who committed homicide”(Farrel). Being stripped away of one’s reality will make a person act out in ways that are unimaginable such as commiting murder. The committing of crimes illustrates how individuals with DID might cope with their mental urges by harming others instead of acting in an acceptable and healthy manner. The constant thoughts of violence caused by distressed emotions which some DID patients face creates unstable relationships.

A DID patient’s inability to control their emotions creates stressful relationships. Rob Spring, husband of Carol Spring who is an individual with DID, narrates how his wife’s disorder has taken a toll on their relationship, “How could my wife, my lover, my best friend, this capable, competent, clever, compassionate woman that I’d pledged to spend my life with, this woman with whom I used to lie in bed at night and belly-laugh together about some silly word-play or a line from a sitcom—how could this woman now be so fearful of me hurting her?”(Bowlby). The Spring family used to have it all. They were each other’s soulmates and fit like a puzzle piece. When Carol Spring began to develop multiple personalities and act out, Rob started to doubt his relationship no matter how perfect it was before. He began to rethink his choices and it made him wonder if Carol was the right person for him. The sudden switch in his wife made Rob uncomfortable and dissatisfied with his relationship. In addition, all the stress made him hit pause on his marriage. Rob goes on to express his conflicting feelings as he explains how he could not handle the differing and often irritating personalities of his wife, so he took a step back from his relationship, let others handle his problem, and even contemplated divorce (Bowlby). The constant switches in his wife made Rob unable to cope with her and fight for her. This demonstrates how Rob was ready to give up. Carol’s multiple identities made it difficult for Rob to effectively communicate with her. The pressure placed on his relationship made him run away from his problems instead of facing them and being there for his wife, showing how DID will put strain on even the strongest relationship. The feeling of disconnection most loved ones face from DID patients leads them to lose motivation in trying to understand their struggles.

Individuals with Dissociative Identities Disorder are often caught up within their multiple personalities to truly understand and comprehend the world around them making their loved ones uncomfortable and unable to carry out fulfilling relationships. Society views people with DID as violent and delusional. This causes many people to distance themselves from those with DID to avoid uncomfortable situations. A patient may be dangerous or difficult to comprehend because of their various personalities, so much of society avoids them all together. This demonstrates how people do not want to make an effort to understand one’s struggles. Rather than taking the initiative to learn about the mental disorder, society chooses to continue to spread inaccurate assumptions about DID. The stigmas constantly divide humanity with the intent of separating those who are healthy from those who are mentally ill which keeps society from truly succeeding. People are unable to get over their differences and work together to solve greater issues, leaving the world incapable of improving.

Works Cited

Bowlby, Lady Xenia. Living with the Reality of Dissociative Identity Disorder : Campaigning

Voices. Routledge, 2014. EBSCOhost,

Farrell, Helen M. “Dissociative Identity Disorder: No Excuse for Criminal Activity.” MDedge

Psychiatry, 25 Mar. 2019,


Gillig, Paulette Marie. “Dissociative Identity Disorder: a Controversial Diagnosis.”


(Edgmont (Pa. : Township)), Matrix Medical Communications, Mar. 2009,

hro4. “Dissociative Identity Disorder and the Media: Splitting the Stigma.” Living in Stigmas, 29

Sept. 2017,

Krause-Utz, Annegret, et al. “Dissociation and Alterations in Brain Function and Structure:

Implications for Borderline Personality Disorder.” Current Psychiatry Reports, Springer

US, Jan. 2017,

What Are Dissociative Disorders?, American Psychiatric Association, Aug. 2018,