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A history of Multiple Personality Disorder (a.k.a. Dissociative Identity Disorder)

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Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously known as multiple personality disorder (MPD), is a mental disorder on the dissociative spectrum characterized by the appearance of at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities or dissociated personality states that alternately show in a person's behavior, accompanied by memory impairment for important information not explained by ordinary forgetfulness.

The first case of DID was thought to be described by Paracelsus in 1646. In the 19th century, "dédoublement" or double consciousness, the historical precursor to DID, was frequently described as a state of sleepwalking, with scholars hypothesizing that the patients were switching between a normal consciousness and a "somnambulistic state".

An intense interest in spiritualism, parapsychology, and hypnosis continued throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, running in parallel with John Locke's views that there was an association of ideas requiring the coexistence of feelings with awareness of the feelings. Hypnosis, which was pioneered in the late 18th century by Franz Mesmer and Armand-Marie Jacques de Chastenet, Marques de Puységur, challenged Locke's association of ideas. Hypnotists reported what they thought were second personalities emerging during hypnosis and wondered how two minds could coexist.
The 19th century saw a number of reported cases of multiple personalities which Rieber estimated would be close to 100. Epilepsy was seen as a factor in some cases, and discussion of this connection continues into the present era.

By the late 19th century, there was a general acceptance that emotionally traumatic experiences could cause long-term disorders which might display a variety of symptoms. These conversion disorders were found to occur in even the most resilient individuals, but with profound effect in someone with emotional instability like Louis Vivet (1863-?) who suffered a traumatic experience as a 13-year-old when he encountered a viper. Vivet was the subject of countless medical papers and became the most studied case of dissociation in the 19th century.

Between 1880 and 1920, many great international medical conferences devoted a lot of time to sessions on dissociation. It was in this climate that Jean-Martin Charcot introduced his ideas of the impact of nervous shocks as a cause for a variety of neurological conditions. One of Charcot's students, Pierre Janet, took these ideas and went on to develop his own theories of dissociation. One of the first individuals diagnosed with multiple personalities to be scientifically studied was Clara Norton Fowler, under the pseudonym Christine Beauchamp; American neurologist Morton Prince studied Fowler between 1898 and 1904, describing her case study in his 1906 monograph, Dissociation of a Personality.

In the early 20th century, interest in dissociation and multiple personalities waned for a number of reasons. After Charcot's death in 1893, many of his so-called hysterical patients were exposed as frauds, and Janet's association with Charcot tarnished his theories of dissociation. Sigmund Freud recanted his earlier emphasis on dissociation and childhood trauma.

In 1908, Eugen Bleuler introduced the term schizophrenia to represent a revised disease concept for Emil Kraepelin's dementia praecox. Whereas Kraepelin's natural disease entity was anchored in the metaphor of progressive deterioration and mental weakness and defect, Bleuler offered a reinterpretation based on dissociation or "splitting' (Spaltung) and widely broadened the inclusion criteria for the diagnosis. A review of the Index medicus from 1903 through 1978 showed a dramatic decline in the number of reports of multiple personality after the diagnosis of schizophrenia became popular, especially in the United States. The rise of the broad diagnostic category of dementia praecox has also been posited in the disappearance of "hysteria" (the usual diagnostic designation for cases of multiple personalities) by 1910. A number of factors helped create a large climate of skepticism and disbelief; paralleling the increased suspicion of DID was the decline of interest in dissociation as a laboratory and clinical phenomenon.

Starting in about 1927, there was a large increase in the number of reported cases of schizophrenia, which was matched by an equally large decrease in the number of multiple personality reports. With the rise of a uniquely American reframing of dementia praecox/schizophrenia as a functional disorder or "reaction" to psychobiological stressors—a theory first put forth by Adolf Meyer in 1906—many trauma-induced conditions associated with dissociation, including "shell shock" or "war neuroses" during World War I, were subsumed under these diagnoses. It was argued in the 1980s that DID patients were often misdiagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia.

The public, however, was exposed to psychological ideas which took their interest. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and many short stories by Edgar Allan Poe had a formidable impact. In 1957, with the publication of the bestselling book The Three Faces of Eve by psychiatrists Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, based on a case study of their patient Chris Costner Sizemore, and the subsequent popular movie of the same name, the American public's interest in multiple personality was revived. More cases of dissociative identity disorder were diagnosed in the following years. The cause of the sudden increase of cases is indefinite, but it may be attributed to the increased awareness, which revealed previously undiagnosed cases or new cases may have been induced by the influence of the media on the behavior of individuals and the judgement of therapists. During the 1970s an initially small number of clinicians campaigned to have it considered a legitimate diagnosis.

Between 1968 and 1980, the term that was used for dissocative identity disorder was "Hysterical neurosis, dissociative type". The APA wrote in the second edition of the DSM: "In the dissociative type, alterations may occur in the patient's state of consciousness or in his identity, to produce such symptoms as amnesia, somnambulism, fugue, and multiple personality." The number of cases sharply increased in the late 1970s and throughout the 80s, and the first scholarly monographs on the topic appeared in 1986.

In 1974, the highly influential book Sybil was published, and later made into a miniseries in 1976 and again in 2007. Describing what Robert Rieber called "the third most famous of multiple personality cases", it presented a detailed discussion of the problems of treatment of "Sybil", a pseudonym for Shirley Ardell Mason. Though the book and subsequent films helped popularize the diagnosis and trigger an epidemic of the diagnosis, later analysis of the case suggested different interpretations, ranging from Mason's problems being caused by the therapeutic methods used by her psychiatrist, Cornelia B. Wilbur or an inadvertent hoax due in part to the lucrative publishing rights, though this conclusion has itself been challenged. Dr. David Spiegel, a Stanford psychiatrist whose father treated Shirley Ardell Mason on occasion, says that his father described Mason as "a brilliant hysteric. He felt that Dr. Wilbur tended to pressure her to exaggerate on the dissociation she already had." As media attention on DID increased, so too did the controversy surrounding the diagnosis.

With the publication of the DSM-III, which omitted the terms "hysteria" and "neurosis" (and thus the former categories for dissociative disorders), dissociative diagnoses became "orphans" with their own categories with dissociative identity disorder appearing as "multiple personality disorder". In the opinion of McGill University psychiatrist Joel Paris, this inadvertently legitimized them by forcing textbooks, which mimicked the structure of the DSM, to include a separate chapter on them and resulted in an increase in diagnosis of dissociative conditions. Once a rarely occurring spontaneous phenomenon (research in 1944 showed only 76 cases), became "an artifact of bad (or naïve) psychotherapy" as patients capable of dissociating were accidentally encouraged to express their symptoms by "overly fascinated" therapists.

In a 1986 book chapter (later reprinted in another volume), philosopher of science Ian Hacking focused on multiple personality disorder as an example of "making up people" through the untoward effects on individuals of the "dynamic nominalism" in medicine and psychiatry. With the invention of new terms entire new categories of "natural kinds" of people are assumed to be created, and those thus diagnosed respond by re-creating their identity in light of the new cultural, medical, scientific, political and moral expectations. Hacking argued that the process of "making up people" is historically contingent, hence it is not surprising to find the rise, fall, and resurrection of such categories over time. Hacking revisited his concept of "making up people" in an article published in the London Review of Books on 17 August 2006.

"Interpersonality amnesia" was removed as a diagnostic feature from the DSM III in 1987, which may have contributed to the increasing frequency of the diagnosis. There were 200 reported cases of DID as of 1980, and 20,000 from 1980 to 1990. Joan Acocella reports that 40,000 cases were diagnosed from 1985 to 1995. Scientific publications regarding DID peaked in the mid-1990s then rapidly declined.

There were several contributing factors to the rapid decline of reports of multiple personality disorder/dissociative identity disorder. One was the discontinuation in December 1997 of Dissociation: Progress in the Dissociative Disorders, the journal of The International Society for the Study of Multiple Personality and Dissociation. The society and its journal were perceived as uncritical sources of legitimacy for the extraordinary claims of the existence of intergenerational satanic cults responsible for a "hidden holocaust" of Satanic ritual abuse that was linked to the rise of MPD reports. In an effort to distance itself from the increasing skepticism regarding the clinical validity of MPD, the organization dropped "multiple personality" from its official name in 1993, and then in 1997 changed its name again to the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation.

In 1994, the fourth edition of the DSM replaced the criteria again and changed the name of the condition from "multiple personality disorder" to the current "dissociative identity disorder" to emphasize the importance of changes to consciousness and identity rather than personality. The inclusion of interpersonality amnesia helped to distinguish DID from dissociative disorder not otherwise specified, but the condition retains an inherent subjectivity due to difficulty in defining terms such as personality, identity, ego-state and even amnesia. The ICD-10 still classifies DID as a "Dissociative disorder" and retains the name "multiple personality disorder" with the classification number of F44.8.81.

A 2006 study compared scholarly research and publications on DID and dissociative amnesia to other mental health conditions, such as anorexia nervosa, alcohol abuse and schizophrenia from 1984 to 2003. The results were found to be unusually distributed, with a very low level of publications in the 1980s followed by a significant rise that peaked in the mid-1990s and subsequently rapidly declined in the decade following. Compared to 25 other diagnosis, the mid-90's "bubble" of publications regarding DID was unique. In the opinion of the authors of the review, the publication results suggest a period of "fashion" that waned, and that the two diagnoses "[did] not command widespread scientific acceptance".
A History of Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder)
Demonic Possession and Psychiatry. José Antonio Fortea Cucurull
Multiple Personality Early History
Dr Mark L Manning and Rana L Manning.
The MPD / DID controversy. History and timeline of events
Religious Tolerance. Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
The History of Multiple Personality Disorder
Dissociative Identity/Multiple Personality
Case Studies and Presentations
Dissociative Identity Disorder - History
DID in History
DID Research
The Amazing History of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)
Healthy Place. America's Mental Health Channel
Multiple Personality Disorder - History and Incidence
Net Industries. Education, Knowledge, Information.
10 Famous Cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder
By Robert Grimminck
March 16, 2015

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