It should come as no surprise that the movies Split and Glass by M. Night Shyamalan play upon sterotypical and damaging misconceptions of dissociative identity disorder (DID), formerly referred to as multiple personality disorder (MP).
Although it may be entertaining to watch James McAvoy struggle through 24 multiple personalities, many of which are distinguished by starkly different personas, fashion, and even physical appearances, the entertainment industry aims to do just that: entertain. As writers, we know what this means – you’ve got to have a protagonist, conflict, rising tension, a climax and a denouement/resolution. That basic story structure is expected by audiences – not only for movies and TV – but also for novels.
This means that James McAvoy’s 24 different personalities have to stand out to you. They have to have you on the edge of your seat. In a book, they have to reach out and make you want to turn the page until you reach the end. In that space, there isn’t enough breathing room for simply existing, struggling through simple daily tasks.
I do not have DID but I am lucky enough to call among by best friends several people who have been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID). For my friends, DID appeared to be – in my non-professional/non-therapist eyes – their brain’s amazing way of coping with an extremely traumatic set of events or chronic and severe abuse. It enabled them to survive and to find resources in an environment where there was no nurturing, no safety, no protection, and no way out. Psychology Today does a better job of defining this mysterious condition than I ever can.
People with DID may have various “alters” that hold and deal with the complexities of their life experiences. Each of these alters may represent a different phase of their life or a different age or sometimes a different personality not tied to an age range in their life but rather the different roles they hold in their lives.
For my friends, their alters have represented either distinct age ranges with particular personality attributes such as a young child who may be observant but shy or an adolescent who is rebellious and outspoken. The alters may or may not share information with each other and may or may not have awareness of each other.
Some people with DID want to integrate – that is to bring all of their alters together to become one cohesive identity. Others may reject integration (See When Rabbit Howls (1987) by The Troops for Truddi Chase). For those who wish to integrate, working towards bringing all the alters together is a complex journey of healing and self-evolution that is difficult, complex, and intricate requiring patience, dedication, and hard-work.
I have sat next to my friends and watch them switch alters before my very eyes. Far from the sensationalized transitions that John Malcovoy exhibits in either of M. Night Shyamalan’s movies, they are subtle, barely imperceptible and sometimes not even recognized by my friends who are switching.
The switches may be characterized by memory lapses when one altar – let’s say A – holds the memory of time spent with me while another altar – let’s say B – won’t remember what A said to me or did with me. Altar B has told me that it is very difficult, if not impossible, for them to remember – likening it to trying to remember a dream that keeps slipping away from them but that they know is there. It does not matter if altar A had the interaction with me moments before, altar B may only recall the fuzzy outlines of it – if at all.
Sometimes, there is no memory lapse and there is recognition but distant, as if the person who had the switch had been watching themselves from afar as if on television. Whatever the experience, as a close friend, it is both extraordinary and ordinary. It is the course of everyday life for my friends and it a lifelong endeavor.
Hollywood has sensationalized DID to the point of romanticizing or dramatizing the lives of people with DID. But from my experience, my friends with DID are not much different than my friends without DID. I take walks with them, have dinner with them, go dancing with them, raise children alongside them, celebrate their birthdays, get into disagreements, splurge on extra chocolate mocha fudge cakes, go camping, and sunbathe with them. We cry over drama in our lives together, we laugh and celebrate our victories together. Like many human beings, they are passionate, brave, complex, hopeful, and hardworking.
They teach, attend school, try cases before the Superior Court of California, drive buses, work in factories, waitress, design architectural wonders for the City of Oakland, serve on Boards of non-profits, volunteer at animal shelters, and feed the homeless at their church.
They are everyday folks trying to achieve everyday wonders and they deserve to be respected for their achievements, for their survival skills, and the hard work they do to shape and lead the lives they envision for themselves. The sensationalization of their experiences and even of the traumas that may have caused it (child abuse, etc.) fail to give them the respect they deserve.
In my opinion, movies like Split and Glass demonize and hurt people with DID – twisting and linking their condition with violent criminal behavior by using DID as plot devices and portraying them either as villains or victims. Poor or troubling portrayals include: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Psycho (1960); Primal Fear (1993), Fight Club (1999), Identity (2003), Secret Window (2004), Raising Cain (1992), Mr. Brooks (2007), My Bloody Valentine (2009), Shutter Island (2012), The Mummy (2017), and Me, Myself & Irene (2000).
Not all movies and shows are terrible. There are more reality based representations that can be found in movies that reflect real-life experiences: Sybil (1976) (based on the life of Shirley Ardell Mason – although there has been controversy around falsification of this story – see Sybil Exposed), Voices Within: The Lives of Truddi Chase (1990), David and Lisa (1962), The Three Faces of Eve (1957) (based on the life of Chris Costner Sizemore but contains fabrications by Corbett Thigpen – the real story is in Sizemore’s books listed below). There were also sitcoms and movies based on fictional accounts that may do folks with DID more justice: Lizzie (based on a novel by Shirley Jackson), United States of Tara (2009-2011), Mr Robot (2015 to present), Waking Madison (2010), and A Tale of Two Sisters (2003).
I personally believe that memoir is the best avenue to truly understand the experiences of someone with DID. I have pulled together a list of books written by or about real people who identify as someone with DID. My intent is to create a list that may provide credible and authentic reading experiences. This list is not meant to be my recommendations or opinion as to the quality of the books. Rather, they provide you with tools so that you can do your own research and explore yourself, rather than let Hollywood lead you. Feel free to share your opinions and knowledge with me about the books on my list – or let me know if there are books I should add to this list or take off it.
The basic criteria for the books on my list are that they are:
- #ownvoice, or
- written by a diverse writer.
I have purposefully left out books that were either over-sensationalized – or where the authors took advantage of and even fabricated events in the lives of real people who identified as DID.
Books written by and movies involving people of color who identify as DID:
- Frankie & Alice (2010) – Lionsgate Movie (based on the life of Francine Murdoch)
- Offal Great-A Memoir from the Queen of Chitlins (2007) by Shauna R Anderson, Elizabeth Latrobe
- Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder (2008) by Herschel Walker (Author), Jerry Mungadze (Foreword)
- The Sum of My Parts: A Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder (2011) by Olga Trujillo JD
- What Happened, Miss Simone?: A Biography (2016) by Alan Light (Author)
Memoirs by writers who do not identify as people of color (not that I know of) but who identify as people with DID:
- Lizzie (The Bird’s Nest) (1957) by Shirley Jackson
- I’m Eve (1978) by Chris Costner Sizemore with Elen Sain Pittillo
- When Rabbit Howls (1987) by The Troops for Truddi Chase
- A Mind of My Own (1989) by Chris Costner-Sizemore
- The Flock: the Autobiography of a Multiple Personality (1992) by Joan Frances Casey
- The Magic Daughter (1996) by Jane Phillips ~ Jane’s book is unique because her story is about being a multiple before she experiences abuse.
- Silencing the Voices (1997) by Jean Darby Cline
- Five Farewells – A Southern Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder (2010) by Liz Elliott
- All of Me: How I Learned to Live with the Many Personalities Sharing My Body (2012) by Kim Noble
- A Fractured Mind: My Life with Multiple Personality Disorder (2013) by Robert B. Oxnam
- First Person Plural: My Life as a Multiple (2013) by Cameron West Ph.D. (Author)
- The Creature of Habit: A Journey (2015) by The Troops for Truddi Chase, completed by Kari Ainsworth
- Shattered Diana: A Memoir Documenting How Trauma and Evangelical Fundamentalism Created PTSD, Bipolar, Dissociative Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder) in Me (2017) by Diana Lee, Sally Kile (Foreword)
- Hope Street: A memoir of Multiple Personalities; creating selves to survive (2018) by Rhonda Macken
Books that appear to be self-published. I put these books into their own category because it takes a special kind of bravery to put your experiences out there.
- Fractured Living: Nine Lives To Escape My Own Abuse (2009) by Ruth Dee
- Ann’s Multiple World of Personality: Regular, No Cream, No Sugar (2010) by Ann Garvey
- Brilliant Diamond: A Triumphant Journey from Multiplicity to Oneness (2011) by Jenna Rai Miller
- Unbecoming travolta: a memoir of mania and multiple personalities (2013) by Rikki Lee Travolta
- Today I’m Alice (2014) by Alice Jamieson
- I Am WE: My Life with Multiple Personalities Paperback (2014) by Christine Pattillo
- And the Angel Rocked Me: Memoir of a Multiple Personality (2013) by Casey Jones
- Living with Multiple Personalities: The Christine Ducommun Story (2016) by Christine Ducommun
Biographies about real life people who identified as people with DID:
Books co-written with a therapist and client:
Edited or anthologized by others:
- Multiple Personality Disorder from the Inside Out (1991) Edited by Barry M. Cohen, with Esther Giller and Lynn Wasnak ~ contains essays and notes by abuse survivors and trauma-split multiples
Guides by people who identify as DID:
- The Multiple’s Guide to Harmonized Family Living: A Healthy Alternative, or Prelude, to Integration (1994) by Tammy Whitman & Susan Shore
- The Family Inside: Working With The Multiple (1992) by Doris Bryant, Judy Kessler and Linda Shirar
- Body Scripture: A Therapist’s Journal of Recovery from Multiple Personality (2000) by Barbara Hope
- Recovery is my best revenge: My experience of trauma, abuse and dissociative identity disorder (Collected Essays) (2016) by Carolyn Spring
- Scared Selfless: My Journey from Abuse and Madness to Surviving and Thriving (2017) by Michelle Stevens
If you have DID and would like to share your story on my blog, please write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you.