“multiple” (split), A Film About Dissociative Identity Disorder

We take a look at this Shyamalan psychological thriller about Multiple Personality Disorder.

Multiple personality or dissociative identity disorder (DID) has been dealt with in fiction on a recurring basis. The novel “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, by Robert Louis Stevenson, and the film “Psycho”, by Alfred Hitchcock, influenced a large number of later works, especially in American cinema.

Multiple (Split), the latest film by M. Night Shyamalan, writer and director of “The Sixth Sense” and “The Visit”, is the most recent example of the use of multiple personality in fiction. However, there is great controversy regarding the films that use DID to tell stories about violence and madness, and about the very existence of the disorder.

Dissociative identity disorder

According to DSM-IV-TR, two or more identities coexist in a person in dissociative identity disorder  . These personalities control thought and movement alternately and may have different thoughts and memories, so each alter ego does not necessarily have the same information as the rest.

The multiple personality would be due to disturbances that would prevent the normal development of the identity, rather than to the rupture of a formed personality. While the primary identity of people with DID is usually passive and depressive, the rest tend toward dominance and hostility.

Fine attributes dissociative identity disorder to a process of suggestion similar to hypnosis that causes selective amnesia. However, personalities can be ranked so that some control the rest and can access their memories and thoughts. The change from one identity to another is usually attributed to varying degrees of stress.

Likewise, the different identities can interact with each other, enter into conflict and manifest to the others as visual or auditory hallucinations ; references to alter egos as voices are typical. This may suggest certain similarities between multiple personality and psychotic disorders such as  schizophrenia.

Dissociative identity disorder  is diagnosed more frequently in women than in men. Women also tend to have more personalities. In general, people who are diagnosed with multiple personality have between 2 and 10 different identities.

The controversy surrounding DID and dissociation

Dissociative identity disorder is considered to be an extreme manifestation of  post-traumatic stress disorder. In these cases there has usually been a childhood trauma, usually parental abuse or neglect. The symptoms are produced as a defense against emotions and sensations that the child is not able to consciously handle. It is also common to occur in conjunction with depressive disorders ,  borderline personality disorder and addictions.

In general the symptoms of DID are attributed either to dissociation or to simulation. One piece of information that seems to reinforce the view that multiple personality is feigned is the fact that it is diagnosed much more frequently in the United States, where most of the films that revolve around this phenomenon have been produced.

There are those who affirm that dissociative identity disorder is a chimerical diagnosis used only by  psychoanalysis, which in many cases is condemned from other orientations arguing that it generates false beliefs in patients.

The term “dissociation” refers to the disintegration of mental life : consciousness, perception, memory, movement or identity. Dissociation, proposed in the late 19th century by Pierre Janet, was used by classical theorists of psychoanalysis to explain hysteria.

Even today dissociation is frequently used as an explanatory construct. Cognitivist-oriented authors such as Hilgard and Kihlstrom affirm that the human mind is perfectly capable of provoking dissociative phenomena such as multiple personality through a brain process similar to hypnosis focused on consciousness or memory.

Kevin’s 23 personalities in “Multiple”

(Attention: this section contains moderate spoilers.)

Multiple is a psychological thriller in which a man named Kevin kidnaps three teenage girls, apparently with the intention of using them to feed an imaginary or real being known as “the Beast.” In Kevin 23 personalities coexist, but the ones we see for most of the film are the most hostile and dangerous, who have managed to take control of his body by replacing the more adapted identities.

The lead actor, James McAvoy, takes the role of 9 different characters during the film. Those who interact the most with the abducted girls are Dennis, a man with  obsessive-compulsive disorder who enjoys watching naked girls dance, Patricia, a disturbingly friendly woman, and Hedwig, a nine-year-old boy who lisps – and is a huge fan. of Kanye West’s music. These three rejected identities are known to the rest as “the Horde.”

Much of the tension in the film, especially during the first few minutes, lies in the fact that, like the three girls, the viewer never knows which of the identities is going to take over next, or when.

Dissociative identity disorder in the movie

As they describe Kevin’s identities, they all wait sitting in a dark room until Barry, an outgoing and sensitive man who constitutes the dominant personality, “gives them light,” that is, allows them to control the body they share. Patricia and Dennis, the “undesirable personalities”, are banned from the light because of the danger they pose.

In contrast, little Hedwig, who is also rejected by most identities, has the ability to be “in the light” whenever he wants. Hedwig represents a regression to childhood that occurs at a time when Kevin cannot cope with the reality of his actions; It is interesting that, in the character structure of the protagonist, these regressions take precedence not only over “healthy” personalities, but also over violent desires.

Among the personalities accepted by Kevin’s conscience, the ones we come to know during the film are Barry, already mentioned, Orwell, a man obsessed with history and who speaks in a bombastic way, and Jade, the only one of all the identities that have diabetes. These alter egos maintain a kind of alliance with those who do not appear; together they have managed to keep “the Horde” out of conscious experience, or at least out of Kevin’s control, until just before the plot of Multiple begins.

Barry and his allies regularly visit a psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher. This maintains the hypothesis that people with multiple personalities  can alter their body chemistry through autosuggestion, due to the beliefs that each of the identities maintains about their own nature. For the psychiatrist, people with DID can develop “human potential” to a much greater degree than those without the disorder.

Is the plot realistic?

Many of the characteristics of Kevin’s disorder are based on the diagnostic criteria and clinical course commonly described for dissociative identity disorder. Alternative identities begin to develop due to the physical abuse that the protagonist receives as a child from his mother, particularly the most hostile ones, who hold a grudge against the others because they were the ones who endured the suffering during those moments.

In both post-traumatic stress disorder and DID, it is common to refer to experiences of dissociation that took place during traumatic moments ; This would establish the habit of using dissociative mechanisms to escape from reality in moments of intense stress. The well-known pianist James Rhodes, author of the autobiographical book “Instrumental”, refers to similar dissociative experiences but without the presence of multiple personalities.

Kevin’s personality structure is quite consistent with those of the cases diagnosed as multiple personality. The different identities are hierarchized so that some of them (or at least Barry, the dominant personality) can access the memories of the rest, while, for example, the Hedwig child is completely unaware of the thoughts of others. These differences in access to mental content generate memory gaps for each of the identities.

A priori, the possibility of altering neurobiology based on personality status is one of the least credible aspects of the film. However, on many occasions people with multiple personalities not only affirm that their different identities have different mental disorders, as is the case with Kevin’s selective OCD, but also that some may be right-handed and others left-handed, some need glasses and others do not. , etc.

As we said at the beginning of the article, a large number of professionals question the testimonies and studies that support these possibilities. In any case, in Multiple Shyamalan uses the disorder as an excuse to play with the limits between reality and fiction, as he has done throughout his filmography.

Controversy around the cinema about multiple personality

The Multiple film has been criticized by groups working for mental health, such as the Australian association SANE, and online signature petitions have been registered against it. From these platforms it is warned that Multiple and other similar fictional products, in particular from Hollywood, are harmful to people with complex mental disorders. They argue that people who have no more information about disorders than they get from movies are led to think that the people who suffer from them are dangerous and aggressive in nature.

Although it is convenient to know how to separate reality from fiction and to understand that cinema is still entertainment, it is true that the repeated use of multiple personality disorder in horror films has transmitted a biased image of it – in case there really is such a diagnostic entity.

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