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Multiple Personality Disorder: A Reflection on Research

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Multiple Personality Disorder, also known as MPD, has been one of the most discussed and publicized disorders in the realm of Psychology for the last several years. This has brought this disorder to the forefront for much debate and criticism. The same train of thought has been common place for the last 20 years. This paper reviews what MPD is, how it is presently treated, and thoughts pertaining to the cause and prevention of this disorder.

Multiple Personality Disorder: A Reflection on Research

As a child did you have an imaginary friend? Did you ever pretend to be someone else or act like you were someone other than yourself? Did you ever know of anyone who could carry on a conversation with you and it feel like you were talking to several different people? As children, acting in the ways of these examples would have been explained by a great imagination or the person is great at playing. Your parents, family and friends would have not had a second thought about your actions. Now, imagine that you are speaking to an adult. The person that you are speaking to is a 30 year old, attractive female that you have just met. In conversation, everything is going well until a brand new Ford Mustang pulls up beside you. Her demeanor changes, she stands straight up, places her hands on her hips and in a very masculine voice starts to admire and speak about the car. As you reply to one of her questions she immediately humps over and in a voice of an older female proclaims that the car is a death trap. Then, just as the meeting had started, she becomes the 30 year old female once again. Would this be considered playing or a great imagination or would society call her crazy? It may be that she has an issue that is fighting inside of her, called Multiple Personality Disorder.

Specific Criteria

Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), also known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), is the disorder known for when a person develops two or more distinct personalities. Each one of these personalities, or subpersonalities, has their own unique set of memories, behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. At any given time one, of these subpersonalities takes center stage and dominates the persons functioning. (Comer, 2011, p. 182)


By looking at the DSM-IV, there are several symptoms listed that a person should look for when diagnosing this disorder. These are:

1. The presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self).

2. At least two of these identities or personality states recurrently take control of the person's behavior.

3. The inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.

It should be noted that the disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance or due to a general medical condition. Someone who has this disorder will have their own identity which is called the host or primary personality. This is the characteristics of the person on a daily and usual basis. The transition to another personality is called switching. This is done immediately and may be very dramatic. There may be many subpersonalities that a person with this disorder may switch to.


The roots of this disorder can be traced back to the first century. There are tales and stories of people acting strange and showing signs of multiple people. Many believed these people to have been possessed by demons in early times, in actuality; these people may have had this disorder. The first complete account of MPD was written in 1865. This caused a French neurologist named Pierre Janet to begin research on this phenomenon. He found a woman, in which he hypnotized, to have several distinct and different ideas from the host patient. Soon afterward, an American named William James, uncovered a similar experience and he named this new condition "disassociation". Although this disorder was becoming more frequent and further discussed, Sigmund Freud rejected the concept of multiple personalities. This caused the majority of the mental health community to believe it too; therefore it was rejected even though a great new fictional novel had hit the shelves pertaining to this issue called, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, authored by Robert Louis Stevenson.

In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association officially recognized MPD as a genuine emotional illness. Many feel that it may have been brought to the forefront due to the release of two movies called Sibyl and The Three Faces of Eve. These movies were both about a woman who had MPD. This made the disorder more prevalent and between the years of 1980 to 1990 there were more than 20,000 cases reported in the United States (Kennett & Matthews, 2002). Today, MPD is diagnosed more frequently and researchers believe that .01-10% of the general population may have this mental disorder.

Cause of the Illness

Researchers have linked the main cause of MPD to adults who was abused as children. "The cause of MPD is severe trauma, most of the trauma happens at a young age and the violator is usually someone who the child knows (Weber, 2008)." Any abuse such as: mentally, physically or sexually, as children, between the ages of birth to eight years old, is a common factor among persons with this disorder. Researchers have found that a child will use a process called "dissociation" to remove themselves from the abusive nature that is taking place. "Dissociation is when a child makes up an imaginary personality to take control of the mind and body while the child is being abused. The child can imagine many personalities but usually there is a personality for every feeling and or emotion that was involved during the abuse (Weber, 2007)." Upon the admission into adulthood, the individual suppresses these memories and feelings and cannot recall their childhood. This is where the other subpersonalities may take over and protect the host.

In a normal person, the individual deals with events in their life in a healthy way. A person with MPD has developed a personality to display each distinct emotion. "Usually each personality will fall into one of the following categories: core, host, protectors, internal self-helper, fragments, child members, preteen, teenager, adults, artistic/music,



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