The Truth about Dissociative Identity Disorder
Dissociative identity disorder (DID, formerly known as multiple personality disorder), is a fascinating disorder. The movie industry and Hollywood are enthralled with it, with the recent psychological thriller, Split, raising many questions about DID. The trailer portrays a man with 23 personalities kidnapping and terrifying three teenagers. M. Night Shyamalan, who wrote and directed the movie, includes a plot twist, as always. It is supposed to soften the audience’s heart towards the villain. The movie, and particularly its trailer, play on the public’s worst fears and myths about DID. The director and studio stand to make millions of dollars on this terrifying (and inaccurate) portrayal of DID. Is it justifiable to create “entertainment “ that reinforces stigmas about mental illness, particularly when it exploits people who have developed DID directly due to exploitation as children?
The cost of ignorance about DID is high not only for individuals who live with the disorder, but for the whole support system in which they live. Fortunately, research about DID is replacing outdated myths, outside of sensational Hollywood movies (see Brand et al., Harvard Review of Psychiatry  and Webermann & Brand, in press , for the studies supporting the evidence described below).
|1. People with DID are violent||
|2. DID is primarily diagnosed in North America by DID experts who over-diagnose the disorder||
|3. DID is rare||
|4. DID is an iatrogenic disorder rather than a trauma-based disorder||
|5. DID is a “fad”||
|6. DID treatment is harmful to patients||
*For a comprehensive list of references used in Brand et al., please see here.
What does the media get right about dissociative identity disorder?
Most movies depict people with dissociative identity disorder (DID) as comical (e.g., Me, Myself and Irene) or sociopathic (e.g., Split, Psycho, Fight Club, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Few convey the degree of suffering of these people. Only some capture that the disorder is almost always the result of severed and chronic childhood trauma.
Movies portray therapists who treat DID as being overly fascinated with the disorder, and as having poor boundaries (e.g., becoming over-involved and too friend-like). No movie has depicted treatment that is consistent with treatment guidelines developed by DID experts around the world (see ISSTD’s Guidelines for Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder here).
Many media accounts mislabel DID as schizophrenia, even though they are entirely different conditions.
Many interviews of people with DID feature individuals who are much more attention-seeking and dramatic than is typical among DID. Some of the people in interviews seem to enjoy sharing personal details about trauma and their personalities that most people with DID are reluctant to reveal. Research shows that most people with DID are avoidant of people and attention, and hide their inner world of personalities as much as they can.
Outrage about Split
Over 20,000 people have signed a petition to boycott Split.
“Moviemakers like M. Night would do well to move past this tired and offensive trope… At a time when so much attention is being paid to mental illness and gender identity, we’ve reduced both conversations to a horror movie trope.”
See the petition here: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/944/537/866/
Mental health professionals criticize Split.
See ISSTD’s press release here: http://www.isst-d.org/downloads/Statement%20on%20Split-final.pdf
The media decry Split pushing back decades of progress by the health field.
“In a world where Silver Linings Playbook showed that people with mental illness deserve love and United States of Tara portrayed the everyday struggles of people living with dissociative identity disorder, we don’t need Split setting the bar for mental illness in films back to 1960.”
CNN raises awareness about what Split gets wrong about dissociative identity disorder.
Individuals with dissociative identity disorder challenge Split’s stereotypes.
“It makes us targets and encourages violence against us… As long as films like “Split” continue to be made and distributed, tens of millions across the world will suffer for it.”
Those with dissociative identity disorder continue to speak out.
“What if someone made a movie about you – only you were the villain? Not a brilliant, super-villain who is kind of cool, but someone horrifyingly bizarre and dangerous. That’s what M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie “Split” is doing to me and everyone with dissociative identity disorder (DID). Whatever happens with the movie — fame or flop — the ads and trailers are already driving home the message that everyone needs to fear people with DID.”
 Merckelbach, H., Horselenberg, R., & Schmidt, H. (2002). Modeling the connection between self-reported trauma and dissociation in a student sample. Personality and Individual Differences, 32, 695-705.
 Dalenberg, C. J., Brand, B. L., Gleaves, D. H., Dorahy, M. J., Loewenstein, R. J., Cardeña, E., … & Spiegel, D. (2012). Evaluation of the evidence for the trauma and fantasy models of dissociation. Psychological Bulletin, 138(3), 550.
 Brand, B. L., Sar, V., Stavropoulos, P., Kruger, C., Korzekwa, M., Martínez-Taboas, A., & Middleton, W. (2016). Separating fact from fiction: An empirical examination of common myths about dissociative identity disorder. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 24(4), 257-270.