By Stephanie Moos
Friday, February 3, 2017
The movie Split created unexpected buzz and excitement after its release a couple weeks ago. After a succession of poorly-made films, film critics and aficionados were thrilled to see M. Night Shyamalan, the film’s director, make a comeback.
The movie introduces three teenage girls who are kidnapped by a man named Kevin. He possesses 23 separate personalities. His dissociative identity disorder (DID) attributes individual physical characteristics that manifest whenever a different personality appears. Though his psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher, knows of all 23 of these personalities, he reveals there is a 24th personality set to appear and dominate all the others. The film delves into the constant war he endures within his mind.
CMU professor of psychology, Dr. Susan Becker, said despite not seeing the movie, she could tell from the trailer that the way DID was depicted in the film was unrealistic. She added that DID is a very rare form of dissociative disorders. However, it is common for people to disconnect from reality after experiencing substantial trauma or trying to find a coping mechanism while the trauma is occurring.
“Dissociative identity disorder occurs when the dissociation is for such a long duration that you need some part of yourself to deal with the world,” Dr. Becker said. “So that disconnect from reality is taking place, but in the meantime some part of you is still responding to other people, doing whatever actions are required.”
According to Dr. Becker, this causes people who do experience such dissociation to struggle to remember that and feel as if a completely different person is responding to the world. As a result, these individuals will create a separate persona to handle the world while the individual is disconnected. She emphasized while DID is rare, it would be a much rarer case for someone to have more than one persona that somehow possesses unique characteristics.
“There have been a few documented cases where this other persona that copes with the world may have a somewhat different tone of voice or give themselves a different name,” Dr. Becker said. “They may interact with the world in a way that looks like a younger age than the person is. That can happen.”
Dr. Becker compared the rising popularity of Split to the 1970’s novel Sybil, which promoted the idea of developing multiple personalities due to traumatic abuse. The novel, a work of fiction, was subsequently made into a movie. Following the release of the film, people started to see case studies of multiple personality disorder as the professions of psychiatry and clinical psychology became influenced by popular culture.
“The movie is extremely fictionalized,” Dr. Becker said. “We’ll probably see a resurgence in diagnosis again because all people are vulnerable to fads, including people who work in the mental health fields. But it’s extremely unlikely.”