It’s my thought that so-called “multiple personality disorder”, or MPD, is a giant hoax. Or at least, I definitely get that impression from the skepticist publications I read, and the fellas over at CSICOP.
After all, we have discovered that so-called “recovered memories” were a giant fraud, and due entirely to the planting of memories by psychiatrists. So might the same be true about alleged multiple personalities? We clearly can’t trust the psychiatrists themselves, who are looking to make money publishing their bizarre accounts and studies.
Frankly, the idea of multiple personalities has always seemed a little stupid, better the stuff of some elaborate fiction novel than reality. Is there any reason to think they’re real?
Not particularly. (But since it’s in the DSM, it must be an actual condition, right…?)
In all seriousness, even at the height of the condition’s acceptance, most responsible researchers came to the conclusion that MPD was at most an extreme example of the normal tendency to act differently in different situations. People who supposedly have wildly divergent personalities that seem to operate independently are probably victims of poor therapeutic care, if they’re not actually con artists.
Still, who knows. Perhaps the backlash of skepticism isn’t actually justified. (Those wacky skeptics, always doubting everything…)
You might be interested in reading the Layman’s Guide to Multiplicity, a document written up by a couple of plurals I know. It’s written up at http://www.kitsune.cx/blackbirds/layman/ and addresses some of the questions that you’ve raised – check the ‘controversy’ section as well as the ‘what is’ section. (The ‘controversy’ section includes comments on ‘recovered memories’.)
Well, let’s deal first with the tangent of recovered memories, and their status as a “giant fraud.” In a way, however, with the sidetrack to recovered memories, you bring up the very reason why there is some validity to Dissociative Identity Disorder. It is absolutely a mistake to regard a presently disclosed (or recovered) memory as gospel and unfettered. What was realized, in general, is not that they were a giant fraud, but that we must regard memory as malleable, changeable and subject to the influence of time, forgetting, perspective and bias. Meaning that one might really honestly believe that a memory they recall today is real, honest and accurate, even though it is actually vastly different from reality. (At the same time, it remains possible that a recovered memory represents an accurate recollection of reality, so “a giant fraud” is a bit inaccurate and broadly stated).
So, in the same way that recovered memories are suspect and may firmly be believed and felt as real by a person, the existence of more than one personality may similarly be experienced as true and valid. So, DID is real in the sense that there are people who honestly perceive themselves to have multiple, distinct, independent personalities. Wishing, giggling, tsk tsking and the fellas at CSICOP can’t make that untrue. But these personalities are in fact still of the same person. Expectations are powerful forces. The illusion may be your perception of a unitary and unchanging single personality.
I think MPD/DID is real, but extremely rare. The overall total of genuine cases since the disorder was first defined is probably less than 300.
Most of the MPD/DID cases that cropped up in the '80’s and '90’s were in people who were also “recovering” memories of sexual abuse. They would walk into a therapist’s office with one personality and maybe suffering from depression and/or an eating disorder, and walk out with “memories” of sexual abuse that they didn’t remember previously, plus an extra personality or two. In extreme cases, some patients would have literally hundreds of “alters”. As therapy goes on, the memories become increasingly bizarre and horrific, and the number of “alters” multiplies.
I recommend punching “False Memory Syndrome” into your friendly neighborhood search engine. Pretty scary stuff.