One of the troubling aspects of the controversy about the legitimacy of multiple personalities/dissociative disorders is the notion that somehow therapists have fabricated or “implanted” memories into their client’s heads. The other issue bantered about is the issue of the rarity of the disorder. Since most child abuse survivors have never gone public, there is no real database compiled of everyone’s stories or experiences.
In my discussions going forward about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), I am going to start from the beginning and provide as much as I can about my research on this disorder. I am going to start by sharing documented cases that appeared in the 1800s and move forward from there to write about how this disorder has been characterized up to the 21st century. This will be lengthy, but we need to look at this issue over time to grasp a better understanding of the issues involved. Provided below is the first known scientific documentation about multiple personalities.
Letter from Timothy Alden, founder of Allegheny College, to S.L. Mitchell, M.D. Meadville, Penn. 21 June, 1816.
I now do myself the pleasure to give you an account of a very singular case. Possibly you may have met with something analogous to it in your researches; but, so far as my inquiries have extended, it is without a parallel…For five years, she [Miss Mary Reynolds] has exhibited the phenomenon of a person vested with a two-fold conscious, or, more definitely, with two distinct consciences.
Double Consciousness: Biography of Mary Reynolds (1835-1959) by John V. Reynolds (nephew)
“William Reynolds, the Father of the subject of the following sketch, emigrated from England to this country near the close of the last century. I, with his family, settled in Venango County, Pennsylvania…When my aunt, Mary Reynolds, reached the age of about eighteen or twenty years, she became subject to convulsions – of what nature is uncertain. In the spring of 1811 on a Sabbath day, she had a severe attack of that disease. She had taken a book and gone a little distance from the house to read in quiet. Not long afterwards she was found in an insensible condition. When she recovered from her insensibility, she was blind and deaf, and so continued about five or six weeks. Her hearing returned suddenly – her sight returned gradually.”
“Twelve weeks, or thereabout, after that attack having gone to bed in her usual health except some remaining feebleness, one morning she was found fallen into a sleep so profound that she could not be aroused. When she did awake some hours after her usual time for awakening, she had lost all recollection of her former life. She had forgotten everything she had ever known. Her Father, Mother, Brothers, and Sisters were unrecognized. She had forgotten how to read and write. Did not know what a book was. She did not know the use of any article about the house. She did not herself nor that she had had any existence until then….As to memory or recollection of the past, differing in no respect from the newly born infant, not, I may say, in knowledge either…Her intellectual faculties were not materially impaired. They were as say, in knowledge either… Her intellectual faculties were not materially impaired. They were as strong in this as in her natural state…She was quick to learn, and very soon acquired the knowledge of what is important for her to know…It was not until, perhaps between one and two years after the first change, that an attempt was made to teach her to read and write in the second state…In these respects, she was in one state utterly different from what she was in the other…She was as if two persons not only as regarded as memory, which in the one state never a power to recollect the events of the other, but also in that her mental and moral characteristics were in each quite unlike what they were in the other. This was the case to such an extent that no one who would make them the basis of his judgment would have the remotest suspicions that the Mary of one was the Mary of the other…In her natural state, she was quiet, sedate, sober-minded, tending to melancholy; in her abnormal, she was cheerful even moderately gay and frolicking in spirits, fond of fun and practical joker…Again, in her second state, she had strong feelings of like or dislike for persons…The transitions from one to the other, always took place during sleep…During the later years of those changes, and particularly after they wholly ceased – leaving her in her second state, in which she continued until her death, a period of not less than twenty-five years…This highly nervous excitability quite disappeared…Her death occurred in January 1854…During the last twenty-five years or more of her life she had no remembrance of her youth and youthful days, not of what transpired while she was in her first state…The phenomenon presented, were as if her body was the house of two souls, not occupied by both at the same time, but by one and the other alternately, each in turn ejecting the other, until at last the usurper got and kept possession after a struggle of fifteen years.”