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Dissociative Disorders - Part 4

As a continuation of multiple personality documentation in the 1800s, the case below is the review of another woman’s life history. Although there are many more cases, the three cases [Ms. Reynolds in Dissociative Disorders - Part 2, Ms. Barnes in Dissociative Disorders - Part 3 and Felida (see below)]  I have highlighted are the ones usually cited by therapists researching multiple personalities.

“Periodical Amnesia; or Double Consciousness,” by M. Azam, Professor á l’Ecole de Medecine de Bordeaux

“I am going to relate the history of a young woman whose existence is tormented by an impairment of memory which is without a parallel in science. This impairment is of such character that it suggests the question whether this young woman may not live two separate existences.”

“Felida X. Was born in 1843 in Bordeaux. Her father, a captain in the merchant marine service, died when she was very young. Her mother, left in destitute circumstances, was obliged to work to bring up her children. Towards the age of thirteen, a little after puberty, she presented symptoms which denote the beginning of hysteria. At fourteen and a half the phenomena began to appear, which form the theme of this recital; without any recognized cause, under the influence of some emotion, she would experience a keen pain in both temples, and fall into a profound languor, resembling sleep. This lasted about ten minutes; after this, she voluntarily opened her eyes, apparently awakening, and then would commence another condition, which we usually, call secondary, which I shall describe hereafter. It would last an hour or two, then the languor and sleepiness would re-appear and she would return to the normal state. This kind of paroxysm returned every five or six hours, or less frequently, and her relatives and persons around her remarking the change in manner during this sort of second life and her forgetfulness on her awakening, believed her to be insane. I was called to attend her, for, being at the time, assistant physician in the public asylum for insane women, it was natural that I should be called upon in a case supposed to be of mental disease.”

“The following are the symptoms, as I observed them in October 1858:  She is very intelligent and tolerably well-educated for her social position; of a melancholy, and morose disposition. She dwells on her ill health, which occasions in her serious pre-occupation of mind, and suffers acute pain in various parts of the body, particularly in the head. Almost every day, without any known cause, or under the influence of an emotion, she is seized with what is called her “crisis”; in fact she enters into her second condition. Having witnessed this phenomenon hundreds of times, I can describe it with accuracy.”

“Felida is seated, some sewing lying upon her knees; all at once, without any premonition whatever, after a more than usually violent pain in her temples, her head falls upon her breast; her hands cease to move and hang helplessly by her side; she sleeps, or appears to sleep, but it is a sleep of such a peculiar character, that neither noise nor excitement, pinching nor pricking, can awake her. This kind of sleep is instantaneous, lasting two or three minutes; formerly much longer. Felida awakens, but her intellect is not what it was before she fell asleep. Everything appears different. She raises her head, and, opening her eyes, smilingly salutes new comers; her countenance brightens, and indicates only happiness. Her talk is quick, and humming all the while, she resumes her needle-work, which was commenced in the preceding state. She rises, her step is elastic, and she does not complain of the thousand pains which, but a few moments before, caused her to suffer. She applies herself to the ordinary duties of the household, goes out, circulates through the town, visits her neighbors, taking her work with her, and her gay manners are those of a young woman in her most vigorous years. Her character is completely changed; formerly melancholy, she has become cheerful; even gay, her vivacity sometimes even bordering on wildness. Her imagination is very vivid. From the slightest cause, she is overcome with emotions of sadness or joy. Instead of being indifferent to everything, as she was, she has become sensitive in the extreme. In this condition, she remembers perfectly all that has passed during similar preceding states, and also during her normal life. I will add, that she has always maintained that the state, whatever it may be, in which she is when one speaks to her, is the normal one, which she calls her “reason,” in opposition to the other she calls her “crisis.” In this life, as in the other, her intellectual and normal faculties, although different, are unquestionably complete, each frenzied idea, each perverted perception, each hallucination. I will say, even, that in this second condition, all her facilities seem to be more fully developed – more complete. This second life, wherein no physical pain is experienced, is far superior to the other, and especially so on account of the important fact which we have already brought to notice, that while it continues, Felida remembers not only that which has taken place during previous attacks, but also during her entire normal life, whereas, and I shall refer to it again later, during her normal life she has no recollection of that which took place during the attacks.

“I believe I am able to define the limits of this amnesia. The forgetfulness relates only to those things which transpired during the second condition. Every general idea acquired prior to this, is unaffected. She knows perfectly well how to read, write, and keep accounts, cut out work, sew, and a thousand other things, which she has known before being sick, or which she has learned in the preceding normal periods.”

“I have witnessed this condition only three or four times, and in the course of sixteen years her husband has witnessed it only about thirty times. Being in her second condition, she falls asleep in the manner described, and instead of awakening in the normal state as usual, she finds herself in a peculiar state, which is characterized by an indescribable terror. Her first words are: “I’m afraid! I’m afraid!” She does not recognize any one excepting the young man who has become her husband. This somewhat delirious state continues only a short time.”

The history of hysteria is full of such cases. I have just described the condition of Felida, in 1858 and 1859. At the end of the latter year, the phenomena seemed changed for the better. At least I am told so. She was confined happily, and nursed her child. At this time, occupied by other studies, I lost sight of her completely. She had married the young man of whom we have spoken. Now, this young man, who is very intelligent, has observed carefully the condition of his wife from 1859 to 1876. His information fills up a gap of sixteen years, which occurred in my personal observation. Here is a resume of that which took place during these sixteen years.”

“Toward the age of seventeen and a half years, Felida passed through her first confinement, and during the two years which followed, her health was excellent, no particular phenomena having been observed. Toward nineteen and a half, the symptoms already described, reappeared, with modified intensity. One year later, there were a second pregnancy, considerable pain, and spitting of blood, and various nervous symptoms, incident to hysteria, such as attacks of lethargy, lasting three or four hours. Felida was seized with partial paralysis, attacks of lethargy, ecstasy, etc., all phenomena due, as everyone knows, to the hysteria which controlled her temperament. From twenty-four to twenty-seven, our patient had three complete years of normal life. After this time, and even up to 1875, that is to say, during the six last years, the malady has reappeared.”

“At 32 years old, she told me she is always sick, that is to say, she suffers continually from loss of memory, which she inappropriately calls her crises, only these supposed crises, which are all only periods of normal existence, have become much more rare. The last dates back three months. Meanwhile, this loss of memory, which characterizes them, has caused her to commit such blunders in her intercourse with her neighbors, that Felida retains the most painful remembrance of it, and is afraid of being considered insane.”

“It is certain that the character and affections of Felida are not the same in the two states. The absence of memory is a pure criterion of the integrity of the intellectual functions, for forgetfulness is not necessarily induced by an incomplete or abnormal intellectual condition, at the moment when one tries to recollect. Generally, amnesia is produced by the slightest of the impression made upon the mind by an event at the time of its occurrence. One does not forget because one cannot remember, but because the fact forgotten made only an insufficient impression.”

“Her existence will have presented the singular phenomenon of having counted three successive personalities; the first normal, which she brought with her, so to speak, when she came into the world; the second, divided into two parts by amnesia; the third, a new existence, characterized by its integrity. Thus the good resulted from the excess of the bad for there was, in reality, a kind of recovery. I should not dare to hope for any other mode of recovery. If this modification should be consummated, it will be in twelve or fifteen years of age called critical, the ordinary epoch of the conclusion of hysteria.”

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Conquering Incest
Dissociative Disorders - Part 5


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