The Allure of Multiple Personalities

Friday, November 11, 2011


Though only a small number of people have multiple personality disorder -- clinically known as dissociative identity disorder -- readers and audiences have an unquenchable interest in seeing the disorder recorded in books and portrayed in movies. Brooke speaks with journalist Debbie Nathan (pictured) about the real story behind the book and movie Sybil - one of the most famous cases of multiple personalities. 


Bill Taylor - Split Personality

Comments [15]

Hate to Break it to you.

I hate to break it to you all that are so torn up and freaking out about "how poorly they are representing" this girl or whatever your tempers may be about, but scientist have recently stated that Multiple Personality Disorder or DID might not even be an actual disorder at all. There is very minimal studies that "prove" this even actually exists. And with just reasoning. How does one statistically test personality? Psychologically speaking they haven't even truly defined exactly what it is yet. The big 5 traits? I am certain there are more than just a percentage of 5 traits to make up every living person. However, all things in psychology are still left to debate. However, before freaking out and judging people on "talking about someone you don't know" (which just cracks me up because you don't know her or the people speaking in this broadcast), maybe you should step back and get some cold hard facts. I know this is something I am sure your bias will succeed to do, but mine will succeed as well.

That is all.

Jul. 26 2014 12:09 AM
isabellaliveshere from whereever

How irresponsible to pass judgment upon people you have never met, never heard their story, based on 'other peoples' situations. You don't live in our skins, you don't live in our minds, you have not lives through our childhood. This kind of article plants seeds in the minds of the avg uneducated, armchair psychologist who has had no experience in this area. This damages the lives of the people who are already suffering. I don't understand such cruelty. My scars are real. The abuse was real. BTW, I didn't even know what DID was when I was diagnosised. (I also have CPTSD)The first Dr. who diagnosised me, never even told me, it was in a file. Almost twently years later in another state when I was "ordered" to be evaluated, another set of testing and doctors came to the same answer, and I had to fight to be told my diagnosis. Why would anyone want the lifelong stigma and humiliation of this? This is not a pretend world where people accept you w/ this, and you live happily ever after. My family hates me, I was fired again, I have no job, I have no friends, no one understands. If I had a choice it would not be for this. However, I would rather be me, that someone who harms people like you.

Dec. 20 2011 08:32 PM
Eliza Elliot

From Liz Elliot, Author of Five Farewells, A Southern Life with DID

Topic: Sybil Exposed

This message is specifically directed at people who are living with DID. I know it can be upsetting every time any material comes out that discusses whether Sybil was real or not, but we as a people can learn to NOT react or respond to this kind of material. We all have DID. We know we have DID. Whether Sybil was real or not doesn't validate or invalidate our experience.

Also, whoever decides to write about Sybil is not trying to personally destroy our sense of peace. The people who try to sell books want to make money, and good for them, it's their right to do so.

In my mind the whole topic of Sybil's being true, or not true, just keeps fear alive inside of us. What is there to gain from caring whether or not Sybil was real? What does it matter anymore? It certainly doesn't change our living experience. Most of us understand that Sybil's case was extreme and has caused us trouble on many levels, because most people with DID do not have DID to this extreme.

Although I respect Sybil's life and what she brought to the big picture, I have to admit that I've spent a great deal of time wondering if Sybil's case has helped us or hurt us as a people. I think if we all, (with DID,) stopped responding to this topic, then certainly the world would write less about it, but we can never leave this topic alone, because Sybil's case has meant so much to us personally, and we need validation for a life gone off the spectrum.

I wish you all the best in everything, Elliot

Dec. 12 2011 03:29 PM

Debbie Nathan blames the story of Sybil for making DID go mainstream and be well-known etc. Yet at the beginning of this conversation, she states that Dr. Wilbur gave Sybil literature on MPD when they first met. If MPD wasn't already a problem, no one would have written about it.

Her book was nothing more than her 'opinion'. She did the very thing she claimed was done in 'Sybil'. She used her opinion and presented them as facts.

I find it in very poor taste that your show would invite such a person to spread her opinion, without at least having a professional who has actually dealt one on one with a person diagnosed as DID. Seeing it face to face (not in books or on TV) is far more real than reading notes, interpreting them with a biased mind, then writing a book claiming to be presenting facts. The only facts I feel I have been presented is that Debbie Nathan's book is a great work of fiction, and this session of your show was in poor taste.

Nov. 26 2011 11:45 AM
Diane Hachmeister from Kansas

I worked at a world famous psychiatric hospital in the early 90's when the Multiple Personality Disorder diagnosis was being diagnosed daily. I can see how we can all be split off from parts of our personality. I believe the MPD diagnosis can be more useful as a metaphor and a tool for intervention. But mostly what I have observed with people with MPD is symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Nov. 15 2011 10:32 PM
Dr. Eric Aronson from Chelmsford, MA

This segment was misleading and quite inaccurate. There are numerous legitimate cases of DID, and this diagnosis is often associated with childhood abuse and trauma. For accurate information and evidence-based treatment guidelines, go to:

Nov. 13 2011 07:46 PM
Michael Gardos Reid from Minneapolis, MN

I echo comments above who bemoan the presentation of DID as a total creation of therapists and clients in need of attention and approval.

I work as a group psychotherapist in a hospital psychiatric service and I have certainly seen this diagnosis misused by practitioners and clients. There are also clients who suffer with patterns of dissociation they learned as a survival system in situations of systematic unremitting physical, sexual and emotional abuse. It often takes these clients years to unlearn these patterns.

The seventies and eighties were groundbreaking times in the field of mental health when previously the previously denied extent of child abuse finally began to be acknowledged. DID seems to be one of the patterns of survival for victims of abuse. As often happens, in the first flush of bringing light where there had previously been nothing but denial it is not unusual to over compensate in applying a new therapeutic formulation. In this case this does not mean that no such thing as DID exists.

In general I think highly of your show but in this case I believe you owe the mental health community and those it serves a full report balancing this sensationalizing take on a serious issue.

Michael Gardos Reid, MA, LPCC, BC-DMT
Minneapolis, MN

Nov. 13 2011 05:19 PM

Dangerous, ill-researched, utterly irresponsible yellow journalism on your show's part and on the part of the author. You fell prey to the worst of offenses that yellow journalism is best at: sensationalism and listening to what one of your journalist colleagues has to say about her one-sided "research" than that of any therapeutic models or the actual reality of the connection to trauma in this very real condition. To say I am extremely disappointed in the producers of this show for presenting such a horrible, biased "carny barker" sensationalistic slant on a very real condition deserves neither your show's understanding nor sympathy in that regard as to why you would so uncritically present such lousy research and present it as fact.

Nov. 13 2011 01:13 PM

Nathan is out to promote her book. She is not interested in truth, or reality, or facts (her book is so full of factual holes it cannot possible be seen as any more 'non-fiction' than the book she claims to be 'fictionalizing')--she is energetically doing the rounds and stirring the pot so that more people buy her book. It is about personal 15 minuts of fame, which she is desperately trying to prolong. She seems to thrive on causing strife by stating outrageous generalizations that are based on air (and stating them as if they are facts even though her psychological training, or her forensic ability, it seems--leave much to be desired).
Obviously, one person's possibly misdiagnosis does not make a diagnosis nill! It is as if someone who was misdiagnosed with heart disease and later found to have something else makes the whole diagnosis of heart disease bogus.... It might help readers (and listeners) to remember that Nathan is not an expert nor an authority, nor even particularly accurate in her own book or interpretation of fact. She is out there for her OWN GAIN, trying to sell her book the way tabloids sell their stories--fake, catchy headlines, that are meant to enrage, upset, and hopefully sell.
Her book is not worth the paper it was printed on, and her opinion--much as she holds herself a sudden expert on psychology, psychiatry, trauma, development, psychotherapy (and a dozen other disciplines she is not trained in)--is not worth a whole lot better.
My recommendation to those who are upset by her book--she is not worth your upset. Her opinion is not more important (or valid) than your own.

Nov. 13 2011 12:28 PM

The book "Sybil Exposed" is an agenda driven biased book .

The book leaves out much of the research on MPD. This includes the research in other parts of the world (that do not have media coverage of MPD) that have MPD patients. This research shows that MPD is not a "cultural phenomenon" but a world wide disorder.

What happened was that MPD had been misdiagnosed for years and incorrectly lumped in under Schizophrenia, which is entirely different. The stigma associated with mental illness would cause people to deny they have MPD, so the idea of a "culture wide hysteria" is incorrect and also unproven. When scientists discover a new disorder like MPD, there is an increase in diagnosing it. This along with more accurate diagnoses accounts for the increase in MPD cases.

The book "Sybil Exposed" itself mentions Sybil exhibiting the possible symptoms of MPD in its book before she started therapy, but the book ignores these in its conclusion.

The "recantation" letter of Sybil was misinterpreted by the book. It is common for those in treatment for any diagnosis, addiction or illness to deny their illness. Mason (Sybil) later in life stated that every word in the book was true.

Sybil's mother is documented as suffering from Schizophrenia. Sybil's childhood friends have been interviewed in the last decade and have stated that they thought her mother was an old witch, that Sybil had trouble concentrating in school, that Sybil's mother would peak in their windows when they had company, but did not visit them and that Sybil's mother "relieved herself" in a neighbor's yard. Sybil's mother by Sybil's childhood friends was described as strange, stern and raucous and ""someone to stay away from," that she had a shrill voice and ridiculed Sybil and that she played the piano too loudly, bombastically, venting anger and was harsh.

This interview at On The Media was one sided and others should have been interviewed to present a more accurate picture of MPD and the Sybil story.

Nov. 13 2011 03:17 AM

As someone with DID - this is a bit (to say the least) disturbing. But you know the saying, "Ignorance is bliss" - sometimes people worry me..

Nov. 12 2011 05:37 PM
Peter M. Barach, Ph.D. from Cleveland Ohio

Ms. Nathan's debunking of the case of "Sybil" is irrelevant to the clinical reality of Dissociative Identity Disorder. One wrong diagnosis (if Sybil was indeed wrongly diagnosed) does not make a diagnosis invalid. This diagnosis has been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association under various names since 1952. There has been a large body of research published in peer-reviewed journals showing the validity of this diagnosis and the frequency of its occurrence in a number of different countries. The connection of this diagnosis with a history of abuse is based partially on the reports of patients; 95% of patients with DID report of a history of sexual abuse, with the majority of them having had these memories before they entered therapy.The linkage is further supported by several studies that documented the abuse reported by patients with DID.

Brooke is wrong to compare the theory of autism as caused by "refrigerator mothers" with the theory that DID stems from abuse. The "refrigerator mother" theory never had any research support, but the link between chronic dissociation and early abuse is supported by many studies. Ms. Nathan pooh-poohs the research because it was done by people who take DID seriously. Would she have ALL scientific research performed by researchers who believe in their findings thrown in the garbage?

While the public may be fascinated with DID, this disorder is a serious mental disorder, with the majority of patients having made serious suicide attempts or having had multiple psychiatric hospitalizations PRIOR to being diagnosed with DID.

References for relevant research will be provided on request.

Peter M. Barach, Ph.D.
[my name is pronounced BEAR-ish]
Senior Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry
Case Medical School
Cleveland, Ohio

Nov. 12 2011 05:14 PM

Listening to this saddened me greatly. I am literally in tears. DID is presented here as a 'dog & pony show'? Oh my. Thousands of ppl struggle with this disorder today. DN is a journalist, unqualified in this area. What she describes - while poking fun at those who have and treat DID - is totally false. Survivors of horrible child abuse who hear such prejudiced & unfounded statements are severely damaged. DN has gone too far. DID is a valid diagnosis, in the DSM-IV, and backed by research. It is just cruel to mock anyone in this manner, but to choose a population of ppl who are already vulnerable (abuse survivors) is to further abuse them. DN, in this case, is carrying on the very abuse that these ppl lived with their whole life. As for those who 'suddenly' remember abuse - no - every survivor I have know (hundreds) remembered the abuse their whole life long before therapy. I hope that you all take the time to interview someone who does not share the fms view that she follows so vehemently. thank you for hearing me.

Nov. 12 2011 03:59 PM
David Shurter

Nathan's comment that our nations history with satanic abuse was caused by 40 million women who came forward with DID is nonsense. In Omaha, it had more to do with over a thousand police reports concerning child abuse, as was the case of McMartin, which was along with a handful of other daycares. Sybil did not cause our problems with satanism in the nation, nor is she behind the hysteria that it caused in the 80s and 90s. It simply just does not add up.

For more info, go to .

Nov. 12 2011 03:35 PM
heather from North Carolina

I was on the set of "Sybil" - had drinks with the
psychiatrist - felt she was a total phony -
didn't believe a word she said & more,
but must be discreet.

Nov. 12 2011 03:11 PM

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