Every year, I do a month long feature on any subject that I like. Any random subject. Last year, I couldn’t do it but now I can this year. Huzzah. It’s to break the monotony that can be discussing Pagan topics end over end and because I have a variety of subjects I like to talk about.
This year, I want to talk about a disorder I have touched on a little bit in the past: Dissociative Identity Disorder. What prompts this is the response I’ve seen in regards to the movie Split. Yes, it’s not a blockbuster (which is a good thing) but it still created a lot of chatter and jokes and, of course, plenty of misconceptions that are remarkably harmful, as usual.
Let’s talk about Multplicity (having DID) and the media.
I’m going to compare two recent films about DID that have appeared in media in recent years. Obviously and unfortunately, this includes Split (I viewed on backwater sites because lolz, I’m not fencing a dime to that movie, even for critical deconstructive reasons). The other movie, actually based on a real person and had actual research done, is Frankie and Alice, which stars Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry.
The reason these two films exist, one fictional and the other reality-based, is because there’s misconceptions of DID aplenty. And with most media being negative, non-factual demonstrations of the disorder, there is plenty to parse through. That and hopefully a regular person reading can understand the problematic nature of Split in its demonizing of the disorder. Both films are not documentaries about Dissociative Identity Disorder but one actually researches the disorder and the other pretty much goes the lazy route.
I’m certain some folks are going to mention “’Split’ was based in the ‘Unbreakable’ world. It isn’t a thing about DID at all.” That would be nice if everyone was a hardcore M. Night Shyamalan fan…buuuuuut in the real world, that’s not what happened. The media campaign was strictly based on establishing that the main character, Kevin, had 24 different personalities, was a vicious person and needed to be stopped at all costs because of those different personalities. No reference to Unbreakable, no “this is not DID”, none of that. It’s the same as saying “Birth of a Nation/The Clansman is not about the negativity of Black people, the town is fictional and it’s just romanticist thinking of the South.” That fictional movie still got real Black people lynched in droves. It’s interesting what movies, even deeply fictional ones, can inspire people to do. Almost like movies can be influential and even accidental teaching tools, especially if the viewer is not an expert already in the subject. Even Sybil gets referenced many times in mainstream culture as short hand for “crazy and frightening”.
On the website Trauma and Dissociation, there is a criteria that the movies are compared to. In this same article, there is a section titled “Common Mistakes in Portraying Dissociative Identity Disorder”. I expect Split to cover every bit in this section.
To keep things orderly, we’ll do things bit by bit, category by category, of where Frankie and Alice got everything right and Split got everything wrong.
Let’s start with the Synopsis of both movies:, as described by IMDB:
Frankie & Alice: A drama centered on a go-go dancer with multiple personality disorder who struggles to remain her true self and begins working with a psychotherapist to uncover the mystery of the inner ghosts that haunt her.
This was pretty accurate. It wasn’t trying to scare the viewer, the synopsis is a pretty safe description of the movie without giving away important details. It uses the old name of DID and call the alters “inner ghosts” (I practice Paganism and metaphysics and even I think that is way off the mark). For the most part, it’s pretty accurate.
Split: Three girls are kidnapped by a man with a diagnosed 23 distinct personalities, they must try to escape before the apparent emergence of a frightful new 24th.
This sounds to me: “Man, I hope no police officers watch this movie, they would think that people with DID are instinctively nefarious.” Like that one officer that literally thought the same about me and proceeded to threaten to send me to prison via fabricated evidence because he simply wanted to impress others, not get to the bottom of a case. And got in trouble with Internal Affairs over that. (Note to law enforcement: fictional movies are not training videos. Maybe you should watch Selma or something else that is fact based. Seriously.)
This description pretty much connects the concept of DID making people commit atrocities because …somehow that’s just what the disorder makes people do. This is utter bullsh*t, obviously. It’s meant to spook and frighten the viewer. I have DID and I don’t go around trying to kidnap a gaggle of Beckies.. Sure, I get fairly annoyed when they hijack and co-opt Inauguration Day protest marches but I’m not going to do any work to kidnap them.
Signs of Alters/Acknowledging Alters
A person with DID has difficulties with memories due to amnesias. Things aren’t where they were last seen, new items are gained with no recollection of buying them, differences of writing or talking habits, etc.
Frankie and Alice: Frankie says that she feels like she is watching herself from a distance (a sign of dissociation). When confronted about her rent check bouncing, she glances through her checkbook afterwards and discovers a big purchase she doesn’t remember making, a dress bought by one of her other alters, Alice. Despite having clear signs of DID, Frankie herself does not believe the diagnosis when she was hospitalized, which is common for those with DID to do due to the social stigma related to the disorder.
Split: There is honestly no realistic interaction between Kevin’s alters. No complaining of loss of time, it seems almost everyone is on the same page, nearly no dissociative states. As if he and every alter he has is evil and they all work together to connive and deceive so they can better harm others (ie, the gaggle of Beckies he acquired). While it is true that people with DID usually have to be told about the things they said or did, it’s not usually to such the extreme extent of a person outside the DID system to tell an alter all the conversations they overheard two other alters say in conversation. There is still some inner communication.
People with DID have substantial issues with memories due to dissociative amnesia: a condition in dissociative disorders where the affected does not remember important details or events due to dissociating from the experience. This is not normal forgetting, such as misplacing your keys or trying to remember an account’s password. Amnesiac forgetting includes forgetting big events such as weddings, people you have worked with or been around for a long period of time.
Frankie and Alice: There are several times reflected during the movie where Frankie had no idea of her own actions, such as taking her mother’s necklace and going to a ritzy hotel for a wedding she had no idea she crashed.
Split: There appears to be no real memory gaps. While there are displays of dissociative amnesia (the alters don’t always know what the others are doing), it is inconsistent and plays out as more of a movie mechanic, only showing up to move the plot along. It seems the film creators did some cursory research in DID on Wikipedia, clapped their hands in determination and said, “We’re ready to make a movie!”
Experience/Remembrance of Trauma
DID is a trauma disorder, just like PTSD. You can’t get DID unless you experience extreme, continual trauma and no emotional support in the extreme early years (by age 6). Usually through experiencing war-like conditions (that’s my situation), severe abuse, neglect, child sexual abuse, things like that. The disassociative identities are moreso defense mechanisms to defend the affected and survive trauma as the mind literally splits itself up to protect itself. It’s why those with DID can not remember vast parts of their lives and have various identities.
Frankie and Alice: Frankie remembers different things than her alter Alice. However, when under therapy and with the therapist’s guided questions to a child alter, Genius, more of Frankie’s life experiences come to light. Without therapy, Frankie would have not remembered whole life events because her DID locks select memories and pains away.
Split: There is no obvious experience of trauma. When people have DID, the alters that come from it are usually centered around the trauma that borne it. For example, if a person was severely abused through religion, their alters would have a religion focus. If the person was severely abused or experienced war-like conditions, the alters would have a defensive, war-like focus. Kevin’s alters are all over the place.
Abuse is referred to in passing. Not as a substantial way to understand how DID works or affects people, but just to create a threadbare backstory for Kevin, who is supposed to be the antagonist in this story. Casey, the main girl Kevin kidnaps is, gets even more of a sympathetic backstory than Kevin does. This is so the viewer will sympathize with Casey more than they will with Kevin.
There are many ways the two movies are radically different, despite having the same subject matter. Frankie and Alice did not try to frighten the view about the existence of DID. The disorder was seen as a subject that could be understood by the viewer not as something monstrous but as something a person goes through when severely impacted by trauma. Did it make DID look like a pleasant, easy-to-live with disorder? Not at all. But it doesn’t depict a person with DID as a monster. Split does.
DID in Split is used as a fear mechanic. Its unpredictability, its “mystery”, everything to make Kevin’s alters appear frightening. There’s little understanding towards him, just terror. He’s just a psycho out to eat ;young girls and kill people. This is such a wild distortion of how the disorder makes people function. Every part of the movie plays this up extensively.
Unfortunately, there is a wide variety of movies that use the “DID = Scary” mechanic. And games. And stories. On website Trauma and Dissociation, I mentioned that there’s are common mistakes that Split gets wrong. I’m not going to go down the whole list but a few select ones, including a couple I’m sure the film makers thought they had correct.
Randomly violent alters that seem to have no purpose for the person are often portrayed in fictional accounts. They aren’t acting to defend or protect the person with Dissociative Identity Disorder, they are one-dimensional and can’t reasoned with
This is alllllllllllllllllllllllllll of Split. There is literally no reason whatsoever why the Beast exist, why the other alters, Patricia or Dennis were just going along with making room for Beast and giving him “impure” (I can unpack this at a later date, holy crap, the misogyny) girls to eat. This does not protect Kevin at all. This isn’t even inter-system squabbling. This is just alters being total lemmings for other alters, which doesn’t make much sense.
Beast can’t be reasoned with, he just shows up and becomes a monster. The child Hedwig seems pretty calm and chill about everything, children alters that are aware of more dangerous alters are usually, well, like kids who are around dangerous adults. They don’t happily go along with things, they’re usually confused and scared, just like any child would.
Kevin is the “host” of the system, the original person. The system generally revolves around the host, regardless if it is negative or positive. Beast doesn’t really care. Patricia doesn’t really care. Dennis doesn’t really care. Hedwig is fairly unaffected. The Beast is supposed to be so the world can be more accepting of the fact Kevin is a Multiple (a person with DID) buuuuuut DID is about hiding itself, not showing itself to the world. It’s literally a disorder of secrecy. Alters don’t go wild and try to make a grand show, even alters that believe themselves to be actors or performers. They try to blend. The disorder, if I wanted to compare to a living thing, is like being a chameleon or an octopus. You blend into the surrounding to make the abuse and trauma less severe. If you don’t blend, you don’t live.
In Frankie and Alice, the alters that mainly front (gain control of the body) are a Southern belle and the main host. They exist because of clearly established trauma and to navigate the world and go fairly undetected. To blend.
Alter personalities are created for a specific purpose, for example self-defense or trauma memories, or work, if the one in the plot has no clear essential purpose re-write the plot
There’s supposed to be 23 alters buuuuuuuut this movie explicitly showed only …four at best? Either the budget was crappy (possibly), the writers sucked (very likely), no one knew anything about DID but hackneyed ideas (extremely likely) or all of the above (most definitely). Where are the other 20 alters? No one is talking? No one cares? Everyone can’t possibly be on board, that’s simply not how DID works. Alters are like separate, different people. If you think it’s easy to get 24 different individuals to agree on something, try ordering a single pizza. This is really lazy writing on the creators of Split.
In Frankie and Alice, there was no promise of a bunch of alters during the promotion of the film but as the movie progresses, the viewer learns along with Frankie that there are more alters than she originally thought, all because of the traumas she endured throughout her life. Granted, the story doesn’t go into why Genius, the child alter, exists but it does a far stretch better than Split. Then again, Halle Berry did sincere study into her character: she talked with the person the character was based off of, Francine Murdoch. James McAvoy couldn’t find a single person with DID that wanted to sit with him. I guess the idea of being demonized on the big screen wasn’t a very savory pull.
A person talks about having lots of “blackouts” but shows none – has no memory loss or forgetfulness in the movie, they never forget who anyone is, where they live or anything important
There was that one rushed scene at the end of the movie where the audience meets, Kevin, who still thinks that it’s September 2014 and he last remembered being on a bus. There are DID systems where the “host” disappears into the system, they do not front or have any control in the body buuuuuut the therapist would try strongly to contact the host, through the alters. The therapist in this movie simply did not care. There are no real “blackouts” or severe memory lapses (every alter shown in the movie seemed pretty much on the same page of why the girls were there, no one was baffled or bothered that three random girls were now locked away in their home). Besides the rush job at the end of the movie to show rapid switching, everyone is pretty lucid and together. Very little amnesia, which is odd. Until the end of the movie, which is sucky.
In Frankie and Alice, all throughout the film, Frankie has constant memory problems. She had no idea why she was at a ritzy hotel. She had no idea what her other alters wanted or did. Her own memories were a mystery. This is more accurate of DID.
If you have seen Split, I would strongly recommend watching Frankie and Alice. If there are any questions, put them in the comments. Also, be sure to watch this amazing short film that truly shows what it is like inside the mind of a person with DID, “Inside”, directed by Trevor Sands. I really like the dead-on accuracy of having various types of alters (there’s about 30 types) in this short film.
Where I found this really cool short film is from this informal talk on Dissociative Identity Disorder by vlogger Jessica, who runs vlog Multiplicity and Me below:
Next week, there will be guest writer, Cypress, who will write about her personal experiences with living with DID. Given the subject of this topic, please feel free to use the comment section because this can be one very confusing disorder.