Dissociative Identity Disorder: The Portrayal of Hollywood vs Reality
Written By: San Jula Bhatnagar
Whether you are a psychological thriller junkie or scared of anything surrounding the
other side of sanity, we all know the premise of a psychological thriller. The average person
goes about their day then suddenly, they are trapped in a basement, their stalker from 10
years ago messages them something eerie, or they, themselves are experiencing something
very sinister. Hollywood is known to exaggerate topics and tropes surrounding mental
disorders and illnesses, however, how far is too far?
In the 2016 movie Split, starring James McAvoy as the main antagonist Kevin
Wendell Crumb and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, this movie explores the mental
disorder called dissociative identity disorder, known as DID. If you have seen the movie
Split, then you can assume how extreme they characterized this disorder. The Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition states DID as, “dissociative identity
disorder (DID) is described as a disruption of identity characterized by two or more distinct
personality states or an experience of possession” (American Psychiatric Association).
In simpler terms, an individual is experiencing split personalities where they can alter
their identity which will change how you will perceive them. This disorder is trauma-based.
People who have suffered severe childhood trauma, such as sexually, physically, and
emotionally can be at risk for DID. Adults who have suffered overwhelming stress and
trauma in their childhood develop DID to cope with the trauma. DID being triggered within
these adults is a psychological response to interpersonal and environmental stressors.
Dissociative identity disorder’s relations to trauma symptoms are memory loss, sense of
identity, the way the world is perceived, and the connection to their physical body. DID
develops within a person by presenting amnesia, detachment of themselves and their
emotions, distorted of the world around them, and a blurred identity. People suffering from
DID struggle with depression, mood swings, and trust issues in relationships.
In Split, the main antagonist Kevin Wendell Crumb is suffering from DID and is
experiencing 24 split personalities which alter his identity throughout the day. Kevin is
experiencing constant disruptions of his identity throughout the day due to his personalities
clashing together. The symptoms he displays are paranoia, memory loss, anxiety, suicidal
tendencies, and delusions. As he undergoes another personality his identity completely
changes, how you perceived him before is unrecognizable now.
Regarding DID as a disorder, this movie overexaggerates how a person suffers from
dissociative identity disorder. The movie covered how disruptive and remarkably high
maintenance this disorder is; however, the actions are a complete misconception. Due to the
lack of coverage DID gets, many people are unaware of this disorder and may feel to
overgeneralize this disorder after seeing this movie. The audience may feel people suffering
from DID are a threat to society and need to be institutionalized. They may feel DID is this
supernatural unknown condition where it becomes monstrous. Dissociative Identity Disorder
is purely a disorder where an individual is suffering from many personalities which alter their
Diverse types of treatment for people suffering with DID include psychotherapy,
cognitive behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, and dialectical
behavioral therapy. Types of resources for people suffering with DID include psychotherapy,
in-patient hospital visits, and medication. Psychotherapy involves talking to your therapist
about your disorder and your issues, which can help understand why you dissociate and give
you ways to cope with DID. In-patient hospital settings are more clinical and effective if your
symptoms are very severe. The types of medication which control symptoms of DID are
antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and antipsychotic drugs.
If you or a loved one is suffering from DID, here are some steps you can take to
support yourself and your loved ones. Working with a trained profession to address your trauma and symptoms in a clinical setting is important. Working through painful memories within a supportive environment will give you clarity on what is exactly happening to you. Do not push yourself to expect quicker results. Trauma-focused work is a gradual process. Your mind is the key reminder of how strong you are and the pace you should be at in the healing process. Building trust with your caretaker is important for adapting to new coping methods, not forcing yourself and being at ease will help jumpstart the healing process naturally.