"When I came back to myself I'd be exhausted. I never knew where I'd been or what I'd done, so I would have to look for clues, like a bag in the car or leftovers from a restaurant. It was amazing, but I accepted it."—Karen Overhill.
This is what usually happens to a person having alter egos, i.e. several selves, or many personalities in one person. A person behaves as a complete different person in different situations, where he or she has a different name, place of birth and profession for each exclusive situation; he or she forgets the real self and starts acting in the shoes of his or her that personality or ego that emerges as dominant. Scientifically, this is a problematic mental health issue which is called Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) or recently also termed as Dissociative Identity Disorder.
The severity of the illness can be judged from the above referred case where an American woman claims to possess 17 alter egos which she sketches out with the help of a psychiatrist. Each personality has a different age, sex and name and she recognizes each one of them; though whenever she is someone else, other than Ms. Overhill, she remembers nothing of what she does during the phase, after she comes back to normal self.
During a trip to a Las Vegas casino, Ms Overhill's mind "went somewhere else" and was stunned to find the $25 she had arrived with had turned into $2,500, she reported to Daily mail.com.
Generally, DID can be the result of suppressed emotions which may have occurred in a person due to some life term trauma, and this mental ailment is kind of a coping mechanism which a person adopts in order to vent out the drastic effect of the trauma on another personality of herself, and feels safe and secure that she has been exempted of the brutality.
However, this is a kind of denial to recognize the truth that life has been unfair to the person himself and not anyone else, hence it is a disorder.
Karen chooses a range of varied personalities from an 18-year old Sandy who is a depressed teenager to an 11-year old black boy to a 7-year old Claire to escape the clutches of her trauma.
“She had been abused by her father and grandfather during her childhood, starting with physical assaults by her dad when she was just a baby.
The mother-of-two began developing imaginary people aged between two to 34 to bear the brunt of the abuse.
Two-year-old Karen Boo took over when she was attacked as an infant, while seven-year-old Claire was created after Ms Overhill was sexually abused on her Communion Day.”- Daily Mail.
Many of us suffer from some kind of split self-issues, which we generally term as day dreaming. Some of us even converse with our alter egos as if communicating with a real person. These are ways to modify behaviour as we channelize our negative thoughts by speaking out which is healthy actually, however, when the line between reality and illusion blurs, there begins the problem.
Diagnosis of MPD is yet a challenge for mental health practitioners as it is difficult to recognize whether a person is suffering from the problem unless he or she admits to be so. Usually, a person with dissociative identities puts all their intelligence in hiding the problem as a matter of social acceptance; they put up a smart attire and attitude which cannot be penetrated to reality.
However, the common symptoms are-
- Presence of two or more personality traits in one person.
- Forgetfulness, that is inability to recall basic information like name, address, family etc. quite often.
- Variation in the span of memory, which means a single event doesn’t remain registered in the brain for a long time.
- As each personality reveals itself and controls the individuals' behaviour and thoughts, it's called "switching." Switching can take seconds to minutes to days.
Hypnosis can quite often bring out the alter egos in a person, and one responds adequately to the queries of the therapist, which may help in resolving the issue. A problem once identified can be cured.
More of awareness is required though our nation is quickly progressing towards such mental health issues. We still can’t forget the devouring #Majulika of the psycho-horror comedy #BhoolBhulaiyaa where an educated young woman possesses the challenges of being in split personalities because of her deep interest in the myriad world of stories.
Treatment is a complicated process. It may take several years or it can take just a moment to get a person out of his world of illusions. The earlier the case is correctly diagnosed, the easier the treatment becomes.
Helping the identities to be aware of one another as legitimate parts of the self and to negotiate and resolve their conflicts is at the very core of the therapeutic process. It is counter-therapeutic for the therapist to treat any alternate identity as if it were more “real” or more important than any other. The therapist should not “play favourites” among the alternate identities or exclude apparently unlikable or disruptive ones from the therapy (such steps may be necessary for a limited period of time at some stages in the treatment of some patients to provide for the safety and stability of the patient or the safety of others)- Journal of Trauma and Dissociation puts it.
Validation of patient’s childhood memories is important here. The root-cause analysis is important before any medical treatment.
A number of professional societies have issued statements concerning recovered memories of abuse (American Psychiatric Association, 1993, 2000b; American Psychological Association, 1994, 1996; Australian Psychological Association, 1994; British Psychological Society, 1995). These reports have all concluded that it is possible for accurate memories of abuse to have been forgotten for a long time, only to be remembered much later in life.
However, mental health is roughly disturbed with a problem like DID and the faster a person gets a vent to express his sub-conscious, the quicker he or she can recover. Family and friends can play a major role in curing the person. Society generally tags such illness with superstitious beliefs like spirit possession, bhoot-pret ka saya etc. and hence patients fear to take medical help. If we remove the taboos and fear from society regarding mental health issues, the earth will be a much better place to live with healthy minds.