A Theological Analysis of DID
Kenneth A. Copley Ph.D
I propose to review a form of dissociation called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I will review the basic concept of dissociation; the nature and origin of DID, and define personality and related terms. I will focus on the questions relating to the reality of DID and how it is to be understood in terms of theological anthropology. I will conclude by looking very briefly at two related questions: What is the relationship between alternate personalities and demons, and what does conversation mean when there are different personalities?
The most extreme form of dissociation occurs as a result of extended, severe trauma in early childhood. In order to survive the terrible abuse, she (about 9 females for every male) encapsulates the horrible memories. As the child compartmentalizes her life, each compartment has its own history of experience, values, and typical behaviors. These compartments become separate identity states. A second (and usually third, fourth, etc.) identity state or personality is thereby created by the child to manage the trauma. The memories of the abuse, with the hideously scarring effects, are held by the personality designated to contain it. This leaves the original personality untouched by the abuse so that it functions in a relatively normal way. The result is one person with multiple personalities, behavior patterns and values.
I believe that in His magnificent design, God made humans so that they can delay processing trauma until it is safe to do so. However, DID’s must process stored memories as amnesiac barriers erode. Storing them is like putting toxic waste in a garage, covering the smell with deodorizing spray and hosing down the sludge as it leaks under the door. No matter how foul the mess, one must open the door and begin the process of cleaning it out.
Basic Vocabulary of DID
The secondary personalities are termed alternate personalities or alters ( I like the term parts). The formation of personalities is called splitting. Exchange of executive control of the body and behavior between personalities is called switching. The personality who has primary responsibility to interact with the normal world is called the host or executive personality. The complex of personalities is called the system. When abuse is systematic and related to religious or cultic worship ceremonies in order to establish mind control over a victim, it is called ritual abuse. When the religion is Satanism, it is called satanic ritual abuse (SRA). The mind control from ritual abuse is called programming.
The essential characteristic of DID according to DSM-III-R is the concurrent existence of two or more personal identities, personalities, or ego states. DID’s manifest alternating separate identities and episodes of amnesia or time distortion. Following this conception, the DSM-III-R gives two diagnostic criteria for DID:
1. The existence within the person of two or more distinct personalities or personality states (each with its own relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and self).
2. At least two of these personalities or personality states recurrently take full control of the person’s behavior.
Current discussions in the literature find these criteria are too simplistic. Usually there is not a single personality in complete control working independent of others in the system. The situation is more like a family with complex interactions than a sequence of separate personalities. At times a single personality may be unilaterally in control. At other instances, control may be the result of complex interactions of a number of personalities. At other times, a rapid succession of separate personalities may exert control for brief moments.
I find it helpful to think of a family situation with one member on the telephone and the others having differing levels of involvement in the conversation (like coconscious personalities), some are at other places in the room, aware of the conversation and throwing in their own comments to the one on the telephone. Other members of the family are not even in the room, totally uninvolved in the situation (like those who have amnesic barriers).
It is important to note that DID’s are not psychotic. They are virtually always in touch with reality and interact with it successfully. However, the amnesiac barriers may mean that individual parts are unaware of events that happen to the person, making it seem that they have lost touch. Since many DID’s work very hard to protect the fact of their multiplicity, they will go to great lengths to cover up their amnesia, leading to some confusing assertions as a part tries to deal with a missing memory held by another part.
Origin of DID
Did is thought to originate as a dissociative method of coping with and surviving devastating trauma. Under the trauma of severe abuse, a child prone to dissociation might create an alter personality to be the victim of the abuse, to encapsulate the abuse experiences and to protect the host’s amnesia for it. DID does not arise from a childhood spanking. It takes extended abuse or extreme trauma to bring about a dissociative splitting in the mind. The child may create a complex system of alter personalities to contain the pain, anger, and memories.
DID is almost exclusively linked to childhood abuse. One study reports that 97% of DID patients were victims of severe, chronic childhood sexual and /or physical abuse, neglect, loss, or change of caretakers. Another reports 95% of DID patients have had sexual abuse (90%) or physical abuse (82%) or both. The average duration was ten years with multiple perpetrators.
Alters are created by the original personality who names them and gives them their function in the system. They have names that range from personal names, to titles describing their function or role in the system. The original personality knows all the alters because she created them. She can learn to call them to herself as she gains knowledge and control of her system.
Once splitting is successfully adopted as a protective system and the first alters are created to deal with the terrors of abuse, it may be utilized as a means to deal with less severe difficulties. The result may be a wide range of personalities of widely varying kinds. Multiples frequently have personalities of both genders and of widely varying ages depending on the reason for their creation. A girl may create a personality who replaces an absent big brother or father. Many personalities are child alters who never grow up. Some may age normally, or even more quickly than normal. There is often grouping of personalities around the events of a major trauma when they were created. Punitive personalities might be formed through identity with the abuser. They will fulfill the belief that the person is bad and must be punished or die. Protector alters may be developed to cope with the failure of the child’s care givers. Such alters may have varying forms. For example, a protector personality could be a lion.
Some personalities may be relatively autonomous personalities as they interact with circumstances of life. They have fairly full histories of life experiences with a variety of behavioral and emotional responses. Others might be fragmentary, dealing with only limited situations and thus have a limited set of experiences and responses. The relationship between alters can be quite complicated. Within the same system, some alters will be wholly unaware of any other alters. The amnesic barriers formed to protect the person remain intact. In that same system, some alters are aware of some others while amnesic to yet others.
Definition of Personality in DID
Multiples deal with conflicting experiences by compartmentalizing them into separate psychic entities or ego states usually called personalities. Because personality is such a broad term, considerable confusion arises from its use, especially if the term is used popularly. For example, if one logically connects “personality” with “person”, then believing multiples are like the Trinity, many persons in one essence. Such misunderstandings come from lack of care in definition and terminology rather than from DID itself.
Correct understanding of DID depends heavily on understanding the meaning of personality and person and the relation between these two concepts. The difficulty of distinguishing them is compounded by the fact that virtually all of our experiences are of a single personality as the grid for a single person.
A PERSON (sometimes used interchangeably with a self) is a morally significant being, a potential bearer of rights and obligations. Modern theory focuses on “activity, seeing persons as responsible agents whose decisions reflect values or caring concerns.” The central aspects of person involve self-awareness, freedom, and moral responsibility. A person has a quality of self-transcendence so that it can stand apart from itself and enter into dialogue with itself. It is common to ascribe faculties of mind, will, and emotions to the person.
Webster defines personality technically as the habitual patterns and qualities of behavior of any individual as expressed by physical and mental activities and attitudes. According to the DSM-III-R personality is “a relatively enduring pattern of perceiving, relating to, and thinking about the environment and one’s self that is exhibited in a wide range of important social and personal contexts.” Personality includes memories, behavior patterns, and social relationships. It must have a range of functions, emotional responses, and a significant range of life experiences.
When one begins to differentiate between personality and person difficulties abound. They are so linked that they are virtually indistinguishable in our normal experience. I offer the following framework tentatively, but it is one that has helped me understand the phenomena of DID.
Personality is the distinctive individual qualities and characteristics that filter and define the patterns of behavior of the person. Will, mind, conscience are relatively neutral faculties of the person that incline in certain directions depending on the prevailing disposition of the personality. A godly character, a part of the personality, brings a person to choose to obey God while a carnal character will make a person to choose self-serving behaviors. For example, if one has a melancholic personality, no one is surprised when he exercises his will to express sadness or depression. People who are survivors of traumatic childhood sexual abuse will have terror written into their personality structures. The emotional capacity of their person will be expressed quite differently than one with a personality developed in a loving environment. Personality is the latent structure of values, preferences, characteristics, experiences, which causes the behavior of the person to choose with a relatively consistent pattern from situation to situation and from time to time. Personality makes persons recognizable as individuals.
When one person is expressed through multiple personalities with different values, memories of experiences, behavior patterns and emotional responses, the faculties of the person (mind, will, conscience, etc.) will be expressed quite differently as the personalities switch. The basic choice will change significantly when the adult host gives experiences into which the experience of a current incident is integrated may be wholly different depending upon which personality experiences the event.
Reality of DID
Is DID ever real? One must distinguish between the overall possibility of DID and an actual diagnosis in the case of a particular person, of course. The existence of multiplicity does not mean that everyone who claims DID is in fact a multiple.
Many are reticent to affirm the reality even the possibility of DID because it sounds no bizarre and because some fraudulently claim DID as an excuse of aberrant behavior. For Christians, the fact that the Bible does not speak directly of multiplicity is another reason for denial. We will look at each of these points.
Multiplicity does indeed sound bizarre. The existence of separate identity states or personalities within one person stretches credulity. How can one person have adult and child, male and female, Christian and non-Christian personalities all rising from one person with one mind, and heart?
If multiplicity does sound bizarre, we must remember that it results from bizarre life experiences. Multiplicity occurs only when the most extreme abuse is inflicted on very young children who are also unusually creative and intelligent. My experience is that people who have difficulty believing multiplicity also have difficulty believing that any human could inflict that sort of extreme abuse on an infant.
Many Christians reject the reality of DID because it is not mentioned in the Bible. They base their argument on the fact that Scripture is the only fully trustworthy source of information about the origin, nature, and salvation of our world. No evangelical will dispute the basis of this argument. However that does not mean the argument is correct.
While it is true that the Bible is the only inerrant source of information about our world it does not mean that it is the only source of knowledge. If our knowledge were limited to what the Bible describes, we would know nothing about computers or cancer. We would be ignorant of mental retardation. There would not be Down’s syndrome babies and no one wandering the streets of our cities with schizophrenia. There would be no childhood sexual abuse and its terrible emotional scars.
We believe all these maladies to be real and extend God’s help and healing to people afflicted with them. We believe them because we interact wisely with a world damaged by sin on the basis of our experience interpreted by biblical principles.
Those who argue a “Bible only” or a “Bible and Spirit only” approach to life fail to adhere to the Bible’s own standard for success. Their criteria cannot deal with the everyday phenomena such as that described above. The Bible does not give us sufficient information to deal with the complex and changing affairs of life. It is clear that the “Bible only” criteria is too simplistic. To deny the data of experience would be as foolish as denying the data of Scripture.
In fact, virtually everyone affirms the reality of such extra-Biblical phenomena as cancer and depression because the data of experience reliably confirms its reality to ordinary people.
This leads me to believe that more often people deny the reality of DID because they have no reliable experience of it rather than because the Bible does not speak of it. They find claims of mental states with separate identities literally incredible.
People tell me they believe in cancer and depression because of empirical data supporting it. They ask me how one can verify mental states which drastically exceed one’s own personal experience. They say, “Show me empirically verifiable hard data and I’ll believe it.”
First of all, we must remember that no Christian should be limited to a purely empirical standard. If so, one could net believe in regeneration or the Holy Spirit! Pure empiricism fails as a Christian standard of knowledge or verification. The relevant question concerns the amount and kind of data supporting the reality of multiplicity.
Verifying DID is akin to verifying depression or happiness. Both are mental states that that cannot be verified or measured empirically. We believe people who claim such mental states because the states have behavioral impact that can be measured. We look for consistency of claim and behavior. We are skeptical when there is self-serving motive or when there is inconsistency of patterns of behavior or when there is no adequate cause for the claimed mental state. I suggest that we apply similar standards to verifying multiplicity.
The reality of DID is supported by physiological evidence. When the multiple switches, there may be verifiable differences in physiology, neurology, and immune system characteristics. The DSM-III-R summarizes studies that show “that various personalities in the same person may have different physiologic characteristics and different responses to psychological tests. Different personalities may, for example, have different eyeglass prescriptions, different responses to the same medication, and different IQs.”
At times physiological differences can be quite dramatic. A friend of mine measured a multiple for a dress when the adult host personality was out. A few days later she did a second set of measurements when a child alter was out. Upon comparing them, she discovered substantial differences in the measurements. For example, the waist to floor measurement was different by almost two inches. Later she measured a third time when the first alter was in control of the body and found that they matched the first set of measurements. Upon reviewing them, she discovered that the first set of measurements were typical of a woman’s body shape while the second were more typical of a child’s.
Multiples I know have substantially different reactions to various medications depending on who is out. A certain dosage of an anti-depressant is quite sufficient for an adult alter but overwhelming for a child alter. Food allergies change as switching occurs. Artistic or intellectual abilities vary markedly among alters. Different alters have recognizably distinct facial features, styles of walking, gestures and body language. Handwriting changes in slant, letters styles, spacing, the way the hand is held along with the sorts of changes in vocabulary and spelling are such that one would expect between different personalities. Different alters maintain these sorts of distinctly identifiable external personality characteristics over long periods of time.
The challenge to fake so many different individual differences in so many spheres of life, keeping them distinct from one personality to another and maintaining them over a time period of years without being detected as fraudulent would be a daunting challenge. For example I have challenged people consciously to alter their handwriting or body language. Most fail totally. Even accomplished actors are quite unable to sustain the consistency of personality difference for long periods of everyday life common in a multiple.
One may say this is all in the mind. Of course that is exactly the point. Multiplicity is a mind dissociated from itself, thus the name Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Others deny DID because of fraudulent claims of multiplicity. I fully agree that there are some malingerers who try to win sympathy for their supposed problem. However, most multiples refuse to publicize the fact. Thy are characterized by secretiveness, suppression, and denial even to themselves. One report found 94% of multiples try to hide, deny, or dissimulate their condition rather than dramatize or exploit it. The therapeutic process of remembering and recounting the severe abuse is excruciatingly painful; making it unlikely that there is reasonable secondary gain necessary for sustained malingering. One multiple put it like this: “Trust me, survivors do not receive positive attention for being a multiple. Anyone who fakes it would be setting themselves up for a lot of rejection.”
I have known people who pretended to be multiple. Their “switches” were not distinct. For example, child personalities would have recognizable adult characteristics. Their “parts” did not have consistent personality characteristics. Their supposed multiplicity was self-serving. When their sham failed to achieve their goals of sympathy and extra favors, the “multiplicity” disappeared in a fake integration. One key I have observed is that where real multiples tend to be wary about letting others know about their multiplicity while those who eventually are proved to be faking multiplicity bring it up quickly and appear to be trying to prove they are multiple.
Those who deny multiplicity unwittingly cooperate with the evil that gave rise to the multiplicity in the first place by furthering the conspiracy of secrecy that forms a strong barrier to dealing with the problems that our Lord would like to heal. The sad irony is that DID has a good treatment prognosis, but only if it is properly diagnosed and treated.
How Does One Understand DID Theologically?
Theologically, I understand multiplicity to be a disturbance in the soul, including the mind and the emotions, where the soul became divided from itself. Thus I understand multiplicity to be a dividedness of personality or identity state resulting from dissociative response to extreme extended trauma where experiences are processed as belonging to separate identities with walls of amnesia built to protect the core or birth personality from the effects of the abuse. I have already discussed the definitions of person and personality and how I believe personality is the grid that causes the faculties of our person to be expressed in typical ways. When the personality is divided, the typical values, behavior patterns, allegiances, memories, etc. that shape the expression of the faculties of the person differ markedly.
Many argue that the Bible never speaks to dividedness in the mind, heart, or soul. That argument is mistaken. Although Scripture does not speak of multiplicity, it does speak of a dividedness of soul or heart. In Psalm 12:2 hypocrisy is described as having a double heart. Hypocrites speak words they do not mean as contrasted with the Lord whose words are pure. We find the contrasting faithfulness of an undivided heart in I Chronicles 12:33 where men from Zebulon who helped David in war are described as not having a double heart. In the Hebrew, the double heart is literally having a heart and a heart, leb valeb. A word study in the Hebrew word for heart, leb, shows us that the heart is the seat of the understanding, the feelings, the character, and the will. In other words, it is the seat of the personality, which determines the directions of a person’s choices and conduct. Thus a person with a divided heart cannot be trusted because their choices are not predictable. Because the seat of their personality is divided, their will is divided.
James 1:8; 4:8 speaks of people who are double souled (dipsychos). While all the English versions translate psychos in this passage as mind, the word is literally soul. In other places psychos in translated into English as life (e.g., Rom 11:3; 16:4; Phil. 2:30; 1 Thess. 2:8), person (e.g., Lev. 7:21; 17:12; Ezek. 4:14; Rom. 13:1), or heart (e.g., Eph. 6:6; Col. 3:23) as well as soul (e.g., Matt. 10:28). Biblically, a soul is the source of emotions, the mind, the will, and moral action. It refers to the personality as well as mind or will. The double souled person has divided motives, a divided mind, divided will, divided emotions, and therefore unstable so long as that condition persists. Peter Davids comments on this term uses language surprisingly similar to multiplicity: “If a person’s mind is split and he or she really does not know whom to trust, one can hardly have confidence in such a person.”
I find it fascinating that the dividedness in James 4:8 is in the context of resisting the devil. Since much of multiplicity develops in a context of ritual abuse, the connection is particularly apropos.
Another example of dividedness is Romans 7, where Paul finds two totally different impulses in himself. One is committed to godliness, the other to sin. As the chapter comes to a close he cries out, “who will deliver me from this body of death?” The picture he uses is the torture of the day where a living person would be tied to a dead body and left with his senses overwhelmed by the terrible presence of death. That picture is not unlike that of the multiple whose “good” day personality has to deal with the presence of a “dirty” night personality.
A final example of dividedness occurs in 2 Cor. 10:3-6 where Paul speaks of fortresses of unbelief that raise arguments, thoughts, plans, pretensions, speculations, and other lies in order to hold out against the truth of God. He is speaking of sinful thought patterns, mental structures that lead to rebellion against God. The pretensions are laden with sinful doubts, patterns of skepticism, condescending cynicism which refuse to submit to the truth of God’s Word or the leading of God’s Spirit. These thought patterns are described in Romans 1:28-32 (Paul uses the same word in Romans 1:21) as wicked, evil, greedy, envy, gossip, slanderous, insolent, arrogant, senseless, heartless, ruthless, and the like. They must be torn down in order to move to godly maturity.
Even though these Scriptural examples of dividedness do not refer to multiplicity, the phenomena in multiplicity are quite similar. Trauma has divided the mind, the heart and the soul with its understanding, feelings, its character, and will so that one finds very different personality traits depending on which part is up.
What are the Relationships Between Alternate Personalities and Demons?
Demon possession is one case where there is no Biblical doubt of multiplicity. However, the differences far outweigh the similarities. In he case of possession we have multiple persons, one human, and one or more demonic, rather than dividedness in a single person. We do see switching because the demonic person and its personality overwhelm the human person and its personality.
The relation of human personalities and demonic personalities can be extremely complex, especially when multiplicity comes form circumstances involving overt occultism and satanic ritual abuse. James Friesen gave initial guidelines that I have adapted in the following chart:
Personality Demon Part of the system Not part of the system Learn Don’t learn Has personality Lacks personality Fear can be alleviated High degree of fear generation Can respond to love/understandingPersistently evil
Initially may be very hostile, Persistently hostile to Christ
but can respond to Christ
I am very careful about identification of personalities as demonic because I find that hostile, angry alters may adopt very demonic appearances in order to do their job of protection or persecution. One multiple had and internal personality with a history older than the body. This was combined with a deep hostility to Christ and had quite a traumatic impact on the system. The personality was identified as a demon by an experienced Christian therapist and strongly Christian multiple. However, there were other factors, primarily an episodic responsiveness that led us to move carefully. As it turned out, the personality was an alter created in a deadly satanic ceremony. It was deliberately associated with a demon which gave the alter that apparently older personality history. Once that distinction was mad, the demon had to leave and the alter has become a firmly supportive part of the system.
Attempts to do exorcism on alter personalities causes substantial damage in he system of a multiple. Imagine yourself the survivor of repeated life threatening attacks (as angry alters usually are) and being told you are an evil demon who deserves to be in hell for all eternity. It takes little imagination to see why this would bring traumatic effects to the alter and probably the whole system.
Those who deal with multiplicity need to be aware of the impact of programming on a personality. In some cases certain types of programs can take on characteristics so that they seem to be personalities. This is particularly true in medical experimentation types of abuse. I have included an article chronicling common programs observed in ritual abuse.
What does Conversion mean when there are Different Personalities, not all of whom Accept Christ?
First we need to note that salvation is complex in all of us. We often think of the point of conversion and call that salvation. We identify salvation with praying a prayer, but that usually is not the whole of it. Salvation is a life-long process where fortresses of doubt and unbelief persist long after the central part of a person is committed to Christ. The renewal of the mind, the restoration of the Christ-like personality, is a never-ending process.
If we assume the reality of DID, then there are separate values, allegiances, assumptions about reality and life goals. If that is true, it is not a long leap at all to believe that in some of the identity states there would be refusal to commit to the lordship of Christ. A key point is the amnesic relation. The other personalities may know nothing of Christianity. What I find is that the process of “conversion” of the non-Christian personalities is relatively easy once the core personality comes to Christ. Rather than “conversion” I say they are making their own confession of Christ. There is only one name written down in heaven. Be careful not to use the term salvation or leading another alter to Christ. The Christian world struggles greatly with the concept of DID. We don’t want to discourage them by using faulty or misleading terminology. As therapy progresses, the process gets even easier because the relation between the core personality and the other personalities opens up and becomes more positive as barriers break down and the core nurtures her parts. Our role is to nurture/cultivate spirituality in any person. We do that in multiples in different ways but he process is similar in kind.
Used with permission of the author