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Spoiler Alert: Toward the end of the hit movie Split it is revealed that the main character, whose real name is Kevin Wendell Crumb, suffered a series of traumas from an abusive mother. In response, he developed multiple personalities, receiving a diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder. One primary identity takes completely over and the man that is Kevin is hidden away. Quite fantastically in the sense of fantasy, the movie creates over 20 alter identities that take control of Kevin’s life. Most of the movie is remarkably inaccurate. However, one truth about the movie is worth examining: Dissociative Identity Disorder can be a result of significant trauma.

Dissociation is a common occurrence during trauma, particularly trauma that is chronically repeated. In the height of a traumatic moment, the brain dissociates, disconnecting from itself and the harsh reality of the current situation. Essentially “checking out”, the brain shuts part of itself down and creates a blockage. One way to imagine this is like a small sector of blocks in a city landscape suddenly going dark. Trauma is often an inescapable situation over which one feels they have little control. Unable to get out on their own, an individual’s brain may decide to get out itself by completely shutting down, creating an internal escape. Within this “blacked out” part of the brain, all of the memories, feelings, sensations, and thoughts about the traumatic event are stored away. When people speak without education on trauma and tell someone, “You don’t act like you’ve been through trauma” what they are actually witnessing is this component of dissociation. Creating alternate identities is the result of dissociation that is ongoing after the traumatic incidents have ceased to exist in an individual’s life. The more and more the brain is compartmentalized, the more adapted to being compartmentalized it becomes. As a result, the brain starts to develop different versions of itself through different identities. Different from forms of schizophrenia which might include unwanted voices, someone with DID is usually aware of their different selves and understands their roles. Shifting from one personality to the next is usually involuntary, called “switching” or can be induced.

Often, treating trauma directly can help resolve the different states of different personalities. Recognizing where the need for dissociation comes from and carefully working through the original trauma, the dissociative episodes can be changed and the mind can de-compartmentalize, slowly.