Schizophrenia vs. DID

I just saw another TV program that confused schizophrenia with Dissociative Identity Disorder. If you’re creating a character with one or both of these disorders, you’ve got to know the specifics. Unless you want every reader who took Psychology 101 to snicker at your ignorance. So–here’s the nitty-gritty on those diagnoses.

First–“Split personality” is not a psychological term. Yes, the “split” word is used in a number of ways in psychology–too many to discuss here–but not as “split personality.”

People use it as a synonym for schizophrenia. This is a psychotic disorder. Individuals with this diagnosis hear voices and may respond to them,  mumbling and muttering so that people passing them on the street say, “That guy is crazy.” Crazy is not a psychological term either.

In addition to the voices and other auditory hallucinations, they may also see things or misinterpret every day events. Like, the word “grape” on a sign being a disguised threat of “rape.” It may sound amusing, but try living in a world where you can’t distinguish between real and imagined. And it all feels threatening. So threatening, that they may have to defend themselves against grape advertisements or other ominous objects. Kidding aside, it’s a scary world for people with schizophrenia, so DON’T MAKE THEM CEOs  OR COLLEGE PROFESSORS. Or even brilliant masterminds of sinister plots because, although they may distrust everybody, their thought processes are too jumbled to come up with a feasible plan. So don’t do it. Unless you want everyone to think you flunked Psych 101.

Now–DID or Dissociative Identity Disorder. You probably have heard of Multiple Personality, which is the obsolete name for this diagnosis. Persons with DID are NOT psychotic. Due to severe and early trauma, their awareness is divided into a number of separate modes or “alters,” each with specific and unique memories, with walls between that prevent the memories and knowledge from being shared with the others alters. Scratch your head or roll your eyes if you like, but this coping strategy was a brilliant tactic for surviving extreme circumstances without the aid of a protective adult. So they arrive at adulthood with accurate but disconnected memory files.

Think of it this way–When they open one file drawer, they can’t see into the file below it. Each memory “drawer” may take on a distinct personality, perhaps even a different name, continuing to add more memories to that personality–that drawer. Everything in the files is accurate, but if the alter that’s “out” can’t locate a particular file–“Which road gets me to the nearest post office?”– because it’s stored in another drawer, it screws up operations. Say, Dancing Queen nabs the car keys and heads to the bar for a late-nighter, even though Workaholic knows there’s a report due for the mandatory meeting at the office, 7 A.M. sharp,–well, there’s going to be hell to pay. Even so, people with DID know what’s real, they are often bright and certainly creative, and powerhouses of energy. So they can make great CEOs or other high-level professionals. If they could just get all the inside people on the same page.

They are not, typically, criminals, but they could be, if everyone inside agreed to The Plan. Which is not likely to happen. Even if Mean Monster buys the gun, Softie is probably going to drop it in the well.

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Review of All He Ever Wanted: A Novel *****

All He Ever Wanted: A Novel by Anita Shreve is a dark tale of the depths to which a person will go when love is not returned. Set in a conservative college in the early 1900’s, the story conveys the pompous academic flavor of the era, but the pain family members inflict on each other is timeless. Excellent prose and plot. Good depiction of the way an obsession can engulf and alter a person until he loses the very thing he seeks to possess.

This novel is character-driven. From the first pages, we see that the protagonist, who narrates the story, is heading inexorably toward his own destruction. As a psychologist, I wanted fervently to step in and warn him that he was making things worse, he was making things worse! But, of course, he wouldn’t have listened.