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Schizophrenia, Multiple personalities and imaginary friends

by on November 11, 2012

So I was youtubing the other day and ended up on a sort of mental health related round of videos. I found several documentaries and this one in particular fascinated me: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TlYGivBGYE

It follows a 35 year old woman named Helen who has “Dissociative Identity Disorder”, which means that she sometimes appears to ‘become’ another character or personality. Helen has 7 different personalities excluding herself: William, Adam, Alex, Brenda, Karl, Jamie and Elizabeth. Some of her personalities are friendly and nice, whereas others harm her. When watching the documentary I was struck by just how convincing all of these characters were and how Helen spoke about all of these characters.

I began to think about a point which has arisen in our discussions a few times about the theory that nothing your mind creates is a truly original and that everything is created from something you’ve already seen. Helen’s personalities are all different; different voices, different facial expressions, different attitudes, different roles (in Helen’s “team” of personalities). So where have they come from if we are incapable of creating original ideas? And why?

The documentary goes into some detail about why Helen might have created these personalities. One personality (Brenda) appears rarely, but when she does she provides a small amount of insight into why she exists. She implies that Helen was severely abused as a teenager (when the personalities first appeared) by a Satanic cult. so perhaps the personalities could be a manifestation of her abusers? Or perhaps a version of herself at the time of abuse? (Although this would only work really for Brenda and Elizabeth because all the other personalities are male) 

Another theory is that the Helen was abused but by someone else, in which case one of the personalities could be her abuser, but what about the others? Where have they come from? The final theory put forward is that the personalities came through as a result of therapy, meaning that her therapists may have helped her create these alter-egos as a coping mechanism for some trauma or abuse.

The main consistent theme between these theories is that Helen does not remember being abused (in her childhood or by her personalities) and so it’s impossible to really know ever what these personalities mimick.. 

But in relation to our course… I began to question whether these personalities were a product of mimesis? Or are they simulacra? Or are they neither because they manifest themselves through a “real” person rather than an object? 

According to our ideas about inability to create original ideas, technically, they must be copies of something or someone. But are they a copy of Helen, only she’s acting in a different way? Maybe, they do look just like her, and they do come from inside her. But they are completely different personalities, and if you watch the documentary I think you’ll understand that they’re definitely different to Helen (definitely fits into the realm of the uncanny!), so maybe they’re copies of people she knows, abusers or otherwise. Given she doesn’t remember her abusers, if they are copies of those people, then that would fit in with Freud’s ideas about the subconscious and some of his ideas about using repression as a means of coping with trauma, and suggests her personalities could be a representation of her abusers. However some of her personalities aren’t abusive or unpleasant at all so who are they representations of?

The other option is that they are simulacra and she has created these personalities as an accumulation of various other people and her own mind. But even then, which people did she subconsciously pick to combine together and why? 

The idea of mimesis/simulacra vs an original thought was further complicated when I watched a second documentary about a girl who has schizophrenia and thus sees animals and people who aren’t really there. The interesting thing about this case is that her parents believe that she developed this disease almost at birth, and in fairness to them, some of the home videos they show do make it look like their child has been able to see other things from an incredibly early age. So what was this baby seeing? She didn’t have the same life experience as Helen so are the hallucinations she’s having based on the few people she has seen; parents, relatives, the people in the hospital when she was born? Or has this child created a completely original idea? (She also claims all her hallucinations live in a world which cannot be visited by anyone but her) 

To her, these hallucinations are 100% real and exist around her, and could be considered performing objects, but would they be considered completely original ideas or simulacra or mimesis? Or would they not be considered performing objects at all? Because she’s the only one who sees them? I don’t think so. 

There isn’t really a conclusion that I can come to here, so it’s not a very good post, but I think it’s interesting to consider where these kinds of “imaginary” objects come from, where they fit on the mimesis-simulacra scale or even if they fit at all, and if we even consider something like this is an “object”. I don’t know anything really.

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One Comment
  1. That’s really interesting that you refer to the imaginary people in Helen’s head as “performing objects”. I’d never thought of it like that before, but I suppose, in a way, they are. They aren’t exactly real, but they have some sort of presence, and it’s as if Helen is acting when the imaginary people enter her head. Everyone around her experiences the different people because she behaves differently each time she becomes a different character.

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