Mental Health Law

Dissociative Identity Disorder and the Functions of Criminal Law Shawn Crowley

“Having multiple personalities is like hosting a kegger in your brain, only you’re passed out cold while everyone else is trashing the joint.” - Tara, The United States of Tara

Introduction Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder, has been increasingly portrayed in popular culture over the past several decades. Despite its rare occurrence in real life1, it has been repeatedly depicted in books, movies and television shows. From the 1976 book-turned-movie, Sybil, the story of a psychiatrist treating and eventually curing a lifelong sufferer of the disorder2, to Fight Club, the 1996 hit film featuring a shy protagonist and his aggressive alter personality3, to the present day comedy United States of Tara, which chronicles the life of a mother and wife dealing with DID, the American public has remained fascinated with the disorder and how it plays out in “real” life.4 This fascination is not surprising- understanding DID involves opening one’s mind to a completely new concept of personhood. Those who suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder essentially house many “persons” within themselves. They can switch from one “person” to another instantaneously, and the differences between them can be dramatic. The protagonist in

See Brad Foote et al., Prevalence of Dissociative Disorders in Psychiatric Outpatients, 163 AM. J. PSYCHIATRY 623 (2006); Richard P. Kluft, Current Issues in Dissociative Identity Disorder, 1 BRIDGING EASTERN AND WESTERN PSYCHIATRY 71 (2003) 2 SYBIL (CBS 1976) 3 FIGHT CLUB (Fox 2000 Pictures 1999). 4 The United States of Tara (Showtime television broadcast)


the United States of Tara switches from a suburban homemaker named Alice, to a promiscuous 15-year-old called “T,” to crude and lewd-mouthed Buck, all in the course of one day. If this disorder is real (which is still a subject of debate within the mental...