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Watching 'Split' as a Person with Dissociative Identity Disorder

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After seeing the first trailer of “Split” I have been sure that this movie wasn’t good news for those with dissociative identity disorder (DID) and mental illness in general.

This is to the people who claim this is “just a movie.”

It’s not. It’s misinformation. It’s fear-mongering. It’s discriminatory and stigmatizing.

DID is a severe dissociative disorder caused by chronic trauma in early childhood. The trauma can take many forms but is often sexual, emotional, physical or ritual abuse (sometimes a combination of these). This trauma interrupts the child’s normal development, meaning that the identity is split into dissociated pieces which form into alternate personalities (or alters) to cope with the overwhelming trauma, which the child may not have otherwise survived.

Kevin’s therapist seemed like the movie’s one saving grace, but unfortunately, even her character was taken too far. She gave facts about DID right at the beginning and was trying to raise awareness of DID, using examples of particular alters having different physical issues. It is based in truth.

But they had to take it one step further and she said an alter’s sight had returned because they believed it had. Basically, they were saying that “the beast” actually is an animal who preys on young girls and is super strong because the other alters believed in it.

The character is a villain because of his DID. He is a predator.

People with DID are survivors of unspeakable childhood trauma – to then be tarred with the same brush as this kind of predator is truly insulting and disrespectful.

While I hope that most people who see this movie will have the sense to realize this is obviously not an accurate portrayal of DID, it is the latest in a long line of movies that make mental illness scary and dangerous. People with DID, with mental illness in general, are more likely to hurt themselves than other people.

M. Night Shyamalan made a point of mentioning DID by name, in the trailers, the film, interviews and other media appearances. He could have made up a condition for entertainment purpose, a fictitious one, as this is meant to be fiction. Instead, he used an established mental illness that thousands of people struggle with on a daily basis.

A few of the times Kevin switched on screen he literally changed his clothes. We don’t have huge wardrobe changes every time we switch. When “the beast” finally fronted there was a scene where he climbed up a wall and if it wasn’t for how damaging this movie is it would have been laughable. It was just ridiculous.

DID is already considered a “controversial” diagnosis, despite being medically recognized all over the world. Stigma like this movie has a severe negative impact. There are tons of other movies that depict mental illness in damaging ways. We’re focusing on this one because it’s something we’re affected by every day.

I have been diagnosed with DID. The diagnosis has been confirmed by at least three psychiatrists. We have been admitted to psychiatric wards all over the country I think 12 times now. We have been admitted to a general hospital for treatment after alters have tried to end our lives. We are covered in self-inflicted scars. This is personal obviously and there are some very functional DID systems out there, don’t get me wrong, but any dangerous feelings we have we turn in on ourselves, we don’t hurt other people. This disorder prevents me from working and means I have to have a carer with me 24/7 for our safety.

DID is a mental disorder, after all — it’s not a joke or some twist in horror movies.

One part of the film that really upset me was when his therapist was killed. DID is recognized by professionals but there is no denying resources and just basic training is severely lacking in most parts of the world. Even within the medical community people are divided about the validity of DID. Who is going to want to try and work with these “scary” DID systems?

To say films like “Split” are “just a movie” or saying they “don’t hurt anyone” couldn’t be further from the truth.

Using myself as an example again, I was admitted to one psychiatric ward where the psychiatrist immediately picked up on our DID diagnosis and said DID doesn’t exist. He told me I was “clearly disturbed” and lying for attention because I didn’t get enough as a child. He literally said that DID is “the stuff of Hollywood movies.”

Now try and tell me it’s just a movie that has no real world implications. It is also not just uneducated people who are affected by stigma.

“Split” makes it terrifying for individuals pre-diagnosis to ask for help. This could result in the death of innocent people — innocent child abuse survivors.

“Split” makes it terrifying to be diagnosed and think that you’re as bad as the character M. Night Shyamalan created.

“Split” makes it terrifying to disclose your diagnosis to family, friends, co-workers, potential employers etc.

To those with DID (and other mental illness): this movie does not reflect who we are. We aren’t monsters, we are survivors and the world needs to see that.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

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Image via “Split” Facebook page

Originally published: February 27, 2017
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