Top 10 Movie Characters Who Suffer from Dissociative Identity Disorder (Split Personality)

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Our minds allow us to interpret what we perceive externally, yet there is still so much left unexplained about the mind itself.  If it is true we only use a fraction of our total brain capacity, what exactly is left untapped?  While a lot is yet to be uncovered, we already have a pretty impressive list of the mind’s abilities and defects.  And there are a lot of defects.  One in particular, regardless of how uncommon it is in actuality, comes up time and again in film. It is dissociative identity disorder, also known as multiple (or split) personality disorder.  Here are ten film characters who suffer from the very disorder, often for our amusement:

10. Charlie Baileygates/Hank Evans (Me, Myself, and Irene)

On a lighter note, Jim Carrey‘s character Charlie Baileygates morphs into alter ego Hank Evans as a self-defense mechanism.  Extremely assertive, and inappropriately so, his confrontational alternate provides an outlet for what Charlie is too feeble to express himself.

9. Bruce Banner (The Hulk)

The Hulk was originally a comic, but it has been adapted to every visual medium imaginable several times over,  and given two film treatments in the last decade alone (the latter replenishing the badassery the Ang Lee version kept to a tasteful minimum).  The original character is part Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, at least according to co-creator Stan Lee, and the themes are all the same- a scientist who transforms into an uninhibited, id-guided monster.  But outside of fantastical terms, and in more clinical ones, what the scientist Bruce Banner faces is a case of split personality disorder, where he becomes someone (or something, rather) else, which acts as a conduit for all his repressed feelings.  And while some may do nefarious things in a subhuman state, the Hulk is kind of heroic.  That is when he’s not recklessly laying cities to waste.

8. Teddy Daniels (Shutter Island)

SPOILER ALERT (-editor)

A familiar trope for a psychological thriller, Martin Scorcese’s take on the genre puts a federal marshal on an island-turned-mental hospital to solve a murder.  What he learns along the way is that there’s more to the case than he himself realizes, mostly because his case is one big repressed memory. He is actually himself a patient, relapsing into his former lifestyle prior to an event that induced his psychotic break, being the drowning of his own children by his insane wife (who he shot and killed upon the horrific discovery).  This, of course, is only revealed at the end, when we’ve already been exposed to enough nonsense to be skeptical.  The plot parallels in many ways films like Gothika and Hide and Seek, which both feature lead characters that would feel very at home on this list.  Or in a straight jacket.

7. Malcolm Rivers (Identity)

SPOILER ALERT

The afflicted character is being evaluated to see whether or not the murders he committed were by one of his several personalities.  Each personality occupies a room in the motel inside his head,  and one of them is a killer, killing off the rest of the personalities one at a time.  The movie we watch is in fact just a metaphor for what is going on with Malcolm as he attempts to consolidate his multiple personalities into a single one. When that single personality is that of a child, all is well until we learn, via Hitchcockian ending, that the child was the killer all along.

6. Mort Rainey (Secret Window)

SPOILER ALERT

Johnny Depp plays crazy as literally as possible in this film based on a Stephen King novella.  He is harassed by one John Shooter, played by John Turturro, and accused of plagiarism.  As several people and a dog wind up stabbed with a screwdriver, it seems he is quite the unfortunate victim, until we learn he is a victim of his own disposition. John Shooter is none other than his alternate personality that seems motivated more than anything by a need to change the ending of one of his stories.  That and some corn on the cob.

5. Sybil Dorsett (Sybil)

Sybil 1976 Movie

Originally a miniseries adapted from a book, Sybil is based on a real life person and graduate student who suffered from multiple personality disorder (she had 13 of them).  The film centers around Sybil’s sessions with a psychiatrist, during which we get to meet such characters as a seven-eight-year-old boy named Sid who loves football and a precocious 13-year-old girl named Vicky who speaks French.  In all, 11 of her personalities are female, two are male, and many pose a direct conflict to one another.  In trying to explain the cause of such internal overpopulation, it is revealed that Sybil is repressing memories of abuse as a child.  They say truth is stranger than fiction, and in this case 13 people stand as proof, all of them Sybil.

4. Gollum/Sméagol (Lord of the Rings)

This wretched little cave-dwelling creature does in fact have a split personality disorder.  The personalities are so potent that they bicker amongst themselves regularly, usually when Gollum/Sméagol is facing a moral dilemma. Like a Faustian contemplation between the little angel and devil on his shoulders:  he (Gollum) really wants “the precious,” but he (Sméagol) also wants to be loyal to “master.”  That inner turmoil usually churns out a victor in Gollum, the id-chaser who wants no more but to behold the mighty power of the ring.  In that way, the ring is the best possible prescription for keeping his other, albeit better, personality at bay.

3. Unnamed Narrator (Fight Club)

SPOILER ALERT

The narrator of this movie, based on Chuck Palahniuk’s novel, lives a plain life, where in which he calls pieces of furniture “clever” and gets off on support group sympathy.  Tyler Durden, a soapsalesman, is a risk-taker who is willing to take a punch to the face and start a fight club.  While they don’t sound one in the same, they are.  Durden is the more expressive half of the narrator, the one who seeks both pleasure and pain, and the complete destruction of all the major credit card company buildings.  He, being the salesman he is, comes forward whenever supply doesn’t meet personal demand.

2. Norman Bates (Psycho)

SPOILER ALERT

Hitchcock’s film is a classic psychological thriller, riddled with symbolism, birds, and voyeurism.  There are also a lot of Freudian concepts at work.  If you were to check into Bates Motel, you’d encounter more than just a really bad shower; you’d meet the innocent-seeming mama’s boy Norman, who feins to attend to his ailing mother’s woes, while in reality his mother is dead.  That doesn’t seem to register with Norman however, as he hoards her corpse on a rocking chair and keeps her alive in his head.  He even dresses up as her and murders pretty girls he suspects his mother wouldn’t approve of.  The dark twist is that he developed the dissociative identity disorder shortly after he killed his mother and the lover who had come between them.  His umbilical chord, as it turns out, extends beyond the grave, and his condition goes straight back to Oedipus.

1. Dr. Jekyll (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)

Granted Jekyll and Hyde are best known as literary characters, stemming from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” they have shown up in film on several occasions, presenting the same essential internal conflict.  While Stevenson is said to have penned the tale in record speed on a cocaine high, it is easy to read into the story as a cautionary tale of how drugs make uncivil beasts of men.  On a basic psychological level, the tale can be as much an allegory for bipolarity or split personality disorder.  Mr. Hyde is the manifestation of Dr. Jekyll’s primal, pent-up urges, unleashed upon the consumption of a mysterious elixir.  Performing unspeakable acts uncharacteristic of Jekyll, it is very much as if a new identity has been forged inside his subconsciousness.  And so is the birth of a frighteningly unpredictable psychological disorder.

Did we miss anyone? Let us know in the comments and we’ll add them to our YouTube Playlist:

Dissociative Identity Disorder in the Movies – The Playlist


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36 Comments

  1. I saw #5 “Sybil” (1976) when I was in my early days of high school on TV. If any actor or actress deserved the Emmy award for best actress in a movie made for TV, it was unquestionably Sally Field as Sybil. There is a bit of a twist to it. Sybil’s psychiatrist / doctor in the movie was the great actress Joanne Woodward who a couple of decades earlier starred in the movie “Three Faces Of Eve” (1957) in which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.

  2. great list. i love the way an actor can bring out such seemingly diverse characters and have you sympathize with each one of them. I think another good movie (although i’m not 100% sure that its not split personality and jsut psychopathy) is Serial Mom, theres a crazy internal conflict going on when you watch it that makes it hard for you to reconcile the fact that a sweet, caring mom is a mass murderer.

    • @ wrake. Please read my comment which is the first one. I mentioned Joanne Woodward in “Three Faces Of Eve” and the fact that she won the Academy award in 1957 for her portrayal

  3. Patrick Bateman from American Psycho belongs on here. In the novel, he had a whole chapter where he narrated all of his actions in third person. And was seeing things. He’d forget people he killed and killed Paul Allen(Owen in the novel), but it turned out he had probably killed a friend of his who he had mistaken for him.

    You could also put Donnie Darko, Dexter, Curtis from Take Shelter, or even Alice in Wonderland.

  4. Re: #5, Sybil, it’s now coming out that Sybil was pretty much a hoax. Shirley Mason, the real life Sybil, had emotional problems, but didn’t display multiple personalities until her psychiatrist, Dr. Cornelia Wilbur, began injecting her with very strong drugs. Wilbur wanted to be a rock star in psychiatry, and the character of Sybil is probably about as real as the Amityville Horror. Shirley Mason definitely had psychiatric problems, but Wilbur was also involved in the “repressed memory” scandal, and it’s likely that much of the book was manufactured because it would get her attention, fame and money.

    • Theresa Albini, LCSW,BCD on

      I strongly beg to differ with you regarding the late Dr. Wilbur who was highly regarded among her colleagues. She was one of the founding members of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation.
      I had the great honor to know her personally and can tell you she was a compassionate and unassuming psychiatrist and an astute professor who worked and lived during the time when medical journals were not accepting cases pertaining to Multiple Personality Disorder. Even though she was a published author she could not get this case published in a psychiatric journal. And her motivation to have it published was to further the field of study. She along with the pioneers in the field of MPD suffered a great deal of discrimination and marginalization from colleagues who refused to believe such cases existed. The literature claimed they were “rare” and more than likely most mental health professionals would not likely see one case in their entire lifetime. This by the way was the rational not to teach about the diagnosis or treatment of MPD/DID in professional graduate schools. What we know now is that MPD is rare, but not uncommon and it is not created by the therapy. MPD now called DID is a trauma related disorder. It develops at a very young age when a child is subjected to repeated and severe abuse. No other psychiatric condition could explain Sybil’s presentation. Long before her treatment began with Dr. Wilbur Sybil experienced non alcoholic blackouts/ amnesia. There were not neurological explanations for the amnesia. Sybil had DID. Sybil herself wanted the book to be published and movie to be made, she even picked Sally Field for her role because she didn’t think there was another actor who could convincingly portray her alter Peggy except Sally. In order to help Joanne Woodward capture the essence of the psychiatrist Connie Wilbur lived with Paul Newman and Joanne for a period of time. Even though the book and subsequent movie was based on actual audio tapes of therapy sessions released by Sybil there where some fictional aspects for plot devices such as the boyfriend who didn’t exist. Dr. Wilbur may have used some unorthodox methods, but Sybil was not heavily drugged nor harmed. You must keep in mind there was no protocol or standard of care for the treatment of such cases and this was her first case. Nevertheless Sybil got better and was functioning well when her treatment was over. This is not included in the book because the book ends before the treatment was completed. Connie Wilbur had no idea the book would become so successful and the only thing she cared about was getting MPD to be taken seriously. On the other hand the journalist/junior psychologist who wrote the scathing book trashing Dr. Wilbur’s treatment of Sybil and falsely accusing her of creating the condition through the therapy is not an expert in DID or Dissociative Disorders. Instead she chose to sensationalize, misrepresent, distort facts and out and out lie to make her case. She wrote her book with a bias about MPD/DID that in itself is unprofessional and unscientific to begin with and continued to support her thesis with subjective and confabulated arguments from the “repressed memory” literature. The the False Memory Syndrome (FMS) group from which the repressed memory so- called research was derived has long since been refuted. The research was faulty and full of holes. The F MS was an organization established by parents who were accused of abuse by their adult children. These angry parents managed to get the support of some professionals who knew nothing about traumatic memory but instead normative memory (which their research was based on) to support them and create a controversial movement within the mental health field at a time when the field was in its infancy in understanding the effects of childhood trauma and how to treat it. It was not Dr. Wibur who wanted to be a star, but instead the book’s author whose name I’ve forgotten , ( however, I remember she was so obsessed with the fact that Sybil was the most successful book of journalistic writing in terms of sales), who wanted to rise to fame by topping those sales with her own book. Unfortunately she chose to do it at the expense of a dedicated psychiatrist who had the courage to blaze the trail for those of us who are helping people with DID and other dissociative disorders today. Thank you, Connie Wibur.

  5. Uhh… Shutter Island wasn’t Dissasociative Identity Disorder. Teddy had Schizophrenia. So did the Narrator in Fight Club. Sure, looking on the outside symptom of the alternate identities will make you think it was DID but if you examine all the symptoms carefully it really is Schizophrenia. In Fight Club, the narrator not only has Tyler Durden, he talks to Tyler Durden, he fights Tyler Durden. Much of his narration is incoherent and he is completely delusional. I believe they actually stated that Teddy was Schizophrenic in Shutter Island.

  6. I find DID intriguing yet sometimes horribly portrayed in movies. I was recently diagnosed with Dissocative Disorder myself and since then watching movies about it make me a little angry. I still like them but most people with DID do not have that “monster’ side to them, there are parts of them that are still children or very scared/shy to express things. Though in my case my other half is a but scary the majority of her personality is good although rebellious…it should not be always portrayed as such in movies.

    • Theresa Albini, LCSW,BCD on

      You are so right the movies don’t capture the child identities which are so common in clinical cases, but instead they stigmatize the disorder with exaggerated portrayal of “monsterous” depictions. Hopefully someday someone will capture the child alters. I don’t know of a film since Sybil.

  7. Two things about this list surprise me: a) All but one character listed is male, when a disproportionate percentage people diagnosed with DID are female. b) I’m shocked that I’ve never seen Bette Davis’ character ‘Baby’ Jane Hudson in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane characterized as having DID. As a person who lives with DID myself, I find it to be one of the more accurate, honest and unsensationalized portrayals I’ve seen in film, perhaps largely because no one in the film ever refers to her ‘personalities’ but is obviously aware of them. The mood swings, childlike dress and behavior, particularly the defiance/fear in the face of authority, are all characterists I (and my family) are familiar with and the suggestion of incest between Jane and her father (further reinforced by her lifelong devotion/obsession) seem to suggest DID all the more, as it is most commonly linked to childhood abuse.

    • Peter Boucher on

      @ Cookie : I am saddened to read that you suffer from DID. “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane (1962) was on TV just yesterday on the TCM channel and I watched it. One of the ironies was that Joan Crawford as Baby Jane’s sister portrayed the long suffering sister of Jane (Bette Davis) as we all look upon Joan Crawford as an evil woman both on and off the screen. They were both remarkable in their roles. The one scene from that movie that always makes me shudder with slight fear is Baby Jane serving the dead / cooked Rat to Joan Crawford (who as we both know was confined to a wheelchair). It makes my blood curdle with just the thought of it. I am hoping that you are doing well and that you can conquer your medical dilemna(s). Good Luck Cookie !!

  8. Does anyone know of a book or film which deal with DID/BPD (dissasociative or boderline personality disorder/split) which isn’t about a murderer, but a sex addict/womanizer–they are pretty common in real life–but not seem in novels or films?

    • United States of Tara (tv show) deals with sexuality, Indentical by Ellen Hopkins is great (although that’s pretty much the plot twist). Frankie and Alice is about a stripper in the 70s. BPD isn’t the same as DID. They’re very different. I’m pretty sure 13 was about a Borderline character (but it’s been a while so I might be confused with another coming of age movie).

      • Theresa Albini, LCSW,BCD on

        Yes BPD is different from DID. However, with in the internal system of a person with DID there might be one or more dissociated aspects of the self who fit the criteria for BPD. This makes the actual diagnostic process with someone who has DID very challenging.

  9. I read the book Shutter Island and they never made it really clear if Teddy was in fact hallucinating or what…

    • Theresa Albini, LCSW,BCD on

      Do you mean the Many Minds of Billy Mulligan? This by the way was based on a true case. Billy was treated by the psychiatrist David Caul, MD from the Akron Ohio who was one of the early pioneers in the treatment of what was then labeled as Multiple Personality Disorder.

  10. Not only one of the most inaccurate lists of all time it’s just plain stupid. Whoever wrote this article not only has no clue about DID it would shock me if they have any idea about anything at all.

    Bruce banner?? He turns into the hulk from radioactive poisoning not a mental condition. Norman Bates isn’t a case of DID. he is a psychopath. The general publics mislead knowledge is pushed further back into the stone ages with this ill informed list.

    • Theresa Albini, LCSW,BCD on

      Your right radioactive poisoning does not cause DID but whoever provided the list of movies attempted to select ones that illustrate dissociative phenomena, in the case of the Bruce and the Hulk identity alteration. This is not clinical case material, but fictionalized illustrations of the subjective experiences.
      In the case of Norman Bates, yes he exhibits psychopathic behaviors, but that is not mutually exclusive from DID. Yet unfortunately psychopaths are overused in movies depicting DID. But as the plot unfolds we see that it is the dissociated aspect of Norman’s identity who identifies with his mother and does the killing. Again not a clinical case of DID, but depicts the dissociative mind.

  11. nononono. Do you know anything about DID? Some of those characters (Bruce Banner, Jekyll, Gollum) are NOT systems and the rest are extremely HARMFUL representations which are part of the reason why there is so much stigma around the disorder. Sybill is the only one I can agree with. Identity is good at its representation of an inner world but still carries the “multiples=murderers” concept. Seriously. Do some research.

    • Theresa Albini, LCSW,BCD on

      As you know Sybil is the only one based on an actual case. You are right so many of the others involve sensationalized plot devices including murder and violence which is stigmatizing to actual people who struggle with a dissociative mind.
      Nonetheless, some of the other fictionalized characters do not meet the diagnostic criteria for the condition, but instead depict to varying degrees the various dissociative phenomena: Amnesia, Depersonalization, Derealization, Identity Confusion and Identity Alteration. People with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) manifest it differently but everyone who has DID experiences ALL of the above mentioned phenomena where as some people who don’t meet the full criteria for DID only experience some of the symptoms. Although the transformations in the Hulk or Hyde for example are not realistic they do depict albeit exaggerated examples of Identity Alteration. I once treated a young lad with DID who strongly identified with Bruce turning into the Hulk even though his own experience with the alternation of his identity when a dissociated rageful identity struggled to come out or was triggered did not look like the Hulk, he reported feeling like it. If this young man were asked he’d say the Hulk had DID. Yet another person with DID would disagree if their inner experience of dissociated rage did not resonnate with the HULK’s experience. Remember each person’s dissociative experiences are subjective. And by the way move typically hidden. The classical presentation of someone with DID is not to show the identity confusion or identity alteration. They go out of there way to conceal it (even from their therapists) not wanting to appear “crazy” to others because when this occurs it feels crazy on the inside. Yet this is not psychosis. But of course the covert depiction of DID would not be as dramatic in a movie. Sorry for such a long post. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

  12. This article confused borderline personality disorder and dissociative identity disorder. If there is only one split part as in Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Fight Club, LOTR, that does not qualify for D.I.D.

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