Dissociative Identity Disorder – a discovery from 1584

As part of the research we’re doing into the history of dissociative identity disorder, dissociation and trauma we have been reading early historical accounts of people with multiple identities/personalities. This week we make a discovery that cases go back even further than Paracelsus’s 1646 account, with a detailed description of a person with Dissociative Identity Disorder living in 1584-1885, in France.

Jeanne Fery - the first documented case of Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Jeanne Fery – the first documented case of Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Onno Van der Hart, Ruth Lierens, and Jean Goodwin have provided the first translation into account of her experiences to be written in English. They described how her symptoms matched the clinical criteria for Dissociative Identity Disorder, as a psychotraumatologist and former president of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (which publishes the DID treament guidelines) and the International Society for the Study of Traumatic Stress, Van der Hart is clearly well qualified to make this judgement based on the very extensive accounts of this person’s experience.

What is especially interesting in this case is the great detail used to describe her alter personalities, and their roles. It is brings home the reality of living with DID, describing her abuse history and obvious distress.

History of DID


One thought on “Dissociative Identity Disorder – a discovery from 1584

  1. While an interesting, and more importantly, *documented* case history of a DID ‘patient, this also brings up a valid question I’ve had for some time: what constitutes abuse? From what I’ve seen it is a ‘negative experience’ outside the realm of what the victim (and perhaps their surrounding society) expected / anticipated – something that lay “outside the pale”, so to speak.

    I say this because I have met some victims who’s abuse seems rather ‘simple’ to me (not abusive at all, or only very slightly so) – and yet they exhibit signs of some mental stress; for example, one woman who’s abuse history was negligible nevertheless was traumatized by the one ‘beating’ (spanking) she received as a child – and incident I would have shrugged off and forgotten. However, in her words it was “such a shock” and “so unexpected” that she was (or felt) traumatized by it.

    Lets roll the clock back some, as this article intends to do: what were the circumstances for our ancestors like? Horrific by today’s standards and attitudes; everything ‘they’ (our ancestors did) would just about ensure a disturbed child – by our standards. Were they then ALL disturbed? Every one of them suffering from some PTSD symptoms? Old literature suggests some – and yet that, too, was expected in the society they came from. They looked at an old warrior’s nightmares as a normal thing to have. Ditto the nightmares of children. “Spare the rod & spoil the child” was the refrain back then. Do you know what kind of rod they used? Our ancestors were definitely quite violent by today’s standards and attitudes. It’s a wonder any of them survived the mental stressors! And yet they did . . . and apparently happy enough and well enough to build a civilization . . .

    IMO, of course – just sayin’.


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