DID in history: oldest accounts of multiple personality

Before 1900

Most written accounts are fairly short, and many attribute behaviors or alter personalities to a form of religious possession, or link mental illness with belief in demons.
However some longer accounts were published by “physicians” and some historians found other accounts.

Many ordinary people couldn’t read and books were expensive rather than today’s mass-produced paperbacks and ebooks about DID.

An incomplete list of some of the historical cases of dissociative identity disorder…

  • 1580s: Jeanne Fery: A sixteenth-century case of dissociative identity disorder – van der Hart, Lierens and Goodwin (1997)


  • 1790 – 1952: Multiple personality before “Eve” – Adam Crabtree (1993), a short summary of the psychology of the times and recognition of DID
  • 1790: a woman from Stuttgart described by Eberhard Gmelin speaks different languages depending on which personality is in control at the time


  • 1802: Three cases described by Dwight who publishes them in 1818, with one likely to be multiple personality disorder and the others likely to be dissociative amnesia or fugue (Hacking, 1991), Dwight describes a female with “two souls, each occasionally dormant and occasionally active, and utterly ignorant of what the other was doing”
  • 1815-1875 Double consciousness in Britain 1815-1875 described by skeptical historian Ian Hacking (1991)
  • 1816: Mary Reynolds is described by Mitchill, and later by M. Kenny (1986)
  • 1823: Dewar published the first case of a teenager with DID, a 16 year-old Scottish girl
  • 1823 to early 1900s – Adolescent MPD in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – Elizabeth Bowman (1990)
  • 1834: “Estelle” is treated by Charles Antoine Despine (also described by Catherine Fine, 1988)


  • 1845: Mayo describes an 18 year-old English girl with two personalities, “misconduct in her relatives ” is mentioned
  • 1846: Ward refers to other boys with “double consciousness” whose “nervous system has been weakened by excess, terror or cerebral excitement” which Hacking believes suggests trauma
  • 1860: Mary Reynolds is described by Plumber


  • 1876: “Félida X” is described by Eugène Azam as “double personality” or ”doublement de la vie
  • 1876: “double consciousness” is now referred to as “double personality” according to Hacking (1991)
  • 1887: Barret describes a 17 year-old English boy with two personalities of different ages , with different handwriting. Barret attributes the symptoms with the stress of applying for a scholarship to Cambridge University – his symptoms delay his admission to Cambridge.
  • 1880s: Louis Vivé/Vivet in France – originally described by Bourru and Burot in 1885, 1886, 1887, and in Variatons de la personnalité (1888/95); Camuset in 1882; Mabille and Ramadier in 1886; and Voisin in 1885 and 1887.
    The 19th century DID case of Louis Vivet: New Findings and Re-evaluation (1995/1997) – Henri Faure, John Kersten, Dinet Koopman and Onno van der Hart
  • 1880s: V.L. and his six personalities are treated by Bourru and Burot in France, as described by Sidis and Goodhart in 1904.
  • 1887: Pierre Janet describes “dissociation” as demonstrates that some people have multiple “psychic centers” that he describes as multiple “personalities”, rather than dual or alternating states
  • 1858: Ansel Bourne – Wonderful Works of God: A Narrative of the Wonderful Facts in the Case of Ansel Bourne of Westerly, Rhode Island, Who, In The Midst of Opposition to the Christian Religion Was Suddenly Struck Blind, Dumb, and Deaf, and After Eighteen Days Was Suddenly and Completely Restored In the Presence of Hundreds of Persons, in the Christian Chapel At Westerly, on the 15th of November, 1857. Bourne also describes his father’s death when he was seven, severe poverty following the death, and being forced from school into work at thirteen due to poverty
  • 1881: Ansel Bourne is described as having dissociative fugue episodes and an “alternate personality”.
  • 1894: Peter Scott is described by Dana
  • 1894: Mollie Fancher is described by Abram H. Dailey in Molly Fancher: Brooklyn Enigma; An Authentic Statement of Facts in the Life of Mary J. Fancher, 1894. She is described in The Fasting Girl: A True Victorian Medical Mystery – Michelle Stacey – A much newer and confusing account of the story of Fancher including hysteria/hysterical paralysis and the fame surrounding people claiming to not need to eat in Victorian times.
  • 1895: Mary Barnes Account published in 1903 as A case of double consciousness by Albert Wilson, England, UK. Describes a child whose symptoms are first noticed at age 12 and a half, she has more than a dozen identities, five of which are not clearly defined. It begins after a case of the flu followed by meningitis; she was seriously ill for 6 weeks and hallucinating at times. Her different personalities have amnesia and can’t recognize people she knows. At least seemed to be a toddler and asks “What dat?” for names of things. One identity became dominate at age 17.
  • 1884: Charles L. Dana publishes The study of a case of amnesia or ‘double consciousness’ about a 24 year-old man with no “hysteria, epilepsy, or organic disease”.
  • 1899: Theodore Hyslop describes different types of “double consciousness”

1900 – 1919

  • 1900: From India to Planet Mars by Théodore Flournoy describes Catherine-Elise Muller under the name “Hélène Smith” as a spiritualist with multiple personalities. Flournoy, a psychology professor, realizes that the “martian” language used by one of them is based on French.
  • 1900: Ottolenghi, an Italian , refers to ”sdoppiamenti el le transformazioni della personalitá”
  • 1901: Sally Beauchamp (Clara Norton Fowler) is described by Morton Prince as having multiple personalities
  • 1903-1904: Albert Wilson publishes accounts of 12 1/2-year-old “Mary Barnes” in A case of double consciousness, and A case of multiple personality, after treating her from 1895. By this time, she is aged 21 but mentally aged only a 16 year-old.
  • 1904: “Alma Z“, from 1894, is described by Boris Sidis and Simon P. Goodhart (also known as S. Philip Goodhart) in Multiple Personality: An Experimental Investigation into the Nature of Human Individuallty. as having three personalities. Alma Z’s personalities are referred to as No. 1, Twoey and The Boy, and have some co-consciousness. They describe the “dissociated personalities” as “well-defined”.
  • V.L., who was cared for in the late 1880s by Bourru and Burot, is also described by Sidis and Goodhart who ever to him as a “manifold personality”. V.L. is a 17 year-old boy with an unknown father, unmarried and promiscuous mother, who is wandering and begging on the streets from a very young age. V.L. becomes a thief and is sent to a reformatory as a child, develops conversion disorder with paralysis after a fright with a snake, and is then looked after in an asylum (a general term meaning place of rest). His is described as having 6 “states”, each with different memories, skills and a distinct personality.
  • 1904: Thomas Carson Hanna is described in the New York Times as an “Instance of Multiple Personality” being treated in New York by Boris Sidis, and Sidis’ book is referred to be the journalist. Hanna is described as developing a second personality after an accident with a head injury, and then switching between the two until they eventually merge.
  • 1904: Reverend Thomas Carson Hanna is described by Boris Sidis as developing a second personality after a head injury, they eventually merge
  • 1905: Prince publishes the book ”The Dissociation of a Personality’‘ about “Miss Beauchamp” describing three personalities
  • 1906: Burnett describes a 16 year-old American boy who has had problems since early childhood. He He attributes the different personalities to epilepsy.
  • 1906: Gordon reports a 19 year-old American with two personalities and a third state who struggle over control of the body. Gordon describes the boys “delusion belief” about having two ego states and calls it “epileptic psychosis”. Problems continue for at least 9 years despite epilepsy medication.
  • 1907: A young girl from London is reported to the British Psychical Research Society as having ten distinct personalities, and is mentioned in the New York Times in an article called ”A Girl’s 10 Minds” and ”A case of hysteria”. The personalities become apparent after she nearly dies from a severe case of flu, after ten years of treatment they fuse together, at age 22. She is treated by Dr Albert Wilson has presented the case to a skeptical Medico-Psychological Association, who come to believe it is genuine.
  • 1909: My life as a dissociated personality by B.C.A. – Morton Prince persuaded Clara Norton Fowler and her alters to write this
  • 1909: Charles van Osten is reported as having multiple personalities, with symptoms appearing after a head injury. Van Osten has gone missing from hospital. The New York Times quotes Prof. Diefendorf as saying that Van Osten was distressed by the Slocum disaster, and may be looking for his wife and child. ”HYPNOTIZED, FINDS HOMES.: Van Osten, Without Hesitation, Takes Doctor to New York Addresses. Special to The New York Times” (20 May 1909).
  • 1916: After around 12 years of treatment Doris Fischer‘s five personalities are described by Walter F. Prince and Theodore Hyslop (1915), Hyslop (1917), and Walter F. Prince (1923). Together they publish over 2,000 pages about her symptoms and treatment. Doris links her violent, alcoholic father to developing different personalities and describes her mother encouraging her to dissociate, with problems beginning at age three and a half, after an assault by her father. The case is reported in the press.
  • 1919, 1920: Grace Oliver and her alter personality “Spanish Maria” are described in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.


These years are the aftermath of World War I.

  • 1926: Bernice R. is described by Henry Herbert Goddard in “Two Souls in One Body?”; Bernice describes incest which Goddard regards as a hallucination.
  • 1926, 1927: A 19 year-old American woman “Norma” is described by Goddard with a four-year-old alter personality “Polly” and severe conversion disorder causing episodes of paralysis and mutism. Her history includes the deaths of her twin sister and three other siblings before age 11, paternal incest at age 14, the separation from her surviving siblings and emotional abuse by relatives, and the death of both parents by age 17. Goddard calls the incest a transference hallucination and believes her traumatic history has resulted in a daydream-like escape. The two personalities gradually merge.
  • 1933: John Charles Poultney is described in Persons One and Three: A Study of Multiple Personalities – Shepherd Ivory Franz, Poultney gets a severe head injury during World War I and starts switching back and forth between two personalities

1940 onwards

These years involve World War II, with further understanding of trauma and dissociative amnesia, the introduction of the American DSM psychiatric manual and the World Health Organization equivalent, and the impact of Vietnam war veterans leading to the creation of PTSD as a separate diagnosis.

All years

  • Multiple personality and dissociation, 1791-1990 : a complete bibliography – Philip M. Coons, George B. Greaves and Carole Goettman


Picture of a pile of old books with Dissociative Identity Disorder historical cases on the right

Binge Eating Disorder is the most common in America – Facts you should know about it

Binge Eating Disorder is far more common that both Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa in both men and women. It is also strongly linked to other mental health disorders and over half of people with it don’t seek psychological help. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is common in people with all these forms of Eating Disorders.

Binge Eating Disorder linked to Other Mental Health Conditions

Lifetime co-morbidity of eating disorders with other core DSM disorders. Shows PTSD affects over 12% of those with Anorexia, over 45% with Bulimia, and over 26% with Binge Eating Disorder. Binge Eating Disorder is strongly associated with Specific Phobia, Social Phobia, major Depression, and Substance Use disorders. Image license: CC-SA-4.0

Lifetime co-morbidity of eating disorders with other core DSM disorders. Shows PTSD affects over 12% of those with Anorexia, over 45% with Bulimia, and over 26% with Binge Eating Disorder. Binge Eating Disorder is strongly associated with Specific Phobia, Social Phobia, major Depression, and Substance Use disorders. Image license: CC-SA-4.0

Binge Eating Disorder Myths De-bunked

Eating Disorder Awareness: You can't diagnose by appearances. Image license: all rights reserved, you are welcome to link to it instead.
Hudson JI, Hiripi E, Pope HG, Jr., Kessler RC. The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Biological Psychiatry. 2007;61(3):348–358. PMC1892232

Uher R, Rutter M. Classification of feeding and eating disorders: review of evidence and proposals for ICD-11. World Psychiatry. 2012; 11(2):80-92.

Related links:

A Therapist’s Perspective: Reactions to dependency – responses depend on how secure the therapist is

People who support survivors of trauma may react in different ways, depending on how secure they are in their own attachment behavior and relationships. This table identifies therapists‘ typical responses to working with Trauma Survivors. Partners, friends or other supportive people may act in some of these ways, which will also depend on their own understanding of trauma.

Countertransference is a term that refers to how your therapist seems to react toward you. If you are currently finding your therapist responding in ways you find difficult, this may be helpful to discuss in a session.

Therapist reactions and responses to the Dependency of people with Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Dissociative Disorders.

Therapist reactions and responses to the Dependency of people with Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Dissociative Disorders.

Source: Steele, K., van der Hart, O., & Nijenhuis, E. R. (2001). Dependency in the treatment of complex posttraumatic stress disorder and dissociative disorders. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 2(4), 79-116. http://www.trauma-pages.com/a/steele-2001.php

Types of Dependency – Extreme, Secure and Counterdependency

This table is a useful tool in assessing both where you are now and what you could aim for to build more secure relationships.

Extreme Dependency, Counterdependency and Secure Dependency behaviors in Complex PTSD and Dissociative Disorders

Extreme Dependency, Counterdependency and Secure Dependency behaviors in Complex PTSD and Dissociative Disorders

Excessive Independence (Counterdependency) – When you can’t ask for help

This article covers dependence and attachment issues commonly found in people with Complex PTSD, trauma-related Borderline Personality Disorder, DDNOS and Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Counter-dependency explained
Being excessively independent means being unable to seek any form of help, for example social support from friends, this is actually a phobia (avoidant behavior) rather than healthy.

Healthy (secure) Dependency versus Insecure Dependency

Dependency is often viewed as being an undesirable quality, and in some way shameful (particularly for men), but healthy and secure dependency allows a person to ask for help or support when it is appropriate. Just as a person without a trauma history could do. Benefits in psychotherapy include co-operation, being open to suggestions but making decisions yourself, and forming a positive attachment to the therapist.

Insecure dependency involves either extreme dependence (extreme demanding behavior, helplessness, inability to accept limitations of supportive people, etc) or counterdependency (excessive independence, inability to seek help even if in crisis, unable to establish a healthy, therapeutic dependence in psychotherapy leading to little progress, criticizing and rejecting expression of neediness from others).

Dependency and Trauma

Steele, van der Hart, & Nijenhuis (2001) stated:

Studies have also consistently demonstrated that strong social support following trauma (implying some degree of dependency) is essential to prevent further difficulties with trauma-related disorders (e.g., King et al., 1998; Runtz & Schallow, 1997). However, most chronically traumatized individuals do not receive such support until the time they enter therapy. Many, if not most chronically traumatized children live within a family system that denies, minimizes, or even encourages ongoing abuse and neglect, and that does not provide the child with adequate support following traumatic events. Such a relational environment leads to insecure attachment, which involves insecure dependency (Bowlby, 1988).

Childhood Abuse and Trauma

Early trauma – particularly abuse at the hands of a care-giver – leads to distrust and difficulties in attaching securely to the care-giver. A secure attachment style can’t develop so the child forms an insecure attachment: avoidant/dismissing, ambivalent (resistant), or disorganized attachment (attachment which swings between avoidant and ambivalent). This attachment style is maintained in later life and is know to affect all major relationships.

Insecure dependency may take the form of excessive dependency or excessive independency (a counter-phobic stance toward feared or rejected dependency), as the basic trust needed for secure dependency never develops or is destroyed. Excessive dependency is present in ambivalent (resistant) attachment styles, counterdependency is present in avoidant/dismissing attachment styles, and disorganized attachment involves moving between both forms of insecure dependency.

Dependency and Complex Dissociative Disorders

Complex Dissociative Disorders (DDNOS and Dissociative Identity Disorder) are typically believed to involve both excessive dependency and counterdependency. For example, a child alter (an Emotional Part) may be clingy and excessively needy, but another alter like a protector (also an Emotional Part) may have a ‘fight’ response, eg resisting discussing feelings and showing anger at a very needy child part.


  1. Steele, K., van der Hart, O., & Nijenhuis, E. R. (2001). Dependency in the treatment of complex posttraumatic stress disorder and dissociative disorders. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 2(4), 79-116. http://www.trauma-pages.com/a/steele-2001.php
  2. Counter-dependence: The flight from intimacy. Weinhold, J & Weinhold, B. http://weinholds.org/the-flight-from-intimacy-healing-counter-dependency/

More info: http://traumadissociation.com
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