False Memory Syndrome vs. Lying Perpetrator Syndrome: The Big Lie

We have recently been writing our new page about Society’s Denial of child sexual abuse and dissociative disorders.

One of the topics we are working on is the “False Memory Syndrome” – it is an official-sounding term which is typically used to convince both judges and the public that many memories of child sexual abuse are totally “false”. The term was invented by the False Memory Syndrome Foundation; a lobbying group originally setup by the parents of Dr Jennifer J. Freyd, after she spoke out about the child sexual abuse she experienced at the hands of her father Peter Freyd.

The “false memory syndrome” never did get official diagnostic criteria or proof of existence despite the vast numbers of media interviews and extensive research. What the campaign did show was how willing society in general was to believe that child sexual abuse was “rare”, could never be forgotten and remembered later, and that therapists helping trauma survivors were somehow “dangerous”. It also showed how willing media organisations are in publishing blogs or online articles which have very limited accuracy.

Here are some quotes about “False Memory Syndrome” from False Memory Syndrome vs. Lying Perpetrator Syndrome: The Big Lie

When I was in grade school, I learned about the big lie technique used by the Nazis. If you tell a big enough lie often enough and loudly enough, people will believe it. This is happening today in with the supporters of the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.
No one is claiming there is a “false memory syndrome” except the accused parents of child sexual abuse survivors and their earnest but ignorant “scientific” advisors, most of whom have based their academic reputation and life work not on the study of trauma but on the study of non-traumatic laboratory-experiment- induced memories. They have no expertise in the field of trauma.
 “False Memory Syndrome” vs. Lying Perpetrator Syndrome: The Big Lie by Patience Mason (1995)

Full article:


A lot has changed since 1995 – not only has the False Memory Syndrome Foundation lost its office premises and phone number, but it has also been exposed for including false information on its website, scientific board member Dr Underwager had to resign after giving a pro-pedophile interview, the “false memory syndrome” was discredited in court, and many of their academic articles have been heavily criticized for lack of scholarships and distorting facts.
Dr Ross Cheit – also a child sexual abuse survivor who experienced repressed memories has had his abuser convicted as a result of significant corroborating evidence, and compiled an excellent list of over 100 other corroboration cases or forgotten then remembered child sexual abuse in his Recovered Memory Project.


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

Dr Colin Ross: Cause of Multiple Personality Disorder (ie, Dissociative Identity Disorder)

Colin A. Ross, PhD is a psychiatrist who has worked extensively with Dissociative Identity Disorder and Other Specified Dissociative Disorder (formerly DDNOS), and he runs a trauma treatment center called the Ross Institute.

Here is a helpful video in which he explains what DID is, and why it is often diagnosed as schizophrenia by psychiatrists, and he goes into some reasons why the diagnosis is not well understand by them.

Here’s a few quotes explaining why DID (multiple personalities) and the Schizophrenia often get confused:

In 1910, Eugen Bleuler introduced the term Schizophrenia. This was one of the reasons 1903 through 1978 showed a dramatic decline in the number of reports of “multiple personality” after the diagnosis of Schizophrenia became popular, especially in the United States.

Starting in about 1927, there was a large increase in the number of reported cases of Schizophrenia, which was matched by an equally large decrease in the number of “multiple personality” reports. Bleuler also included “multiple personality” in his category of Schizophrenia. It was recognized in the 1980s that Dissociative Identity Disorder patients are often misdiagnosed as suffering from Schizophrenia and this is still the case now.” ISST-D, Guidelines for Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder in Adults, Third Revision (2011)


Related articles

Dissociative disorders – Is abuse or biology the cause? Or is it more complex than that?

Research into Dissociation and Dissociative Disorders

Dissociative disorders, particularly complex dissociative disorders such as Dissociative Identity Disorder and Other Specified Dissociative Disorder (formerly DDNOS) are poorly understood by many in the general population, and by some professionals. Complex dissociative disorders have been the subject of an increasing amount of research in the two decades, including neuroscience, treatment studies and studies looking at the link between child abuse and different mental health disorders.

So, what causes of dissociative disorders? Could there by a biological or genetic cause to dissociative disorders, as there are in some other mental health conditions such as schizophrenia or psychosis? The research shows differences in the brains of people with dissociative identity disorder in particular, include decreased sizes of key parts of the brain.


Research has shown that the ability to dissociate (which we all have) may have a genetic or biological link, but the ability to dissociate alone cannot cause a dissociative disorder, nor can it cause persistent and traumatic memories. Dissociative identity disorder in particular is regarded as tertiary dissociation, rather than primary or secondary dissociation. as explained by the concept of Structural Dissociation we have blogged about before.

Whilst the brain alterations (show above) may seem to non-professionals to suggest a biological or genetic cause for DID, it actually parallels the changes in the brain also present in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder resulting from adult trauma. The consensus of research globally shows that dissociative disorders, especially DID, are extremely strongly associated with very early child abuse, and not genetic or biological factors.

Child Abuse and Mental Health

The link between complex dissociative disorders and child abuse goes back a long way, and is well documented in the history of psychiatry by well known figures such as Morton Prince (writing about Christine Beauchamp, 1906), Sigmund Freud, Pierre Janet and others.

The trauma theory of dissociation is first documented in 1889, but only in recent decades has society begun to acknowledge how common child abuse is, in particular child sexual abuse and incest. The shocking results from Adverse Childhood Experiences Study also reflect the fact that adverse childhood experiences including child abuse had a negative effect on people’s lives even decades afterwards. Furthermore, the brain changes resulting from trauma experiences are believed to be reversible, and it has been clearly shown in clinical research that both trauma and dissociative disorders can be healed.

Abusive Families, the Cycle of Abuse and the Need to Discredit Children

Today’s post was inspired by Darlene Ouimet’s post The Grooming Process of Discrediting Children and the Cycle of Abuse. Darlene is a life coach and mental health advocate who has previous struggled with severe depression, dissociative identity disorder and the legacy of child sexual abuse (more on this later).

Darlene writes:

Grooming a child to believe that the child is the problem and communicating that publically serves several purposes one of which is that it discredits the child to other family members and friends of the family way before the child ever tries to stand up to abusive treatment which serves to insure that the abuser will never be questioned by other people. 

Her post reminded me of the history of Jennifer Freyd, Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregeon and a survivor of incest and a very dysfunctional family environment. Jennifer’s father, Peter Freyd, founded the false memory syndrome foundation with his wife and step-sister Pamela Freyd when he realized that his brother and even his own mother believed Jennifer’s reports of incest. Jennifer’s childhood journal revealed her distress, she wrote:

My parents oscillated between denying these symptoms and feelings…to using knowledge of these same symptoms and feelings to discredit me… My father told various people that I was brain damaged.

Jennifer also describes how her traumatic childhood experiences link to her development of PTSD as an adult, and the continuing impact of her dysfunctional parents on her career and adult life.

At times I am flabbergasted that my memory is considered false,” Jennifer says, “and my alcoholic father’s memory is considered rational and sane.” She does not, after all, remember impossible abuses: “I remember incest in my father’s house…. My first memories came when I was at home a few hours after my second session with my therapist, a licensed clinical psychologist working within an established group in a large and respected medical clinic.

“During that second visit to my therapist’s office, I expressed great anxiety about the upcoming holiday visit from my parents. My therapist asked about half way into the session, whether I had ever been sexually abused. I was immediately thrown into a strange state. No one had ever asked me such a question. I responded, no, but…”. I went home and within a few hours I was shaking uncontrollably, overwhelmed with intense and terrible flashbacks.” Jennifer asks herself why her parents are believed. “In the end, is it precisely because I was abused that I am to be discredited despite my personal and professional success?

Another clear finding from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study was that emotional abuse and a dysfunctional family life had a long lasting and significant link with poor adult health (both physical and mental). Jennifer’s experiences as an adult disclosing her childhood abuse led to her parents’ attempts to harm her career and publicly discredit her.

Darlene writes:

It is important for the controlling or abusive person to discredit the child in case the child ever tells or exposes the truth about the dysfunction in the family. Read more from Emerging from Broken…

Related posts
Child sexual abuse (RAINN)

Hippocampal and Amygdalar Volumes in Dissociative Identity Disorder (download, American Journal of Psychiatry)

PTSD is the amydala hijacking Joe’s brain (psychology today – explains neuroscience and that PTSD is the brain in survival mode rather than brain imjury)
Adverse childhood experiences and mental health (Mad in America, discussing psychosis and schizophrenia)

Growing not Dwindling worldwide phenomenon of Dissociative Disorders (eassurvey.wordpress.com)

Child abuse and dissociative disorders (tellaboutabuse.com)
The war against the CHild’s and Victim’s Credibility and the Truth (Screams of a Childhood)

Helpful citations

Brand, Bethany L. “What we know and what we need to learn about the treatment of dissociative disorders.” Journal of Trauma & Dissociation 13.4 (2012): 387-396.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging-Based Measurement of Hippocampal Volume in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Related to Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse—A Preliminary Report

Vermetten, E, Schmahl, C, Bremner, JD “Hippocampal and Amygdalar Volumes in Dissociative Identity Disorder” American Journal of Psychiatry April 2006, issue 1634

Weniger, G., et al. “Amygdala and hippocampal volumes and cognition in adult survivors of childhood abuse with dissociative disorders.” Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 118.4 (2008): 281-290.

Felitti, M. D., et al. “Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.” American journal of preventive medicine 14.4 (1998): 245-258.