M. Night Shyamalan is following up the success of his last horror venture The Visit with the new psychological horror fare, #Split. Split stars James McAvoy as Kevin, a mentally ill man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). His illness manifests itself as 23 different personalities that come out unpredictably. One of the personalities decides to abduct three teenage girls, and lock them up in a windowless room. The girls have to convince one of Kevin's tamer personalities to free them before his 24th personality — a ruthless being called "the beast" — comes out.
Watch the spine-chilling trailer for Split below:
Dissociative Identity Disorder is quite rare; it's a psychiatric disease wherein one person has several distinct personalities. It could be the result of childhood abuse and trauma; if treated early, a person's different personalities can merge into one, but over the course of treatments, other personalities may emerge. Though Split may come across as a film that stigmatizes mental illness, it might also raise awareness of issues around mental health, and help people suffering from it.
Below are some of the most famous cases of DID — ranging from sufferers with 10 personalities to an astonishing 100 — and how some of them were able to integrate their personalities and actually live peaceful, happy lives.
10. Louis Vivet
- Number of personalities: 10
- In pop culture: Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was influenced by Vivet's story.
Louis Vivet was one of the first people to be diagnosed with DID. He was born on February 12, 1863; mothered by a prostitute who neglected poor Vivet, he was already into crime at the young age of 8. Vivet was arrested several times and lived in a correction house until age 18. His disorder allegedly manifested when he was 17 years old. His multiple personalities didn't emerge until an incident when he was working at a vineyard. A viper wrapped itself around his hand — the snake didn't bite him, but it caused him a great deal of fear and distress. He had convulsions, and became paralyzed from the waist down. But these were all psychosomatic symptoms. Again, he was brought into an asylum, where his situation became even more complicated. He was changed into a different person. He did not recognize anybody. He was in and out of the hospitals from 1880 to 1881 undergoing treatments such as hypnosis and metallotherapy. Later, a doctor found out that he had 10 different personalities, each with their own traits and stories.
9. Watseka Wonder
- Number of personalities: Unspecified
- In pop culture: In 2009 The Possessed based on Watseka Wonder was produced by the Booth Brothers, Christopher Saint Booth and Philip Adrian Booth; It aired on SyFy Channel's Spooked Television in 2012
For many cynics, the Watseka Wonder is nothing but another case of hysterical impersonation. In hysterical impersonation, a person believes that he/she is inhabited by another spirit, usually a dead person. This is the case of Lurancy Vennum from Watseka, Illionis in 1877. Vennum was called 'Watseka Wonder' because she suffered epileptic fits, and oftentimes fell unconscious; when she woke up, she would tell her family that she had been to heaven and seen angels and her dead siblings. When her fits became more frequent, the doctors advised the family to commit her into a mental asylum. Asa B. Roff, their neighbor, believed that Vennum’s experiences were true and convinced her parents not to commit her.
Vennum was allegedly “possessed” by different spirits, but she later decided that only Mary Roff, the dead daughter of Asa Roff, lived in her body. The Roffs allowed Vennum to live in their home for a long time. However, later on, psychologists found out that “Mary” only appeared when the Roffs were present.
When Vellum married a man who was not interested in spiritism, “Mary” left Vellum. A "possession” was not reported after Vellum and her husband moved to another country.
8. Judy Castelli
- Number of Personalities: 44
For years, Castelli suffered from serious physical and sexual abuse. She struggled with voices inside her head and depression, which caused her college psychiatrist to send her home. Castelli was hospitalized numerous times for serious self-harm and suicide attempts, and each time she was wrongly diagnosed with chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia.
Judy Castelli's creative life has been fulfilling, though. During the 1980s, one of her personalities, The Judy that Can Sing, began a career singing at clubs in Greenwich Village. She was even allegedly about to be signed at Columbia Records before the person in charge lost his job. Even though a career at a record label fell through, Castelli headlined the Off-Broadway show Bottomline.
She was only properly diagnosed in 1994; it was determined she has 44 distinct personalities. Writing, music, sculpture, and making stained glass made her a successful artist. She is also a mental health advocate, and works as an art teacher for people with mental illness.
7. Herschel Walker
- Number of personalities: About a dozen
Herschel Walker, now 59, is a former professional American football player, bobsledder, sprinter and mixed martial artist. He also owns a food service company.
At a glance, Herschel is a successful person. But deep inside, he was battling an illness for a long time. He was diagnosed with DID after he retired in 1997. As a child, Herschel was always bullied because of his weight and his stuttering. His mother, a devout Christian, did not want him to be hindered by this. Thus, Herschel pushed himself hard until he surpassed everyone academically and athletically.
Herschel created another person inside him: a person that wouldn't give up; a person that is almost super human. And he became that.
Speaking to CBN, he summed up his struggle with DID as such:
“When you start wearing a hat - that you wear this red hat for football, you wear the white hat for home, you wear the blue hat for work. But all of a sudden when you leave home, you put on the red hat; you put it on at home. The hat's all screwed up. So now, that aggressive nature that you had in football is now at home because you put on the wrong hat,”
In 2008, Herschel Walker published a book called Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder where he recounted his experiences. He wrote the book so that people can better understand DID.
6. Truddi Chase
- Number of personalities: 92
- In pop culture: A TV movie called Voices Within: The Lives of Truddi Chase
Truddi Chase’s personalities did not clash, and were surprisingly aware of their presence in Truddi’s body. Calling them “the troops”, Truddi did not want them to integrate into one because “they all had been through so much together”, thus respecting their individualities. Truddi claims that she was sexually and physically abused by her stepfather when she was two, while her mother emotionally abused her for 12 years. She found work as a real estate broker, but could not function. She then went to a psychiatrist and discovered that she had DID, with 92 different personalities. The youngest was a 5 year-old girl named Lamb Chop and the eldest was Ean, a 1,000 year old Irish poet and philosopher. Truddi and her therapist wrote about her struggles with DID entitled When Rabbit Howls published in 1987. In 1990, the book was adapted into TV miniseries. Truddi was also invited to talk about her struggles on the Oprah Winfrey show in 1990. Unfortunately, she died on March 10, 2010.
5. Robert Oxnam
- Number of personalities: 11
Robert Oxnam was not abused as a child. In fact, he is a scholar studying Chinese Culture. He worked as a private consultant on Chinese cultures and affairs. But he was diagnosed with alcoholism in 1989. When he planned to leave therapy, an angry boy named Tommy, who lived in a castle, emerged. Then, another 10 personalities spoke about their lives and angsts. Years of treatment reduced the personalities into three: Robert, or Bob, who is the main personality; Bobby, a younger, quizzical, free-spirited man who loves rollerblading in Central Park; and Wanda, who is “Buddhist-like”. Wanda is part of another personality which is the Witch, but finally found her calling in Buddhism, mainly because she was inspired by the Chinese culture. In 2005, Oxnam wrote his struggles in a memoir entitled A Fractured Mind: My Life With Multiple Personality Disorder.
4. Kim Noble
- Number of personalities: 100
What would it be like to live with 99 other people controlling your life? Kim Noble deals with this, living with four to five different personalities everyday. Kim was born in the UK in the '60s, to poor unhappily married factory workers. Since childhood, she suffered physical abuse. This might have contributed to the mental problems she had as a teenager. Kim said that in her 20s, destructive personalities began to take over. Julie was one of them. Kim was a van driver; one day, her destructive personality Julie emerged, and plowed the van into parked cars.
Another destructive experience Kim went through was when one of her many personalities named Hayley became involved in a pedophile ring. When Kim finally regained control, she told the police about it. Then she started receiving death threats. Her house was almost burned down, and someone threw acid on her face.
Finally, in 1995, Kim was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, and has been receiving treatment since. Now, one of her calm, confident and responsible personalities, Patricia, has become her dominant personality. Kim works as an artist. In her Patricia persona, Kim and her daughter talked about her experiences on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2010. In 2012, Kim published the book about her “lives” called All of Me: How I Learned to Live with the Many Personalities Sharing My Body.
3. Chris Costner Sizemore
- Number of personalities: 22
- In pop culture: The 1957 movie called The Three Faces of Eve
Unlike most people in this list, Chris Costner Sizemore came from a loving home. One of the incidents that triggered her DID was when she saw a man she knew being pulled out of a ditch when she was two. That one event in her childhood changed her life. In her adulthood, personalities were starting to make considerable changes in her life. When she gave birth to her daughter Taffy, one of her personalities, 'Eve Black', tried to strangle the baby; fortunately, 'Eve White' was able to stop her. Dr. Corbett H. Thigpen diagnosed her with multiple personality disorder. While undergoing therapy, another personality came out. Chris saw 8 psychiatrists in the last 25 years, where a total of 22 different personalities manifested, and her 'three faces' meant that when personalities emerge, they do so three at a time.
Finally, in July 1974, after four years of therapy with Dr. Tony Tsitos, all the personalities merged into one. Her case was compiled by Dr. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, and became a book entitled The Three Faces of Eve. In 1957, it was adapted into a film starring by Joanne Woodward, a role in which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Chris passed away on July 24, 2016 due to a heart attack.
2. Shirley Mason
- Number of personalities: 16
- In pop culture: The 1976 miniseries Sybil
Shirley Mason was born on January 25, 1923 in Dodge, Minnesota to a sadistic mother. Her childhood difficulties were unimaginable; Shirley's mother used to give her enemas to fill her stomach with cold water. When she grew up, she would find herself in hotels in different cities and had no idea how she’d get there. Some of her most horrifying experiences was finding herself in front of broken expensive products in shops without any recollections of how she got there. In 1954, Shirley sought help for her mental problems. She had a life-long relationship with Dr. Cornelia Wilbur in Omaha. During the therapies, the personalities started appearing, totaling 16 distinct personalities altogether. Later on, Shirley admitted that some of these personalities were fake. In the course of her life, Shirley became addicted to barbiturates and heavily depended on Dr. Cornelia, who paid her bills and gave her money.
One of the most famous films about DID on this list is Sybil - which was based on the real-life experiences of Shirley Mason. Award-winning actress Sally Fields played Sybil in a TV mini-series adapted from a book with the same name. At the end of the series, Sybil lived happily ever after. In real life, the struggle of Shirley Mason only ended on February 26, 1998 when she succumbed to breast cancer.
1. Billy Milligan
- Number of personalities: 24
- In pop culture: Leonardo DiCaprio will portray him in The Crowded Room
This story is straight from a thriller movie — except that it really happened in the late '70s. Ohio State University hit the headlines for for a series of 3 kidnappings which occurred during October 14–26, 1977. The women were taken into a secluded area where they were robbed and raped. The victims had different testimonies on the personalities of the suspect. One claimed that he had a German accent. Another said that he was actually a nice guy. Physically, they were describing the same guy, but personality-wise, the 'suspects' couldn't be more different.
The trail led to 22-year-old Billy Milligan. He underwent psychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed with DID composed of 24 different personalities. The defense claimed that two of the personalities committed the crimes: Ragen, a Yugoslavian man, and Adalana, a lesbian. Billy was the first American to be given a 'not guilty' verdict by the jury due to DID. Instead of incarceration, he was confined to a mental hospital until 1988. Daniel Keyes, the award-winning author of Flowers for Algernon, wrote the life story of Billy Milligan titled: The Minds of Billy Milligan. It was believed that his personalities became one. Billy Milligan died of cancer on December 12, 2014 at the age of 59.
A life as a 'multiple' is certainly colorful, dangerous, and somewhat fascinating. DID will continue to intrigue moviegoers because of Split, and let's hope that this movie will increase more understanding and awareness towards the importance of mental health.
'Split' is released in theaters January 18, 2017.