Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Patient with Multiple Personalities Sketches her 17 Alter Egos

The media have a field day with Dissociative Identity Disorder. It is often the basis of comedy. A feature NPR report that aired this afternoon dwelled at length on the comedic aspects of a play about DID, and managed to skirt the inconvenient fact that childhood torture and sexual abuse are the cause of the disorder. It's particularly common among victims of ritual abuse. Multiplicity is a serious mental illness and should not be separated from its roots in childhood trauma for the sake of a quirky bit of coverage on NPR, or an easy laugh at the movie mall. We're talking about mental illness and deep pain. If cancer patients behaved humorously, it would still be in poor taste to laugh at them. - AC

Patient with multiple personalities sketches her 17 alter egos
25 October 2007

A woman who developed multiple personalities as the result of being abused as a child has sketched her alter egos - all 17 of them.

Karen Overhill took on a range of personalities to escape the trauma, such as Sandy, 18, a depressed binge eater, and Jensen, an 11-year-old black boy who drew the sketch.

She had been abused by her father and grandfather during her childhood, starting with physical assaults by her dad when she was just a baby.

The mother-of-two began developing imaginary people aged between two to 34 to bear the brunt of the abuse.

Two-year-old Karen Boo took over when she was attacked as an infant, while seven-year-old Claire was created after Ms Overhill was sexually abused on her Communion Day.

s Overhill, an American, drew the sketch after seeking help from psychiatrist Dr Richard Baer, following some disturbing episodes where she was unaware of her actions.

After giving birth by caesarian section, Ms Overhill found she did not recognise her family or friends after she awoke following anesthesia.

During a trip to a Las Vegas casino, Ms Overhill's mind "went somewhere else" and was stunned to find the $25 she had arrived with had turned into $2,500.

One night, she awoke to find a knife under her pillow with no recollection over how the instrument had got there.

Ms Overhill said: "It would come like a wave over me.

"When I came back to myself I'd be exhausted. I never knew where I'd been or what I'd done, so I would have to look for clues, like a bag in the car or leftovers from a restaurant. It was amazing, but I accepted it."

Dr Baer discovered she had dissociative identity disorder (previously termed multiple personality disorder) in 1993, after Ms Overhill wrote him a letter that said: "My name is Claire. I am seven years old. I live inside Karen."

Using hypnosis, Dr Baer found the personalities were male and female, black and white, and different ages. Some were left-handed, others right-handed, and they even walked differently.

Baer explained: "Dissociating (separating from one's reality in the present) is a defense mechanism. It's one of many we have psychologically to cope with stress. It's an extreme method.

"When you have the kind of abuse Karen suffered, you call on whatever coping mechanism you can."

Ms Overhill also created a mother figure and a father figure, said Dr Baer, who has written a book, Switching Time: A Doctor's Harrowing Story of Treating a Woman With 17 Personalities about the case.

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