Alters in dissociative identity disorder: Metaphors or genuine entities?

H.L.G.J. Merckelbach, G.J. Devilly, E.G.C. Rassin

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Abstract

How should the different identities (i.e., alters) that are thought to be typical for dissociative identity disorder (DID) be interpreted? Are they just metaphors for different emotional states or are they truly autonomous entities that are capable of willful action? This issue is important because it has implications for the way in which courts may handle cases that involve DID patients. Referring to studies demonstrating that alters of DID patients differ in their memory performance or physiological profile, some authors have concluded that alters are more than just metaphors. We argue that such line of reasoning is highly problematic. There is little consensus among authors about the degree to which various types of memory information (implicit, explicit, procedural) may leak from one to the other alter. Without such theoretical accord, any given outcome of memory studies on DID may be taken as support for the assumption that alters are in some sense "real." As physiological studies on alter activity often lack proper control conditions, most of them are inconclusive as to the status of alters. To date, neither memory studies nor psychobiological studies have delivered compelling evidence that alters of DID patients exist in a factual sense. As a matter of fact, results of these studies are open to multiple interpretations and in no way refute an interpretation of alters in terms of metaphors for different emotional states.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-497
Number of pages17
JournalClinical Psychology Review
Volume22
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2002

Cite this

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Alters in dissociative identity disorder: Metaphors or genuine entities? / Merckelbach, H.L.G.J.; Devilly, G.J.; Rassin, E.G.C.

In: Clinical Psychology Review, Vol. 22, 01.01.2002, p. 481-497.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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