This is an image of James McAvoy in the movie "Split." He is looking directly into the camera. It looks as if he is looking out from behind cracked glass.

Dissociative Identity Disorder is not a B-Movie Monster

Split is M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film. Over the course of its story, teenage girls are brutally attacked, watch their friends die, and get both their entrails and strategically sexy parts of their clothing ripped to pieces by a monster. The characters are one-dimensional and unrealistic, nothing more than plot devices. It’s basically your generic B-movie, except for one very crucial difference: The monster isn’t the result of a science experiment gone horribly wrong or a supernatural demon. The “monster” is a person with DID, or Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Honestly, saying ‘person’ is a bit of a stretch as Shyamalan never treats Kevin, our monster, with any shred of humanity. In Shyamalan’s vision of mental illness, Kevin doesn’t get to be a person. Every other character, no matter how flat, has a life outside of the horror narrative. Kevin’s entire existence, in contrast, is that of brutal violence and little else. Shyamalan robs him of any real agency long before he transforms Kevin into “the Beast,” a depraved supernatural being – a literal monster.

This dichotomy is the heart of Split: in one corner, we have the normal human people such as the bubbly suburban girls and the self-interested therapist. In the other corner, we have monsters with DID. Within the Horde system (yes, that’s really what Kevin calls himself), headmates with visible symptoms of OCD and PTSD are also portrayed as sadistic and volatile. No one with a mental illness in this movie is shown as nice or normal.

Real people with DID battle a cloud of ignorance and fear. We are treated as dishonest, juvenile, and unstable threats. If someone finds out you’re plural, the responses range from dismissive to outright hostile. Living with DID means constantly monitoring your actions to keep yourself safe.

As I write this, every survival instinct urges me to delete this entire piece. I can count the number of singlets (people without DID) who know I’m plural on one hand. The only way I can publish this is with the promise of anonymity. I am terrified of what would happen if my employer knew, despite the fact that having DID has zero effect on how well I do my job. I am terrified of a mental health professional finding out, as an official diagnosis of DID risks surrendering any control over my life. That is, if the therapist even believes my system exists at all. I am a child, a liar, or a monster. I am never a human being.

Movies like Split trade on sensational imagery of DID and position us as nightmares, not people. If we’re creatures of the shadows, we are only there because we have been pushed into these dark corners. We deserve to tell our stories: include the voices of the marginalized in your media or don’t write about us at all.


6 thoughts on “Dissociative Identity Disorder is not a B-Movie Monster”

  1. I completely agree it’s so much ignorance these days even with so much information out there people don’t make time to understand. Although people are sure to judge or speak on topics they don’t completely understand them or have gone through them. That’s why we live in the society we do.

  2. It’s what I call the “Jaws effect”. You see, when the movie Jaws came out, great white sharks, which previously had been regarded as pests who steal you catch, were suddenly regarded as vicious predators who killed people. Thus, it became something of a trend to kill these sharks (sharks that cannot live in captivity seemingly because it causes them to suffer from lethal sensory overload – the descriptions sound like that, and as an autistic, I have had sensory overload, though not the lethal kind that great whites can get, thank goodness), pretty much for the sake of being heroes. Thus, a lot of sharks died and it took a lot of effort to save them. I’m afraid the movie Split would have the same effect on people with DID – people would treat them, too, as monsters, and even if they don’t kill people with DID for fear of being arrested for murder, they may certainly be more likely to ostracize them, refuse to hire them, or other such horrible things

  3. This is pretty much what I thought from the description of the movie. Horror movies have really driven a lot of the stigma against mental illness.

    Anyone here familiar with the character Mark Vorkosigan? (Not Miles, MARK.)

  4. I’m glad someone wrote this. I’ve been bothered by the ads for this movie. I’d like to post a link to it, but share the fears of the author.

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