Dissociation: popular culture

I watched a TV crime drama last week where the bad guy was portrayed as a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” kind of guy, with two distinct personalities. When the show’s guest therapist figured it out, he said, “Oh, he has DPD, dissociative personality disorder, that’s why he passed the polygraph—we tested Jekyll, not Hyde!”

They figured out they needed to bring out the other personality, that knew about the crime, that couldn’t pass the polygraph test.

The thing that struck me was how an acronym like DPD was just casually thrown about and assumed to be understood in the way MPD, multiple personality disorder used to be understood, even though the recognized diagnosis for what used to be MPD is DID, dissociative identity disorder.

Never mind that the scientific community actually uses the term DPD for depersonalization disorder, a condition that includes feeling disconnected from oneself, but does not include alternative identities. Yet, even though the TV show got that part wrong, it’s so interesting that dissociation itself is a word in a popular TV detective series today.

Three years ago I was repeatedly told by my writing group that I shouldn’t even use the word dissociation because no one understood it, and any explanation I gave, even the most dumbed-down explanation, was criticized for being “too clinical”.

Perhaps some dissociative individuals fit the model they showed on that TV show: highly compartmentalized to the point of no shared awareness with alternate identities. Today, I read the literature and find aspects of my DD, dissociative disorder, that were absolutely true for me, and other aspects that are sketchier. I’m fond of saying that no one is more compartmentalized than I was before integration, and it’s no doubt true for most DD individuals.

I think my main point is that if primetime TV is a reflection of popular understanding of a serious psychiatric condition that has its roots in childhood trauma, we’ve come a long way from where we were even three years ago. DPD, indeed.

It’s a beginning. At least the word has entered our vocabulary. Dissociation. It’s real.