Pic of the day: Screenshot from the anime Mahoraba ~Heartful Days~, in which the main character is a girl with five different personalities. For good measure, the one depicted here is obsessed with "cosplay", which means dressing up as a character from a comic or cartoon or video game. Which is in itself a kinda related topic, don't you think?
I have been reading some more about healthy multiple personalities. One interesting statement which I saw repeatedly is that the term Dissociative Identity Disorder is actually limited to the United States; in Europe they still use the old term, Multiple Personality Disorder. There also seems to be an impression among the multiples that there was a kind of witch hunt in the 1980s and 90s, where a particular school of psychiatrists discovered multiple personalities and recovered memories of sexual abuse during childhood in thousands -- if not tens of thousands -- of random patients. Many of the memories also included satanic rituals. This epidemic, which was limited to the USA, was followed by a backlash. Now many people don't believe in recovered memories, but also not in multiple personalities. In Europe, the number of patients with multiple personality disorder has been roughly constant.
But not all people with multiple personalities consider themselves mentally ill or even unlucky. Some think it is a perfectly acceptable but somewhat unusual condition of the brain, kind of like being lefthanded. They find it hard to be open about it, though, especially after the "recovered memory" controversy. On the other hand, some postmodernist thinkers now claim that some degree of multiple personality is normal... indeed, that the experience of a unified ego is an illusion. (I'm not sure what is postmodernist about that: The Buddha said the same thing thousands of years ago.)
As I have said before, I believe there is a continuum from the completely integrated to the completely dissociated. I am not sure how much of this is genetic, how much is cultural, and how much just happens as you grow up and make your own decisions. On one end of the spectrum we have the people who are basically the same in the bedroom as in the boardroom. They may do different things at different times and places, but they do them with the same attitudes, the same values and the same underlying priorities. It doesn't really matter where you meet them, they give the same impression and react in the same way. Their soul is like a pearl, it looks the same from any angle. Furthermore, it looks the same to themselves as well. They are completely alone in their own head, and completely in control of their body. I think most people see this as a kind of ideal, but few -- if any -- actually are like that.
Most people are a bit different depending on where they are, what they are doing and who they are together with. They are a slightly different person at work from at home, and if you get alone with them you will find them different from in the crowd. Likely as not, one of their aspects will be embarrassed by another. They don't want everyone in their life to know everything about them, or even to know the same things about them. But they still think of themselves as the same person, and they are probably not aware of how different they behave. Or even if they are, so what? That's perfectly normal, everyone does that.
Then there are some people who feel a kind of invisible presence in their mind, either all the time or some of the time. If they think about it at all, they probably consider it a supernatural or divine presence: God, Jesus or perhaps a guardian angel. Or perhaps their stillborn twin, or the grandfather who passed away when they were little. But whatever it is, they don't feel lonely as long as the presence is with them. (Regular readers will know that I belong in this category.)
Writers probably don't consider themselves normal; or if they do, not many others would share the opinion. So it is no big surprise that many writers have a personal relationship with their characters, to the point of talking with them. At least one famous novel writer here in Scandinavia (Margit Sandemo) quite seriously claimed that some of her characters existed independently of her and came to her demanding to have their story written. Other writers don't take their characters that literally, but often claim to have invisible "muses" that help them make their stories. These muses may come and go at their own discretion, help or hinder the writer, and have mood swings of their own. (And yes, I have experienced this too, which may be why I place it so close to the normal part of the spectrum... but experience from the NaNoWriMo boards show that it is quite common at least among hobby writers.)
Further than this most people are hesitant to go. But there are some who claim to have conversations with their guardian angels, or with friends or relatives who have passed on. Others again claim to be able to channel such persons, to lend them whole or part of their bodies. This tends to upset a lot of people if you talk about it. Others again are fully aware of being "dissociated" in the sense that they do not consider themselves one single person, but rather a group of persons. Still one of them may be in charge, but not necessarily. Among themselves inside their shared body they have their own names and their own distinct personalities like any other group of people. Amazingly, each of these personalities may be highly developed with talents and skills, so that the total person as perceived by the world around them seems extraordinarily talented.
Most of us seem able to create new personalities at the drop of a hat, so to speak. We do this in our dreams at night. The characters we meet there are, after all, entirely in our own heads. Even then, some people tend to only dream about people they know or at least have met. Others create quite complex personalities in their dreams which they have conversations with or adventures of some kind. And some of us, probably a minority, actually experience being some of these persons. (When this happens to me, I have no memory of being Magnus Itland, but have instead other memories that are fitting for these persons. When I wake up, I can only remember those of their memories that I actually thought about or talked about during the dream, so it is not clear how much backstory my brain actually fabricated.) And some people experience during hypnosis vivid memories of earlier lives. Once again, some of these lives are very shallow and unrealistic. But some are amazingly complex and lifelike, except when you research that time and place you normally find no trace of them. Once again it seems that the brain has been able to create a new personality out of the blue.
All this makes me believe that we -- or at least some of us -- are limited not by our brains but by the social conventions that tell us what is possible and impossible. If we had not been deceived by the society around us and the traditions we live by, we might be able to display skills and talents we don't have now. We might be able to remember more, understand deeper, communicate better and create more vividly. But in our desperation for integration we give up some of the brain's capacity for multitasking. And so we fall down toward the average and the safety of normalcy.
"... but I may be wrong:
Leonard Cohen, Tower of Song.
Visit the ChaosNode.net for the older diaries I've put out to pasture.