Dissociative Identity Disorder


Psychopathological disorders are not as common as other forms of illnesses. In this analysis, I will look at the nature of Dissociative identity disorder with special analysis to the movie Sybil.

Dissociative identity disorder is a mental condition in which a person suffering from it experiences two or more different identities or personalities. In each of these personalities, the person usually has different patterns of perceiving information as well as interacting with the surrounding environment. In addition to this, the disorder involves abnormal memory loss. This abnormal memory loss is commonly referred as acute Dissociative disorder


Psychopathology is a medical or scientific term that refers to mental distresses or mental illnesses. In another context, the term can be used to refer to the manifestation of characteristic behaviours and or experiences that are usually indicative of psychological impairment or mental illnesses.

In the context of this paper, I will look at one movie and or book that have a psychological theme. In addition, I will analyze the plot as well as the characteristic features of the disease and how it is analyzed or dramatized in the movie/book.


Dissociative Identity Disorder


The movie Sybil analyzes the live of a person living with Dissociative Identity Disorder. The movie revolves around the true life of Shirley Ardell mason. Shirley was born in 1923 and died in 1998. She was a psychiatric patient, although she was a commercial artist. Shirley’s life was documented in a book by the name Sybil and later it was made a movie under the same name.

The book was written by flora Schreiber and was published in 1973. The movie by the same name was adapted in 1976. The book and movie, in order to protect mason’s privacy and identity used the name Sybil Isabel Dorsett.

The movie starred sally field (Sybil Dorsett), Joanne Woodward (Doctor Cornelia Wilbur), brad Davis (Richard Loomis) amongst others. The movie was directed by Daniel Petrie and was nominated for the globe awards.

The plot outline of the movie reveals the true story of a beautiful young woman, Sybil Dorsett. Dorset’s child hood upbringing was so traumatizing, to a point that she developed more than twelve different personalities.

For purposes of this paper I, will look analyze the movie and point out the key issues of Dissociative identity disorder (formerly multiple personality’s disorder). In this analysis, I will also look at the issue of whether the disorder really exists or it is just a medical creation.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Shirley Mason was born and brought up in Dodge Centre, Minnesota. Within the early years of the 1950s, she was a teacher and a student at Columbia University. Mason had suffered for a long time from blackouts and emotional breakdowns. After this lengthy suffering, she finally entered psychotherapy under the guidance of Doctor Cornelia B. Wilbur. Doctor Wilbur was a Freudian psychiatrist. Shirley’s sessions under Wilbur are the core basis of the book and movie.


The book and movie made the implication that Shirley suffered from the Dissociative identity disorder as a result of several incidences of sexual abuses from her mother whom unfortunately is speculated to have been suffering from schizophrenia. Schizophrenia lies on axis one on clinical disorders. It is classified in the field of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

Schizophrenia is a psychiatric or medical diagnosis that describes a mental illness that is usually characterized by perception or expression of reality impairments. In most cases, schizophrenia manifests itself as aural hallucinations, bizarre or paranoid delusions. It also manifests itself in the form of disorganized thinking and speech coordination problems. There are no laboratory tests that are currently available to test for schizophrenia.

Shirley’s parents were Mr. Walter Mason and Martha Hageman Mason. Shirley under went treatment for eleven years after which she was well adjusted to live in the society. After the publication of the book, Shirley moved to Lexington.


Dissociative Identity Disorder

Mental disorders vary depending on the time of diagnosis and or the cause of the disorder. This is why diagnostic systems like DSM are used in order to facilitate the level of communication between professionals as well as standardizing the criteria for diagnosis.

In this movie Daniel Petrie takes us through real life aspects of personality disorders to their fullest. By introducing a mix of schizophrenia, suffered by Sybil’s mother and the Dissociative identity disorder that Sybil suffered.

In addition to this Sally Field provides an awesome award-winning performance when she plays as Sybil, a disturbed woman who is suffering from a multiple personality disorder. Since Sybil was living alone in an apartment, she was tormented by numerous flashbacks and disturbing visions of her painful childhood. Since she was unable to live a normal life, Sybil met Doctor. Wilbur (Joanne Woodward).Dr Wilbur was a kind-hearted psychiatrist who ended up being extremely dedicated to help Sybil heal the wounds that were haunting her. Dr Wilbur was able to diagnose the 16 different personalities that Sybil was suffering from.


The Dissociative identity disorder, that Shirley is believed to have suffered from is not very common. Regardless of this fact, issues arose after the publication of the book that indeed mason never suffered form the disorder; rather it was a deal between her and doctor Wilbur to seal a book deal.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Although there are claims of sexual abuse these claims are rather hard to verify. Recent interviews with some of Shirley’s former friends have revealed that indeed she had an unusual relation with her mother. On the other side of the story if indeed Shirley’s mother was indeed schizophrenic, this then complicates issues further.

On the other hand, Schizophrenia, as a mental disorder is very hard to detect. This is because not unless it is detected by people or the person suffering from it tells about it, it can never be detected. John Nash’s decision to deal with the disorder, with the help of his wife is a great motivation to people living with the disease. Although the diseases prevalence is quite small, it is necessary for the wider public to accept and help people living with the disorder.


Flora, Schreiber. (1973).University of Michigan: Michigan.


Keen, M. (1999). Schizophrenia: orthodoxy & heresies. A review of alternative possibilities. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 1999.3(2)

Sims, A. (2002). Symptoms in the Mind: Introduction to Descriptive Psychopathology. London:


Dissociative Identity Disorder

Sybil: internet movie database. Available at: www.imdb.com