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Heathcliff Newman

Royal Holloway University of London (2023)


Prof. Hannah Thompson


Identity Confusion and ‘Mad Gain’ in Nineteenth-Century England, France, and Russia


In the nineteenth-century writers were often preoccupied with what it meant to be mad. What causes it? How do mad people act? How do we stop or contain it? Should we even try? One form of madness gripped the artistic imagination with such power that it can be seen appearing across Europe, especially in Russia, France, and Britain. The double. The split. What would it be like to meet, or create, someone that was undoubtedly “you” and yet a complete stranger?

As psychiatric science developed, society began giving this multiple names. First came the dédoublement, then the doppelgänger, next Multiple Personality Disorder, and now we call it Dissociative Identity Disorder. Nineteenth-century authors and psychiatrists worked in tandem to understand what this meant for mankind and for those living with the disorder. As time passed, the close alliance of art and medicine began to dissipate and DID was confined to the medical world.
Until, in 2016, M. Night Shyamalan released his film ‘Split’, depicting a man with DID as a psychotic and terrifying beast, destined to destroy. Popular culture began to discuss multiple personalities, leading to irreparable damage to the worldwide community of sufferers. It is now time to collate all that we know from Critical Disability Studies, Mad Studies, Psychiatry, and Art in order to look back at these representations.

My PhD will bridge this gap, develop ‘Mad Gain’ to prove the benefits of dissociative identities in helping us to all understand who we are and how we can fit into the world. I will argue for a positive outlook that will deconstruct traditional, damaging, representations and understandings and explore how people living with DID today can feel confident and proud of who they are.