Multiple Personality Disorder Misdiagnosed as Mental Retardation: A Case Report

by Gail Atlas, A.C.S.W., Catherine G. Fine, PhD., Richard P. Kluft, M.D.

This article was published in the first edition of the official journal of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), published between 1988 and 1997. The current official journal of ISSTD is the Journal of Trauma & Dissociation. This article was published in the first edition: Vol 1, No. 1, March, 1988.


A woman was diagnosed as mentally retarded when she was five years of age and spent the next 35 years so classified. She also was considered schizophrenic. Incongruities in her clinical presentation ultimately led to the suspicion that she suffered multiple personality disorder. It was found that she had retreated into an adaptation consistent with the superficial manifest appearance of mental retardation, and that the intrusion of her dissociative psychopathology was mistaken for schizophrenia. Correctly diagnosed and treated, she has made noteworthy gains. Selected issues relevant to the misdiagnosis of MPD are discussed. Most individuals who suffer multiple personality disorder (MPD) are described as highly intelligent, perceptive, sensitive, and bright (Wiibur, 1984a, 1984b,1985). Beahrs (1982) writes that “multiple personalities was considered schizophrenic. Incongruities in her clinical presentation ultimately led to the suspicion that she suffered multiple personality disorder. It was found that she had retreated into an adaptation consistent with the superficial manifest appearance of mental retardation, and that the intrusion of her dissociative psychopathology was mistaken for schizophrenia. Correctly diagnosed and treated, she has made noteworthy gains. Selected issues relevant to the misdiagnosis of MPD are discussed.

Beginning of article:

Most individuals who suffer multiple personality disorder (MPD) are described as highly intelligent,
perceptive, sensitive, and bright (Wiibur, 1984a, 1984b, 1985). Beahrs (1982) writes that “multiple personalities are generally brilliant, with an insatiable curiosity about themselves and life issues” (p. 119). They are often highly accomplished, unquestionably talented, and possess unusual abilities (Wilbur, 1984a).

Braun and Sachs (1985) observe “most multiple personality disorder patients show evidence of having above-average intelligence, although this may not be accompanied by outstanding performances on standard intelligence tests” (p. 44). Although this point of view dominates the literature, Coons (1987) found that a group of MPD patients assessed primarily in a state hopital setting had a mean l.Q. in the range of average intelligence. (emphasis by blogger) It is difficult to compare this sample to the anecdotal experiences and clinical estimates of practitioners who have studied MPD patients in outpatient and private practice settings, and may be basing their comments on a rather different population.

Caul (personal communication, November 5,1987), Kluft (1979,1985,1987), and Kluft, Steinberg, and Spitzer (1988) have expressed concern that both the publicity that has surrounded certain MPD patients of
unquestioned giftedness and the fascination that often accompanies work with the more intelligent and creative individuals with MPD may have unduly influenced clinicians’ general expectations about this mental disorder. 


What changed the perceptions of clinicians and patients that convinced them that people diagnosed with multiple personalities and/or dissociative identity disorder are highly intelligent and gifted when early studies found them to be of average intelligence?

It is plain to see that treating patients believed to have an average IQ – that being around 100, is far less exciting that treating patients with high IQ’s. It also serves to further fascinate patients who believe they have high intelligence therefore being a possible lure to the multiple personality myth. Or at least a compliment to their creativeness.

What would change if patients were to be identified as within the normal, or average, intelligence range? What if the giftedness and specialness were debunked?

Leave a comment


  1. V

     /  09/10/2011

    Yup, everything goes to pieces. Not only the patient falls apart, but the family does as well. Employers, extended family, health care systems, and taxpayers were also affected in my mom’s case (mostly financially).

    So, almost everyone suffers. The doctors may stay financially whole and feel a great deal of self-satisfaction, but I imagine that promoting nonsense has its consequences for them as well.


    • V, I think you have a good point. Keep talking about the financial aspect of funding pseudo science (treatments that pass for science but are Not based on it) and passing it as medicine. There is no better way to educate people. If people knew how much their health insurance premiums have gone up to fund funky therapy like that for multiple personalities, there would be outrage. But most don’t know and I don’t think anyone has done a study to find out what the numbers are.

      Imagine needing surgery and not knowing that the procedure isn’t scientifically sound, that it hasn’t been tested, or that there is absolutely No evidence that it works or that it will not bring you further pain and anguish. The public would start making picket signs.


    • After years of researching & reporting on these pseudo science therapy that have the potential to cause lasting harm, I’ve found no instance of therapist losing sight of their need to bill an insurance company for whatever they can, deceit or not, to they can get paid.

      I’ve recently been informed that many people attending a recent conference find managed care a nuisance. When I receive the transcripts of those conversations, I’ll publish them


  2. V

     /  09/08/2011

    It’s clear you are good at lots of things, including writing! I am sorry about your friend. That is a terrible story, for everyone.

    I had this epiphany at one point, that the whole DID therapy was spiritually wrong, because it distances people (most often women) from their true selves. It substitutes emotions for real character, and it interferes with acquiring wisdom. I saw that with my mother, and it’s hard to explain. But, I have this feeling that we get one soul. I think that emotional maturity is a sort of wholeness, or being comfortable in your own skin. In DID therapy, they keep the issue of identity and self so chaotic that this feeling of being OK was impossible. I saw that. In retrospect, I think a good therapist might have tried to help my mother be OK with herself, more at peace with herself. Instead it was a constant war, and I think that it was very spiritually wrong.

    I became obsessed with the question of “what is sanity.” For me, this is key. In the DID therapy, total chaos was “progress”. Anyway, I want to figure out what it means to be a grown-up woman.


    • V, I agree with your observations and experiences of chaos. The mantra remains: you have to get worse before you get better. I haven’t known, or read about a person in DID therapy who hasn’t discussed their deteriorating mental, emotional and/or physical condition. And yes, there is little, if any, maturity that can occur or survive under those conditions.

      Perhaps sanity is just what you expressed knowing you are OK and at peace with yourself. I can’t help adding a play on words. PIECEs is what DID creates in the human psyche and spirit.


      • Christopher

         /  11/10/2014

        It is evident that your inability to harmonize and process your own past experiences is what drives this very bizarre conspiracy theory-driven vendetta against those with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Your personal experience is not a valid foundation on which to launch projections onto the different and individual experiences of others. Perhaps you ought find a more productive pasttime than passing your days seeking to unearth further means of discrediting and undermining a group of people you are openly and admittedly not a part of.

        I will also point out that the vast majority of your “supporters” are emotionally-lax women who openly profess issues with their purportedly dissociative mother; hardly an objective point of reference. Best of luck sorting yourself out.


        • Hello Christopher. By your statements about me instead of what I say shows everyone that you actually do not have anything to say.

          You comments about me how you haven’t read this blog. Why the heck would you come here and spout nonsense and think you did anything more than show your illogical thinking, youri inability to think rationally and shows what you are unable to have civil discourse about the serious, intense, and very deep questions we talk about. This may not be the blog for you. Try Psych Forums, Ivory Garden or hundreds of other sites. You seem out of your league here..

          If there is a conspiracy you are reading about on this blog, kindly point it out. I suspect the conspiracy theorie(s) of which you refer are in your mind, not on this blog.

          I should find something to do that is more productive? Really? And what would that be in your eyes? Washing dishes or your clothes?

          My readership is comprised of “emotionaally-lax” women? Wow. you are again, showing your lack of education. Why would you do that when it is waaaaaay to easy to debunk you – so I won’t be wasting my time doing so.

          I’ve nothing to “sort” out, but thanks just the same. Perhaps you can spend some time reading.Since you are hanging out at my blog, why not start here?

          Best, I hope some self-education and elementary experiences sparing with others might help.


  3. V

     /  09/07/2011

    It is pretty amazing that you were so good at fencing. I guess there are a lot of angles which can hook people into bad therapy or whatnot. The risks are certainly not disclosed!

    I think specialness was a huge draw for my mom. I think it is very sad that some people need so much to be told they are special by some whacko. It is unfortunate that they can’t feel OK just as they are, or at least get validation from someone who actually cares about them for something other than the insurance money or the glamor of having a novel patient.

    I am also sure that, although the average DID patient is probably of average intelligence, each person has some gifts that are not being used or developed while the therapy goes on. That is also sad.

    I can understand some of the appeal myself I guess. I never saw a therapist when my mom was in DID therapy — I am so grateful for that. I was pretty lonely and sad myself and I might very well have been vulnerable to the “special” angle, too. I also would have told any adult anything I thought they might have wanted to hear, and who knows what might have resulted from that.

    I sent you a couple emails, I don’t know if you got them. It wasn’t too important but I wasn’t sure.


    • I, too, am glad you didn”t see a therapist while your Mom was in treatment. It’s likely you would have gone to the same person and god knows what would have happened. There is a case where that happened with a patient of Dr. Bennett Braun. He hospitalized the children as well. Criminal. I think the name of the patient, who sued so her name is known, is Berges. sp? I’ll find it and post the details of the criminality of Dr. Bennett Braun.

      Good at fencing? I, like others who got caught in DID therapy, were good at a lot of things. I was friends with a mutiple who was a professional tennis player and making a 3 figure salary back in the 1980s.She was reduced to public assistance and 20+ years in therapy. We shared the same psychiatrist, he is retiring I hear, where does that leave a 50 something woman who has been totally dependent on the man for over 30 years? I worry about her.


  4. V

     /  09/07/2011

    I *definitely* think that part of the appeal of DID for my mother was the feeling of being special. I think she felt lonely and worthless and DID helped her feel better… temporarily.

    It is very very sad, because my observation is that DID therapy takes away real “specialness” (or, accomplishment) and replaces it with a totally illusory and shallow “specialness.”

    Prior to DID therapy, my mother was trying to take college classes and get a degree. She also was musically gifted and played in an orchestra. After DID therapy, she never took another college class nor played a musical instrument again. She also lost out on years of career development, being an actual mothgher, etc.

    DID therapy also took away some of my and my siblings’ “specialness.” Prior to DID therapy, I was playing the violin. My parents needed the money becauase of the expensoive therapy and the fact that my mother could no longer hold any job, and they so sold the violins and I never took another music lesson. This is a pretty small loss in the scheme of all the losses due to DID, but I guess it’s one of them. Our lives became such chaos that we missed out on a lot of opportunities, we went to terrible violent schools, and we were very poor. Plus, both my parents spent all their time managing DID and so they simply were not there for us.

    Weren’t you an accomplishe athelete, and didn’t the therapy put a (temporary) stop to that as well?

    It is


    • Dear V, I so appreciate when you share your experiences. You tell them with richness and have much to tell that others will find helpful – even if none of them post. Please remember there are readers listening to you. Your experiences are also very sad. Knowing that your Mother lose much of her life, but so did you, your Father, and your siblings. I doubt that if your parents knew the ramifications of DID therapy & how it would effect your family, that they would have chosen it. Like the rest of us – we did the best we could with what we knew at the time.

      The people who fell prey to DID therapy were vulnerable and probably desperate for help when they found those therapists. I doubt that any therapist disclosed that as a patient, will lose income, live a chaotic life, negatively effect your children’s upbringing, and be in therapy for years – or decades. That type of honest disclosure & informed consent will get few clients. Unless of course, one hypes the special, highly intelligent angle. Or the something happened or you wouldn’t be having these feelings and experiences angle.

      Yes, DID people are repeatedly told they are special, unique, and “highly intelligent” which I believe is easy for anyone to hear. Then there is the constant therapy where someone has the opportunity to have the undivided attention of another human being. That in itself is something we all should have from time to time. The highly intelligent factor is a myth and I always thought so.

      Yes, I fenced during college and was invited to try out for the Olympic team – but made other choices at the time. In an odd twist, fencing helped me get Out of DID therapy. Using my mind and body to do something I loved (fence) made me need or want prescription drugs less and less as time passed. That was the beginning of my mind clearing up and making a path for reality to sneak in…



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