New movie ‘Split’ explores real psychological disorder

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This image released by Universal Pictures shows James McAvoy in a scene from, "Split." (Universal Pictures via AP)
Actor James McAvoy plays a character with dissociative identity disorder in a scene from “Split.” The movie was released Jan. 20, 2017. (Universal Pictures via AP)

For a person dealing with dissociative identity disorder, the mind and body can resemble a 9-year-old boy coloring photos of the house he lives in at one moment and a 24-year-old British female with obsessive compulsive disorder the next.

New movie “Split” describes the life of a person dealing with dissociative identity disorder — a battle between multiple personalities.

The movie was released on Jan. 20 and depicts the story of a man diagnosed with the disorder. Kevin, the main character, has 23 different personalities. The storyline of the movie involves a battle between those personalities, his therapist and the three teenage girls whom he abducts at the beginning of the movie, according to IMDb.

Psychology Today defines dissociative identity disorder as a “severe condition in which two or more distinct identities, or personality states, are present in — and alternately take control of — an individual.”

Antonio Calanni
Actor James McAvoy poses during a photo call for the movie “Split” in Milan, Italy on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. Split is a psychological horror thriller film based on the true story of Billy Milligan. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

BYU film student Jordan Brown said “Split” showed how real the disorder is to individuals who struggle with it. He said he thought the movie did a good job of portraying the change of personalities in a person.

“It really showed how personalities can develop in people with this disorder, and the movie was great at showing the transition into different personalities,” Brown said. “The character’s personalities changed throughout the movie, and it was so fascinating to watch.”

BYU psychologist and Comprehensive Clinic director Dean Barley said there are many people who struggle with this disorder.

“It’s hard for clinicians and the general public to believe this disorder actually exists,” Barley said. “Unfortunately, it does exist and people deal with this. It’s virtually always the result of a repeated trauma. If I’m a loved one, knowing the history of the person might be something to watch for — someone with an alleged trauma does have a higher probability of experiencing this condition.”

Barley said 23 personalities are reasonable in real life for those who struggle with this disorder, and there is usually a purpose for each of those personalities.

“People develop as many ‘alters’ as necessary to survive their situation with whatever characteristics they need,” Barley said. “Often, the different personalities will include different genders, ages, voices and characteristics that all have a meaning. These characteristics often are triggered by certain things and they show up and perform their function and then they’re gone.”

BYU Latin American studies alumnus Seth Hoyt said the character’s transition of personalities was interesting to see as the character completely changed everything about his persona. He said the character went from one severe personality to another personality, such as from a 9-year-old boy to a middle-aged woman.

According to Barley, the transition of personalities can be abrupt. But because these people have learned to survive in the public, these changes can be so subtle that other people don’t even notice the shift.

“If I’m talking to someone while they change ‘alters,’ I will often say to them, ‘I spent the last 15 minutes speaking to a child,’ and they may not remember, or they may say, ‘Yeah I was watching and I know (that alter).’ They often don’t remember, though,” Barley said.

Hoyt praised James McAvoy’s acting and said he did a phenomenal job at showcasing each individual personality the character embodied.

“My favorite part of it was the actual character of Kevin that James McAvoy played,” Hoyt said. “Seeing him switch between the different characters is interesting. I thought it was interesting when the doctor would talk about the personalities and how the character really believed that he was each of those different persons.”

Barley said although there are different opinions of the entertainment this movie brings, this is still a real disorder that many people deal with today. He said these people can function normally in society, and many of these people are often misdiagnosed with a variety of conditions like schizophrenia or bipolar disorders, according to Barley.

“When I talk to these people about what they want the public to know, they will often tell me that if there is one thing they want the public to know is that ‘We exist and we want to be treated respectfully,'” Barley said.

Brown said he thought even though some of the parts of the movie were exaggerated, it showed real struggles of the disorder.

“It really showed the audience the internal struggles that people with that disorder deal with,” Brown said. “It also showed how out of hand that disorder could get if it’s not recognized by the therapist or anyone else.”

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