Marvel’s Moon Knight’ has opened up a debate about the mental illness called ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’. How authentic is it though?
It’s 2022 and it’s high time that we talk about something major that affects most of us- mental health. Nowadays, awareness is dispersing about mental health, especially on social media, removing the stigma attached to it. More and more people are joining the discourse and are learning about how to maintain good mental health. Mental illnesses like depression and anxiety are being talked about. To some extent, people are also becoming aware of mental illnesses like Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. However, there is very little awareness or discussion about ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’. However, this disorder has now become a subject of discussion thanks to Marvel‘s latest web series ‘Moon Knight’.
Dissociative Identity Disorder is a disorder wherein a person develops multiple distinct personalities. While the term ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’ has not been used in Moon Knight, it is being stated in media (and also on Wikipedia) that the protagonist Marc Spector (played by Oscar Isaac) suffers from this disorder. Marc has two alter personalities, namely Steven Grant and Jake Lockley. Marc, an American mercenary, is Moon Knight- the avatar of the Egyptian god Khonshu. Steven, a mild-mannered British museum gift-shop employee and also Mr Knight, is the personality that Marc developed in his childhood to cope with trauma. Jake is a Spanish taxi driver, who too, kills on the order of Khonshu. In Moon Knight, Steven constantly loses track of time and days. He goes to sleep in his bed but wakes up in another country altogether. He speaks with Marc by looking into reflective surfaces. There are many more such symptoms.
While the series has received both good and bad reviews, it has opened up a larger debate and discussion about Dissociative Identity Disorder. However, what is this disorder? How can one identify it? More importantly, how can we support those who are suffering from it? Hence, we reached out to psychiatrist Dr Rashi Agarwal to learn more.
Here’s what she said.
What is Dissociative Identity Disorder? What are the symptoms and causes?
Dissociative Identity Disorder and dissociative symptoms can occur both in traumatic contexts and for
non-traumatic events in everyday life. This does not occur randomly but is due to a potentially explainable psychobiological process or processes. Studies have also shown that early-life dissociation in a person may develop for resilience, particularly in the most severe, early-life onset dissociative disorders. Early psychological “compartmentalisation” of traumatic experiences may allow for more normal development in and preservation of cognitive and creative abilities. This development occurs along with a capacity for humour and hope just like Marc develops Steven to have a normal lifestyle.
Does Moon Knight depict the disorder properly? If yes, specify how.
Yes, to an extent, as individuals with a presumptive presentation of possession-form Dissociative Identity Disorder might also have Amnesia of variable duration of time. The possession state also has to be pathological which is leading to distress or impairment in the affected individual. In the series, the criteria for the disorder were fully satisfied as relating to the emergence and establishment of the disorder. The show does a lot of justice to this complex and unusual disorder. Freud’s disciple Sandor Ferenczi
wrote papers that described the sequelae of childhood sexual abuse and resulted in profound “splitting
of the personality,” identical to modern descriptions of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Literature
emphasized the “splitting” of the ego as a result of these early traumas, which the series Moon Knight emphasized by showing that Marc developed a dual personality after the accidental drowning of his brother, and his mother blaming him for the same. He developed a dual personality to cope with it.
Has therapy been portrayed authentically in the series?
Not really. However, we are not told what methods were being used. Was there any flow to it or a pattern? Also, in the end, we are left on a cliffhanger whether it’s reality or the story just goes on in Marc’s mind.
Is the series opening up a dialogue about the disorder or is it stigmatising the disorder further?
There have been very few media reports on the disorder as well as fewer case studies as the disorder is
rare and requires extensive follow-up and detailed history. The earliest media presence is the movie ‘Three Faces of Eve’ in 1957. In the Indian context, there was a serial called ‘Jyoti’ in 2007 on Imagine TV which exposed the Indian audiences to the same concept. Moon Knight is one more step in that direction.
What would you advise viewers to keep in mind while watching such a series (with regards to mental
The series can be taken in the context of entertainment only. We are glad that mental health issues are
being highlighted and entering the mainstream, that too by Marvel which is widely loved and watched. However, just remember that fiction is many times just fiction.
What would you advise to someone who thinks that they might have this disorder?
Research has shown that Dissociative Identity Disorder patients are often highly symptomatic and impaired. Also, the added rarity of the illness makes it highly unlikely that the person is able to carry out activities of daily life without any difficulty. However, if someone is having frequent memory lapses, instances of subjective self-alteration (98 per cent), symptoms of overlap, interference, and intrusion among self-states, derealization, or depersonalization, I would suggest that you seek medical help as soon as possible to formulate a plan including medicines and therapy for maximum recovery.
Dr Rashi Agarwal (M.B.B.S. M.D. PSYCHIATRY) is a practising psychiatrist in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. She is a mental health advocate who has a keen interest in how mental illnesses are related to hormonal fluctuations, especially in women. You can find her on Instagram at @drrashipsychiatrist where she tries to destigmatise mental illness and initiate conversations around mental health among the masses.