The Damaging Representation of Dissociative Identity Disorder in Hollywood

Originally shared on Facebook, April 11, 2021.

Recently, Apple announced that they cast Tom Holland in an Apple TV+ show called ‘The Crowded Room.’ In the series, Holland will portray Billy Milligan, the first person acquitted of a crime because of dissociative identity disorder after being arrested for raping three women at OSU in the 1970s.

People with DID have expressed concern about Apple’s choice to represent Milligan’s story on the show because when DID gets recognition in the media, it is often shown as dangerous, violent alters. (Split is an example of the damaging portrayal in popular media.) Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, the APA re-classed DID in 1994. The first season will be the telling of Milligan’s story based on the 1981 biography, ‘The Minds of Billy Milligan.’ There are other books about DID available.

DID is currently one of the least diagnosed disorders out there, coming in at about 1% of the general world population. Researchers believe the number is higher due to lack of understanding of DID/misdiagnosis, trauma response/fear preventing patients from seeking help, lack of mental health care, and many systems being unaware without help.

Diagnosis of DID typically happens in women in their early 30s, though the onset of dissociative symptoms occurs between 5 and 10 years old. The average emergence of alters occurs around the age of 6. It’s very important to remember that DID is trauma based. This is not something people are born with. This is something that occurs when a child goes through trauma in the formative years.

The other problem people have with the show is the spread of misinformation. We all know someone who watches fictional representations of reality and thinks it’s true. If you watch the show, please keep in mind that this story takes place in the 70s, 80s, and early 90s and a lot of information is outdated.

This means that the show will probably call it multiple personality disorder. It will talk about how they believed DID worked then, and not the structural dissociation that many DID specialists believe is actually the case now. This show won’t bridge the gap between MPD and why the APA re-classed it.

It is important to understand that this portrayal is scary for a lot of DID systems. The DID community comprises traumatized people who already live in fear or sharing their diagnosis. They know the portrayal in popular media will affect how someone takes the news. These are people who, when they tell someone, feel the need to say, “I want you to know I would never hurt you because I know what people think…”“Well, how could they have represented it better?”

NFL star Herschel Walker revealed his DID diagnosis in 2008. He wrote a book about coming to terms with his diagnosis and hoped it would educate the public and break down stereotypes about the disorder. Why couldn’t they tell his story instead?

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