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Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 10.2 (2003) 161-167

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Social, Cognitive, and Neural Constraints on Subjectivity and Agency:
Implications for Dissociative Identity Disorder

Peter Q. Deeley

In this commentary, I consider Matthew's argument after making some general observations about dissociative identity disorder (DID). In contrast to Matthew's statement that "cases of DID, although not science fiction, are extraordinary" (p. 148), I believe that there are natural analogs of the disorder that, when considered, make it seem less puzzling and exotic. After discussing these examples, I examine the relations between social, cognitive, and neural processes supporting subjectivity and agency, to identify sources of personal identity in cases of DID that can be used as a basis for assessing Matthew's points against Behnke and Sinnott-Armstrong. I am not proposing a comprehensive theory, but rather identifying what I believe are components of such a theory. I then outline an approach to determining criminal responsibility in DID, drawing on analogies with other psychiatric disorders.

Dissociative Identity Disorder

DID is a disorder described in DSM-IV, which "is characterised by the presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states that recurrently take control of the individual's behaviour accompanied by an inability to recall important personal information that is too extensive to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness" (American Psychiatric Association, p. 519).

Recognizing Personal Identity

How is personal identity recognized in normal cognition? If we take personhood to involve recognition of continuity of social, psychological, and physical identity for a given individual, then such judgments are routinely made rapidly and automatically as an aspect of what has come to be termed social cognition (Adolphs 2003). There is likely to be considerable redundancy in [End Page 161] the types of information used to make judgments about whether a person is the same as one who was previously encountered, or perhaps heard about—for example, facial features, movement patterns, speech prosody, dress, speech content, gender, ethnicity, social role, among other features, all provide information about individual identity, and hence personhood. When uncertainty exists, it is likely to reflect a loss or alteration of cues that would ordinarily be used in a rapid, automatic, unexamined way (Adolphs 2003). In such extreme cases (for example, severe mental illness or disfigurement), the problem of identification becomes the subject of explicit reasoning (and hence of potential disagreement, because we then engage in post hoc rationalizations to establish criteria for determining personhood, whereas normally we rely on essentially automatic, implicit abilities that work in most circumstances, some of which make little use of linguistic representations and formal reasoning—for example, individual facial identity recognition, which may occur as quickly as 170 ms after stimulus onset [Adolphs 2003]). Nevertheless, examining our judgments and intuitions in cases that force us to explicitly consider whether personal identity is preserved may provide analogies and clues for how we should proceed with DID. Let us consider, then, some natural analogs of DID.

Natural Analogs of DID

Method Acting

I suggest that method acting is an analog of DID (Manderino 1985). Method acting refers to an approach to acting training and performance in which emphasis is placed on intensely imagining and identifying with the mental life of the character being portrayed. Training courses and manuals list many techniques and practices that can be used to facilitate absorption in a role, drawing on different kinds of memory—for example, experiential memories, memories of others, general knowledge (semantic memory), and memories of sensations and feelings, to creative a vivid sense of the subjective experience and actions of the character. Manderino, a method acting teacher, comments:

"it is important to investigate the way in which your own mental makeup can improperly influence a character. Insecurities, self-consciousness, shyness or self-doubts can maintain a strong hold, and permitting any of these feelings to enter a performance is to remain the actor and not enter into the mental life of the character. For some, acting allows personal problems to be left behind, and they are thankful for the complete escape that...


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