Ian Hacking, Rewriting the Soul: Multiple Personality and the Sciences of Memory (Pinceton: Princeton University Press, 1995).

Chapter 1: “Is It Real?”

As long ago as 1982 psychiatrists were talking about “the multiple personality epidemic.” . . . Ten years earlier, in 1972, multiple personality had seemed to be a mere curiosity. “Less than a dozen cases have been reported in the last fifty years.” You could list every multiple personality recorded in the history of Western medicine, even if experts disagreed on how many of these cases were genuine. None? Eighty-four? More than a hundred with the first clear description given by a German physician in 1791? Whatever number you favored, the word for the disorder was rare.

Ten years later, in 1992, there were hundreds of multiples in treatment in every sizable town in North America. Even by 1986 it was thought that six thousand patients had been diagnosed. After that, one stopped counting and spoke about an exponential increase in the rate of diagnosis since 1980. Clinics, wards, units, and entire private hospitals dedicated to the illness were being established all over the continent. Maybe one person in twenty suffered from a dissociative disorder.

What has happened? Is a new form of madness, [until now] almost unknown, stalking our continent? Or have multiples always been around unrecognized? . . . . Perhaps clinicians have only recently learned to make correct diagnoses. It is far easier, they say, now that we know the most common cause of dissociated personalities – early and repeated sexual abuse in childhood. Only a society prepared to acknowledge that family violence is everywhere could find multiple personalities everywhere.

Or, as a majority of psychiatrists still contend, is there simply no such thing as multiple personality disorder? Is the epidemic the work of a small but committed band of therapists, unwittingly aided and abetted by sensational stories in the tabloids and afternoon TV talk shows?

We at once arrive at what sounds like the big question: Is it real?

. . . .

. . . . Is multiple personality a real disorder as opposed to the product of social circumstances, a culturally permissible way to express distress or unhappiness? That question makes a presupposition that we should reject. It implies that there is an important contrast between being a real disorder and being a product of social circumstances. The fact that a certain type of mental illness appears only in specific historical or geographical contexts does not imply that it is manufactured, artificial, or in any other way not real. . . .

Chapter 6, “Cause”

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. . . . Psychiatry did not discover that early and repeated child abuse causes multiple personality. It forged that connection, in the way that a blacksmith turns formless molten metal into tempered steel. . . . A disturbed type of behavior has been joined to events in early childhood that may surface in memory. Cynics about the multiple movement argue that both the behavior and the memories are cultivated by therapists. That is not my argument. I am pursuing a far more profound concern, namely, the way in which the very idea of the cause was forged. Once we have that idea, we have a very powerful tool for making up people, or, indeed, for making up ourselves. The soul that we are constantly constructing we construct according to an explanatory model of how we came to be the way we are.

. . . . A seemingly innocent theory on causation (which might as a matter of empirical fact be true or false) becomes formative and regulatory. . . . .

. . . . [T]he causal theory about dissociative disorders cannot be understood on its own. For we must come to see how it became obvious, inevitable, the sort of thing that nobody even asks about. It did so because memory became the way to have knowledge of the soul.