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Dissociative identity as a continuum from healthy mind to psychiatric disorders: Epistemological and neurophenomenological implications approached through hypnosis

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Enrico Facco, Laura Mendozzi, Angelo Bona, Achille Motta, Massimo Garegnani, Isa Costantini, Ottavia Dipasquale, Pietro Cecconi, Roberta Menotti, Elisa Coscioli, Susanna Lipari

Original languageEnglish
Article number109274
JournalMedical Hypotheses
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2019

King's Authors


The topic of multiple personality, redefined as Dissociative Identity Disorders (DIDs) in the DSM-5, is an intriguing and still debated disorder with a long history and deep cultural and epistemological implications, extending up to the idea of possession. Hypnosis is an appealing and valuable model to manipulate subjective experience and get an insight on both the physiology and the pathophysiology of the mind-brain functioning; it and has been closely connected with DIDs and possession since its origin in 18th century and as recently proved the capacity to yield a loss of sense of agency, mimicking delusions of alien control and spirit possession. In this study we report on five very uncommon “hypnotic virtuosos” (HVs) free from any psychiatric disorder, spontaneously undergoing the emergence of multiple identities during neutral hypnosis; this allowed us to check the relationship between their experience and fMRI data. During hypnosis the subjects underwent spontaneous non-intrusive experiences of other selves which were not recalled after the end of the session, due to post-hypnotic amnesia. The fMRI showed a significant decrease of connectivity in the Default Mode Network (DMN) especially between the posterior cingulate cortex and the medial prefrontal cortex. Our results and their contrast with the available data on fMRI in DIDs allows to draw the hypothesis of a continuum between healthy mind – where multiple identities may coexist at unconscious level and may sometimes emerge to the consciousness – and DIDs, where multiple personalities emerge as dissociated, ostensibly autonomous components yielding impaired functioning, subject's loss of control and suffering. If this is the case, it seems more reasonable to refrain from seeking for a clear-cut limit between normality (anyway a conventional, statistical concept) and pathology, and accept a grey area in between, where ostensibly odd but non-pathological experiences may occur (including so-called non-ordinary mental expressions) without calling for treatment but, rather, for being properly understood.

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