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Sybil Dorsett, a pseudonym, became the paradigm of a psychiatric diagnosis once known as multiple personality disorder.These days, it goes by a more anodyne label: dissociative identity disorder.
Less than a decade after “Sybil” made its appearance, in 1980, the American Psychiatric Association formally recognized the disorder, and the numbers soared into the thousands.
People went on television to tell the likes of Jerry Springer and Leeza Gibbons about their many alters.
Even with medical conditions that are less controversial and far more familiar to most Americans, questions arise.
Consider a developmental disorder like autism or Asperger syndrome.
The notion that a person might embody several personalities, each of them distinct, is hardly new.
The ancient Romans had a sense of this and came up with Janus, a two-faced god.
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Alters, psychiatrists call them, short for alternates.
As a mass-market book published in 1973, “Sybil” sold in the millions.