What we know about Felida X comes from a summary of the case by Dr. Eugene Etienne Azam which appears in the Dictionary of Psychological Medicine. Before Azam plunges into his description of the now-famous Felida X, he makes reference to another case of what was termed "dual consciousness," which was described by Robert Macnish in his very popular 1816 book, The Philosophy of Sleep. Macnish's dual consciousness case, Azam contends, was the first to his knowledge that had ever been published.
The earlier case involved a young, well educated woman of a good background who suddenly fell into profound sleep. When she returned to consciousness several days later, she'd forgotten everything she knew and had to learn how to perform even the most mundane tasks like a child. She made very good progress though it took a considerable amount of time. Then, without any apparent cause, she lapsed into a similar sleep state. When she woke again, she found herself in the same position as before, again without any recollection of what had happened to her before going to sleep. For four years she continued to pass from one state to the other. For example, during one state, she possessed all the knowledge which she had acquired during her youth, but during the second state, she only knew what she had learned since the first state had ended.
Once he'd recapitulated Macnish's case, Azam then went on to describe his well-known case of Felida X. When Azam wrote about the case, thirty-two years had already passed since Felida had been under his care. Felida was fifteen years old when she first saw Azam; she was hysterical, suffered from convulsions, and was thought to be insane. Yet she was also industrious, intelligent, and, in Azam's words, had a "serious type of character." Like Macnish's patient, Felida had a tendency to fall into a long, deep sleep by apparently doing nothing more complicated than simply sitting down. These sleep states could last sometimes for two to three months at a time. Typically, when she awoke, she would exhibit a personality that was entirely different from the one she'd had when she went to sleep. The new personality was merry and frivolous, prone to laughter and fond of jokes, whereas the pre-sleep Felida was rather serious and inhibited. Moreover, the new personality suffered none of the illnesses that Felida suffered from. Felida's case was typical in that in her so-called second state she had a complete knowledge of her life and history. She could also recall periods when she'd undergone other unusual states, which were similar to the one which she was experiencing at the time.
By 1858, the so-called second state was lasting one to three hours each day. In the years that followed, the duration of the second state increased and seemed to occur at the same frequency as the periods in which the normal condition prevailed. She was living a dual life. After a while the second state became more dominant so that the normal periods might last for two to three days while the abnormal periods would persist for four to five months. Her life had become insufferable because she had virtually no memory of a major part of her life. But, as Azam noted many years later, she gradually experienced a recovery:
Now in 1891, Felida is forty-seven years old. Her general health is bad, for she has an ovarian tumor. Her intellectual condition at present is as fol-lows:-For the last nine or ten years the periods of the second condition have diminished in time of duration to lasting a few hours only, and appearing only every twenty-five to thirty days. So that Felida is almost cured, and will be perfectly so at the epoch of the menopause.
Ellenberg has described Felida X as "a one-way amnesic multiple personality," which means that A knows nothing of B, but B knows about both itself and A. Azam coined the term "dual personality" to describe a person like Felida. This case was a particularly important one in France because of several factors. For one thing, it was a case in which the doctor maintained the patient under hypnosis during treatment for such a long period of time. For another, the case influenced Janet and other intellects of the day who made constant reference to it at various conferences during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Positivists, such as Taine and Ribot, made frequent use of the case, too, to discredit the work of the famous philosopher Cousin. Largely forgotten now, the dispute hinged upon what school of thought would obtain the professorship of psychology at the College de France.
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