The case of Mary Reynolds seems to be the earliest case of multiple personality ever reported. William James, in his Principles of Psychology
(Holt, 1890), gave a rather detailed account of it, with a bow to the original chronicler, a Dr. Weir Mitchell.
This "dull and melancholy young woman," as James described her, lived with her family in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. One morning in 1811, when she was about eighteen, she failed to get up at her usual time. Members of her family went to her room to awaken her but could not do so. Some ten hours later, in the evening, she finally awoke, but in an extraordinary state of mind. Indeed, "state of mind" may not be a very apt phrase to describe her condition, since it was precisely her mind that seemed to be missing, or at least her memory. She did not recognize any of her family or friends, her room, the house, or the surrounding countryside. Her vocabulary was limited to a few elementary words, but they clearly had no meaning for her. Her body in both structure and function was that of an eighteen-year-old woman, but her mind gave every indication of having reverted to infancy. Again it was chiefly her lack of memory that suggested this; some other aspects of her mind, such as her ability to appreciate the beauties of nature, seemed relatively unimpaired.
Apart from her ability to pronounce a few words, it seemed necessary to reintroduce her to the world all over again. In spite of the efforts of her family she was slow to learn. Everyone she knew previously were either strangers or enemies. Gradually, she began to read and write. At the same time her depression began to lift, and she became rather cheerful and confident, no longer showing any sign of being fearful of people. On the contrary, she was suddenly very sociable. Then several weeks later she underwent another protracted sleep and when she awoke she was in a different state. This time she recognized her family. She was quite surprised by her circumstances. She was aware of everything that had happened to her in her primary state, but any experience or acquaintance that she'd encountered in her secondary state was completely lost to her. After several more weeks the same thing happened again, only this time when she awoke she had returned to her secondary state and resumed right where she had left off, acting as if it was just waking up after one night's sleep. These alterations from one state to another continued for the next fifteen or sixteen years. The alterations only ceased when she reached the age of thirty-five or so, leaving her in the second state. There she remained for at least twenty-five years without change. Gradually, though, she began to change; the fun-filled, mischievous, but hysterical, woman, who was fond of jokes and given to absurd beliefs little by little turned into a somber and practical-minded woman. During the last twenty-five years of her life she lived in the same house as the Reverend John D. Reynolds and kept house for him. Mary Reynolds died in January of 1854 at the age of 61. This case stands out for two reasons; the first is that it is probably the earliest referenced case history of dissociative identity disorder and the second is that it involved two of the most important nineteenth century experts in the field: Weir Mitchell and William James.
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