Dissociation and Imagination:
Thirty Years of Confusion Between Them
Ralph B. Allison, M.D.
Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness
Spring 2000 Annual Conference
April 6, 2000
Interest and research in dissociative disorders made a steep climb in the 1970s,
leveled off in the 1980s and crashed in the 1990s. Reasons for these dramatic changes
will be explored.
An "epidemic" of cases of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) which spread
from the USA to Europe was caused by confusing the products of imagination with the
products of dissociation. Adherence to Freud's concepts of "repression of memories"
led to misunderstanding human memory management. "Recovered Memory Therapy"
was followed by the "False Memory Syndrome." Discovery of the "Inner Self Helper"
(ISH) upset theorists who rejected anything "spiritual." These same "scientific
psychologists" believed patients who "remembered" their problems were due to
"Satanic Ritual Abuse." A battle ensued between the International Society for the Study
of Dissociation (ISSD) and the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF). Both
ignored the author's description of the ISH as memory manager in his description of the
Essence Memory System. Acceptance of this idea is needed to resolve the polarization
of the two groups of experts on memory.
Keywords: Dissociation, Imagination, Memory Before we can understand the reasons behind the alleged "epidemic of MPD"
which occurred in the USA in the 1970's and 1980's, spreading to Europe via the
Netherlands, we have to define our terms carefully. I only defined these terms this way
in the 1990's, so they were not even considered correct in the days in question. No one
in those days had any theories which explained what we were involved in. Everyone
was equally blind, although some thought they had the answers, being the "scientific
psychologists" who had been indoctrinated in Freudian theories. I was not one of them.
I was blind and searching for answers. What I present here are my answers.
What is Multiple Personality Disorder or MPD? This is when a patient has one or
more alter-personalities running his or her body while he or she is absent from it,
How does it come about and what is an alter-personality? First, we have to
recognize as true a concept propounded by philosophers of all cultures and times. The
human being consists of Body, Mind, and Spirit. In this talk, I will use Personality for
Mind, and Essence for Spirit.
When you were born, your body became separate from your mother's and you
then needed your own Essence and Personality. Your body, and its neurohormones,
are parts of a complex physical structure. Your Essence and Personality are
nonmaterial, composed of "intelligent energy." They were bonded together, like an
alloy, when they were placed into your physical body, with your brain and its hormones.
This happened when you, as a newborn baby, took your first breath.
In you normal individuals, this cooperative bonding of the three parts of the
human being will remain intact until death, when only the body will die, when your
Essence and Personality separate from it. But life threatening trauma alters this normal
situation in some people.
To develop MPD, the child needs to be in the top 4% of hypnotizability, which is
called Grade V hypnotizable. Only these children can create alter-personalities before
the age of six or seven. After that age, those in the top 50% of hypnotizability can make
alter-personalities, but that is another story.
If a Grade V hypnotizable child is born into a family with a parent who is a
serious abuser, that child could be subjected to life threatening trauma. If that child has
reason to believe she is going to be killed by that parent, a survival mechanism called
dissociation is triggered. Dissociation means splitting apart of two mental parts which
were previously connected.
The first dissociation is the separation of the Original Personality from the
Essence. The Essence takes on a crisis intervention role I call the Inner Self Helper or
ISH. As the ISH, the Essence sends the Original Personality, stripped of all social
traits, into safe keeping in the nonmaterial world I call Thoughtspace. This is the first
dissociation. Then it takes the appropriate personality traits and fashions and programs
an alter-personality to run the body in such a way that the abuser will not strike again
and kill the child. Survival is the goal of the ISH.
If there is no rescue from abuse and the abuse continues, more and more alter-
personalties will be formed by the ISH out of the remaining personality traits over the
following decades until the patient finds a therapist who is willing and able to bring
about their integration into the Original Personality.
The goal of dissociation is survival, and the architect of the process is the ISH.
But if the trauma is not life threatening, and if the child is less than Grade V
hypnotizable, then a variety of other types of psychopathology can come into being.
One of these is the creation of what I call Internalized Imaginary Companions or IIC.
If the child is being abused, but not in a life threatening way, she could develop
a great deal of hatred for the abuser. As she wishes for revenge, she uses her
"emotional imagination" to create an avenger. In parapsychology, this is called a
"Thought-form," which comes in unlimited sizes and shapes. This use of emotional
imagination is used only by the Personality, not by the Essence. She has full control
over this IIC and can change its characteristics, age, gender, purpose and location at
will. It can run her body, be in a doll outside her body, or be placed in a chair at the
Almost none of the literature on imaginary companions or playmates describes
them as operating the child's body. Yet that is what they have done in my own patients.
This is what has made for the great number of patients misdiagnosed as having MPD.
They have made up IIC instead of alter-personalities. This misunderstanding of the
difference between emotional imagination and dissociation is the cause of the alleged
epidemic of MPD cases throughout the world. Therapists who frequently diagnose MPD
in their patients don't know the difference between IIC made by the personality's
imagination and alter-personalities made by the ISH which uses dissociation. From the
point of view of the personality, dissociation is involuntary and imagination is voluntary,
a very important point when legal consequences exist.
After I met my first patient with MPD in 1972, I then diagnosed my second similar
patient with that diagnosis later the same year. Now I know I was wrong to make that
diagnosis, as she had only IIC prior to my pronouncement. But, with the shock of the
diagnosis, this patient created her first real alter-personality at age 22, because I
thought her IIC were genuine alter-personalities. Then she had a mixture of several IIC
and one alter-personalty. The IIC kept trying to kill the body, and the alter-personality
kept rescuing the body and bringing it to me so I could put her in my hospital. She had
no ISH to guide me in treatment, so I stumbled along. She quit therapy and killed
herself five years later, after her second husband deserted her. In the meantime she
had taught me many therapy techniques of a shamanic nature which I used to good
results in subsequent similar patients.
During the next few years, I became acquainted with a number of other
therapists who had found similar patients entering their offices in search of treatment,
but none of us had been trained in how to help them. By 1977, I had collected a mailing
list of about 200 such therapists and wrote the first newsletter on the subject, called
"Memos on Multiplicity" in 1977-78. My efforts brought into being the first list of
potential members of a new organization originally called the International Society for
the Study of Multiple Personality & Dissociation (ISSMP&D). This organization is now
The original founding group of ISSMP&D was composed of psychiatrists and
psychologists who wanted to maintain professional respectability. They were not about
to accept anything that smacked of either spiritual or parapsychological concepts. They
were going to show the world that they were "scientists," just as Freud had announced
to the world that he was the first scientific psychologist. He wasn't, but it was a brilliant
public relations gambit for him.
I refused to attend the founding meeting due to my distrust of one of the new
leaders. That leader organized the annual meetings and set the tone for what would be
allowed on the program. I attended the first few meetings and gave my views, but then I
dropped out, being uninterested in that version of psychiatric politics. I was never in
any elected or appointed position in that society, which was dominated by a small
group of like-minded therapists. None of them admitted in public to seeing an ISH in
their dissociated patients, and those who published on the subject renamed it so it
would not seem spiritual. Some even considered it to be a type of helper alter-
personality, a complete misunderstanding of its nature.
In 1980, the book "Michelle Remembers" was published as the first of a long list
of books claiming that there existed a secret conspiracy of evil people who worshiped
Satan and were out to overthrow the Roman Catholic Church. I interviewed Michelle
and her former therapist, who was now her lover. She admitted to having absolutely no
evidence to support the story she remembered in her therapy sessions. She and her
lover were now devoted to recording all she could remember in book form so that they
could warn and save the Roman Catholic Church. It was quite an upward movement
from being an unhappy patient to being the most important rescuer of a most important
religious organization. She also had the constant attention of her former therapist and
This was the start of the Satanic Ritual Abuse epidemic. Not one of my
dissociated patients ever reported that they had been raised by parents and
grandparents who were Satanists who abused them in the process of religious rituals.
That was in spite of my working in Santa Cruz, where Anton LeVey, the head of the
Church of Satan in San Francisco, came by one day in his long black limousine looking
for a location for another church site. I understand that he was an actor who loved
portraying that role, and that all his rituals were simply turning the rituals of the Catholic
Church upside down. Also, since many of us had been raised in a variety of Christianity
which considered any action that felt good to be a sin, he pronounced that we should
do whatever made us feel good.
But, when I made trips outside my home county of San Luis Obispo, I heard
therapists talking about how they and their patients were being threatened by Satanic
worshipers in the families of their patients. Paranoia was rampant, and I could not
understand how they could be so irrational. I made rounds on the ward for dissociators
in a hospital near Atlanta, Georgia, and heard the young attending psychiatrist tell us
that his 14-year-old male patient could not be discharged home because his parents
At the ISSD meetings, the psychiatrist in charge of the program taught that you
could have doubts about the truth of such memories by patients if only seven claimed
to have Satanic relatives. But when eight patients told essentially the same story, you
should believe it. To me that was ridiculous, as, while working in prison, I learned it was
not hard to get dozens of inmates to tell me the same lie, if it served their purpose.
There was no number of liars which made them truthful.
These stories were also coming out in an atmosphere of greater concern about
child abuse. When the book, "Sybil," came out in 1973, followed by the movie, it gave
the message that "child abuse is not good for children." The claim that Sybil had MPD
was not as important as the story of her having been so terribly abused by her
schizophrenic mother. But it did connect the abuse story to the end result, which was
labeled MPD by her therapist, Cornelia Wilbur, a Freudian trained psychoanalyst. She
was so well educated, she must have made the correct diagnosis.
In retrospect, the story of Sybil shows clearly her use of emotional imagination in
creating all of her other selves, which were IIC. So a misdiagnosed prototype of MPD
was intimately connected to early child abuse of a terrible nature. Her story did not
show that Sybil was ever subjected to life threatening abuse before the age of seven.
She had most of her severe abuse after that age, so she may have made a few alter-
personalities in her preteen age years. But those entities which were formed before age
seven were clearly IIC.
But Connie Wilbur was the Grandmother of the MPD Movement and was highly
respected by those of us who taught the courses to younger therapists. She never
doubted her diagnosis of Sybil and never considered imagination as a possible factor
in the cases she saw later. She seemed sure that dissociation was the total
Many less educated therapists were now doing therapy with such patients,
including those who had been social workers for child protective services departments.
Such social workers had seen many abused children and their inept parents, so they
had personal revulsion with such situations. When they became privately practicing
therapists, they naturally had great sympathy for any adult patient who claimed to
remember a history of personal childhood abuse.
When I was first a member of hypnosis associations, it was their policy to teach
hypnosis only to those who had a doctorate degree. We doctors were considered
unethical if we trained social workers in the use of hypnosis. So those social workers
now doing therapy were not skilled in getting histories from patients under hypnosis.
Their patients might spontaneously go into trance and age regress without hypnotic
inductions. If the therapist had a political agenda, such as radical feminism, she could
well encourage such a patient to bring forth "proof" of abuse which showed that all
fathers are evil beings deserving of punishment. If the patient was one who had been
abused by men in authority, such as husbands and boyfriends, she could well be
conditioned to say whatever her therapist wanted her to say.
Then, if the therapist read a book claiming that Satanic Ritual Abuse was the
cause of all childhood abuse, she could well start asking questions designed to seek
out such information. The patient would certainly sense what would make her therapist
happy, and might deliver colorful imaginative stories which met the expectations of the
therapist. Even the most cautious of us sometimes cannot help but suggest what
answer we want to hear from a patient who is saying nothing at all on the subject we
are curious about.
When these amateur therapists started hearing stories that their predominately
female patients in their late 20's and early 30's had been raised by Satanic parents and
grandparents who made them breed babies for sacrifice and participate in weird rituals
that were designed to create alter-personalities, they were shocked and protective.
Believing the stories, some told their patients to stop all contact with these dreaded
relatives, to protect themselves from future harm. Then they used what was called
"recovered memory therapy" to bring up more and more horror stories from the
recesses of their patient's minds. As these women "remembered" more and more
Satanic stories, they got more and more disabled, not better. Finally, many of them
broke from their therapists, recovered their mental health, and retracted their
complaints about their now elderly parents. Instead of "victims," they called themselves
Retractors, and wrote their own newsletters about how their therapists had implanted
"False Memories" in their minds. A number of them hired lawyers to sue their former
therapists, and they usually won.
Urging them on was the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which was
founded in 1992 by the parents of one such adult daughter. Both parents were
professors at the University of Pennsylvania, and the daughter is now a professor at
the University of Oregon. So these were not ignorant people. The leaders of the FMSF
took on the leaders of the ISSD as their mortal enemies, and they seemed determined
to crush them. The battle soon ceased to be intellectual and became extremely
The FMSF saw the advocates of "recovered memory therapy" as naive fools who
were deliberately harming innocent patients for greedy purposes. They should all be
put out of business. The ISSD saw the FMSF as made up of child molesters and
perverts who were hiding their sinful ways by attacking the credibility of those who had
discovered them. Both called on their respective experts who produced "evidence" that
their own side was right in how they viewed human memory to operate. ISSD said that
they knew the scientific way to unblock hidden memories their patients had repressed,
just as Freud had taught in his day. The FMSF said that the modern memory research
laboratories had shown that anyone could implant a false memory in someone without
their knowledge, so all patients had to beware of going to any therapist who asked
questions about their past.
In treating multiples, the ISH often provided me with extensive narrative history
of the patient and her relatives. After my retirement, I wrote a manuscript of the story of
my most complex MPD patient, who still had her Essence/ISH dissociated. While the
expatient, Marie, could still not remember much of her abuse history, her Essence,
named Becky, gave me whatever history I needed to fill in the gaps of the story we
were writing. In the last chapter, I wrote how Becky operated as Marie's Memory
Manager, which was published as an article in Hypnos in 1996. No one in the
leadership of either the ISSD or the FMSF has contested the accuracy of these views.
They just ignore them.
Narrative memories are composed of two parts, which I call the geographic data
and the emotional overlay. The geographic data consists of the who, what, where,
when and how, and this material is mainly received and transmitted to the brain by the
peripheral nervous system from the end receptors. But there are no end receptors for
the emotional overlay, the associated emotions that we all have to any event, emotions
which we often later recall vividly. This emotional overlay is perceived by the Essence,
which then adds it to the geographical data to make up the entire memory of the scene.
This memory is initially placed in the brain memory mechanism, which is
extremely complex in its own right. This constitutes one's conscious memory and
awareness. But the Essence has the job of preserving the life and stability of its
"charge," the Personality, who may be very upset at being aware of this particular
memory. The Essence then may next decide that this particular memory should be
removed from its charge's consciousness until a later date, when its charge can handle
it more calmly.
To do that, the Essence acts like a holographic tape recorder which absorbs the
entire memory in all its detail and places it in permanent storage in the Akashic
Records. The Akashic Records is analogous to a gigantic library in Thoughtspace
which holds all the records of all human memories as well as all their accomplishments.
It is overseen by a group of spiritual librarians, which I collectively call the CIE for
Celestial Intelligent Energy. One CIE is the main librarian, and other CIE manage the
separate sections of the Akashic Records. Each human being has a personal memory
file in the Akashic Records. The original memory of everything that ever happened to
that person is filed away there, available for recall at the discretion of the Essence, in
consultation with the CIE in charge.
When a narrative memory is stored in the personal file in the Akashic Records, it
is given an appropriate security rating. Pleasant memories are given an open rating,
meaning that they can be recalled, by the Essence, to consciousness of the personality
at will. No danger is anticipated in recalling pleasant memories, of course.
In the case of memories with an unpleasant emotional overlay, there are three
levels of security available. The lowest security rating is for memories which are
unpleasant but for which the personality has no conflictual feelings. A memory of
watching an auto accident in which a stranger is seen injured might get this rating.
Recall would be unpleasant, but would not cause any guilt or shame.
The middle security rating is for memories which are unpleasant and for which
there are conflictual feelings attached. Recall of such memories could be expected to
make the personality suicidal. The CIE and Essence will not allow such memories to be
recalled unless the person is in a therapy situation, for example. Even then, the
Essence will feed the memory to the personality's consciousness in bits and pieces,
with some of the geographical data first, followed by only a hint of the emotional
overlay. The Essence carefully calculates the dosage so that the personality is not
overwhelmed by too much recall too soon and in the wrong setting.
The highest security rating is for memories which are unpleasant and
recollection of which would cause the personality to become catatonically
incapacitated. The CIE will never allow the Essence to transmit that memory back to
the consciousness of the personality. If the interviewer demands something regarding
that period of time and place, the personality will be obligated to create a lie, otherwise
called a "false memory." Of course, this "false memory" will then be recorded in the
Akashic Record of that moment, and will become a memory of what the person was
forced to manufacture to please the therapist. But it will be known to the Essence for
what it is, and would not be considered to be a valid memory of a childhood event.
Those who have labeled themselves Retractors have told how they can tell these
coerced "false memories" from those memories which occurred "naturally." They know
The important feature in this view of memory management is that there is a
conscious decision making process involved in all recall of all unpleasant memories.
This is not the responsibility of the personality, who is being hurt emotionally by having
and recalling unpleasant scenes of any nature, but of the Essence, who has no
capacity for any human emotions. The Essence is seeking the longevity, health, and
stability of the personality, for whom is it responsible for taking care of in such
One thing which puzzles memory researchers is why some people can
remember terrible incidents and others cannot. While many of my private outpatients
could not remember what were relatively slight insults to their character, in my prison
work I met inmates who repeatedly recalled scenes from when they were in Vietnam
prison camps. Whenever one looked up at the prison guard tower, he immediately saw
it as his old prison camp with a Vietnamese guard with his gun aimed at him. He went
into a panic each time this happened. Why was his Essence letting him remember this?
This relates to a fact Becky told me, that each personality has a Life Plan. A
primary duty of the Essence is to guide that person to complete and fulfill their Life
Plan. Each recollection is part of a lesson that each personality must learn from, to
follow his own Life Plan. In the case of the Vietnam veteran in prison, he needed to be
constantly reminded of what he had done in Vietnam, as part of his learning process.
But the private patient had to wait until she was in the proper phase of psychotherapy
to be able to learn something from her unpleasant memory. Only then could it come
into consciousness, and that might take a quarter century or more. Only her Essence
knew the answer to when it was right for that person to recall that memory.
The human neurobiological memory system is complicated enough and more is
being learned about how it works every day. To add to that complexity a personal,
individualistic decision making process by the Essence may be more than memory
researchers can handle. But when dealing in the field with people perceiving, storing
and recalling emotionally loaded traumatic memories, this view explains what is
observed in those real people, as well as in the experimental subjects in college
memory laboratories. It is about time that we accepted this view, as presented by the
Essence and CIE who run it, and get past the stalemate in understanding memory that