‘Moon Knight’: an accurate depiction of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)?
How well did Marvel’s Disney+ series Moon Knight portray genuine Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)? And could the heroic exploits of Steven Grant and Marc Spector spur OTHERS to think they’re similarly afflicted? AIPT Science invited Board-Certified psychiatrist Richard Schloss back to help us find out. Spoilers ahead!
One could argue that the Moon Knight Disney+ series relies excessively on the DID stereotype of the “evil alter.” The show employs the device of revealing an apparently evil alter not once, but twice: early on, and again at the very end. Actually, it was a bit of a switcheroo. We’re introduced first to Steven, who seems like an agreeable enough bloke, who somehow goes off and terminates a variety of shady characters in his sleep, although he has no recollection of doing so.
Gradually we find out there’s another personality, Marc, who’s apparently living inside Steven. Steven is trying to suppress Marc’s appearances, but Marc is clearly more adept at fending off the frequent threats our two-in-one hero faces from ancient, possibly malevolent forces. Later we learn that Marc has a wife, and that it’s he, not Steven, who’s the de facto “main” personality, with poor Steven seemingly just something Marc constructed unconsciously, perhaps to keep himself safely hidden from his enemies. Both are saved by the end, and they go on their way with mostly (but not entirely) separate existences.
But wait! Not so fast! In typical Marvel “teaser-after-the-credits” fashion, we learn of the existence of a THIRD alter, Jake Lockley, whose implied penchant for violence finally explains those instances when enemies of our hero(es) were eliminated in the most brutal fashion — and it wasn’t Marc’s doing! Instead, in episode 1, Marc surveys the carnage and incredulously demands, “Steven, what did you do?!” Of course, Steven had no more recollection of Jake’s actions than he did of Marc’s, at least before he knew Marc existed.
As I’ve previously indicated, true DID is fairly uncommon, and DID sufferers don’t typically have fully-formed distinct personalities — such as Marc and Steven — but instead have many personality fragments, without elaborate backstories that would make them truly distinct from one another. And, significantly, their alters don’t have ongoing conversations or arguments with each other, as they vie for “control of the body,” a phrase that makes DID sound more like demonic possession than an actual psychiatric disorder. We don’t find out how much of a fully-formed personality Jake Lockley is, or how extensive his backstory is, since we meet him only briefly … but Khonshu seems to know him well enough.
There may actually be something more dangerous than misrepresentation to worry about here. Fictionalized versions of DID, such as that in Moon Knight, can trigger an increase in self-diagnosis of the condition. Human beings tend to be easily suggestible, which is why hypnosis works to any degree at all. It’s not unusual for some people to see themselves in dramatic TV depictions of exotic medical conditions. It’s why people who Google their own symptoms often conclude they have some dreaded disease that only loosely fits their self-description, even if there are better, more scientific explanations.
So if you’re looking for a story that combines multiple personalities inhabiting one body, ancient Egyptian gods assuming corporeal form and battling one another for control of modern-day humans, and perhaps a bit of twisted romance, Moon Knight delivers. But if it’s scientific accuracy in a depiction of a rare but very real psychiatric disorder that you’re looking for, you’ll probably have to look elsewhere.