On the most recent episode of The Act, the Hulu series based on the true story of Gypsy Rose and Dee Dee Blanchard, viewers are introduced to Nicholas Godejohn, Gypsy's boyfriend who later carried out the murder of Dee Dee Blanchard. The pair meet online, and when they start video chatting, Gypsy (played by Joey King) reveals that she has health "challenges."
"I actually have some challenges of my own," Nicholas (played by Calum Worthy) tells Gypsy. "It's hard to explain, it's like, when I was 14 or 15, I saw something in my eye that kept gnawing at me." When Gypsy asks if it hurt, he explains that the thing wasn't physical, it was more like another personality. "Actually, I think I do have multiple personalities. But don't worry, because there is a good one, it's me Nick. But the other one is dark. Actually he's a vampire; his name is Victor."
Although this is a fictional portrayal, it's true that Gypsy and Nicholas would use different personas when they were texting and communicating; Gypsy would call herself "Ruby," while Nicholas referred to his "evil side." According to text messages reviewed during his trial, Nicholas told Gypsy that his "evil side enjoys killing." In later interviews, Gypsy referred to Nicholas's evil side described in The Act. "He had multiple personalities that were violent and scary," Blanchard told Dr. Phil in 2017. "He thought he was a 500-year-old vampire named Victor. I thought I was in love with him, the good side of him."
Psychologists were brought in to testify at Godejohn's hearing to determine whether or not the murder was premeditated. The two psychologists examined Godejohn and diagnosed him with autism spectrum disorder, and his attorneys argued that this made it difficult for him to discern what was fantasy versus reality, according to Buzzfeed News. They also noted that he had a problematic upbringing and was isolated socially. But it's unclear whether or not Nicholas was ever diagnosed with "multiple personalities disorder" (which was renamed "dissociative identity disorder" or "DID" in 1994), as Gypsy said.
There's more to dissociative disorders than role-playing and having alter egos. Dissociative disorders are rare mental illnesses, and an estimated 2% of people have them, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). "Dissociation" essentially means disconnection between someone's thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of who they are, according to the Sidran Institute, a traumatic stress education and advocacy group. Usually, dissociative disorders develop as a response to overwhelming trauma, such as physical and sexual child abuse. In the face of intense physical or emotional pain, children may learn to dissociate their thoughts, feelings, and memories as a safety mechanism. Repeated dissociation can lead to amnesia, depersonalization, derealization, or fragmentation, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).
There are three types of dissociative disorders: dissociative amnesia, dissociative identity disorder (DID), and depersonalization disorder, according to the APA. Most people are familiar with dissociative identity disorder, which is characterized by "switching" between multiple identities or personalities. These identities typically come up when a kid is around 8 or 9 years old, because that's the age that a child would engage in imaginary play, according to the Sidran Institute. Often, someone with DID will feel like there are multiple identities inside of them, which can have their own backstories, voices, or mannerisms, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Given its link to post-traumatic stress disorder, DID is often treated through psychotherapy that involves "reclaiming" traumatic experiences, according to the Sidran Institute. People with DID may also struggle with trauma flashbacks, suicidal thoughts, and other depression and anxiety disorders. The goal of treatment is to address these issues, and eventually get someone to integrate their alternate personalities into one whole, functional person, according to NAMI.
So, although there have been many pop culture depictions of dissociative disorders — ranging from comical to grim — it's important to understand that it's a mental illness that can affect people's lives in a very real way.
If you are struggling with dissociative identity disorder and are in need of information and support, please call the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 1-800-950-6264. For a 24-hour crisis line, text “NAMI” to 741741.