The 13th Floor

SPLIT Origins: The True Story of Louis Vivet

M. Night Shyamalan’s latest film, SPLIT, about three girls taken captive by a man suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder, is in theaters now, and having just walked out of it, I can safely say I think it is worth your time, but I’m not here to review the movie, and I’m not looking to spoil any of it, so you can read this without worrying that I will ruin the movie for you. What I want to tell you about is the story of Louis Vivet, the first man to ever be diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder…

Louis Vivet, born in Paris in 1863 to a single mother. Louis never met his father, and his mother, who was a sex worker, didn’t have the first clue as to who the boy’s father was. Louis’s mother took out her frustrations on the child, abusing him both mentally and physically, leading to Louis being afflicted with attacks of hysteria and temporal paralysis from a young age.

When he was seventeen, Louis found himself paralyzed from the waist down after a viper wrapped itself around his hand. Unable to walk, Louis was sent to live in the asylum of Bonneval where he would be taught the trade of a tailor. A month into his stay at the asylum, Louis began to suffer from violent convulsions and epileptic fits, often leaving him unconscious. A year and a half into his stay at the asylum, Louis woke from one of his fits, stood up and demanded his clothes so that he could go to work in the fields. He did not recognize any of the hospital staff or the other patients and was very confrontational – unlike the Louis Vivet everyone at the asylum knew.

Louis became a troublesome patient, starting fights, and trying to escape on multiple occasions.  He also stopped having his seizures. After a few months, Louis was pronounced “cured” and released from the hospital. Coincidentally, this happened just as he turned eighteen and the asylum would no longer get paid for Louis’ care by the government.

SPLIT (2017) Blumhouse Productions

Upon release, Louis went to see his mother and got himself a job. He became ill again and spent eighteen months in an asylum at St. George. While there, Louis once again began to have epileptic fits accompanied by paralysis. The hospital staff found that, when paralyzed, Louis was calm and genteel, but when able to walk he was a dick, becoming a thief as well as being angry and confrontational. When he was once again able to walk, Louis believed it was January 1884. In fact, it was April 1884. Walking Louis had no memory of the three months he spent paralyzed.  When paralyzed, Louis had no interest in wine and would eat sparingly, often giving his food to other patients. When able to walk, Louis loved wine and would regularly steal food from others. Neither version of Louis had memories of the other.

Louis Vivet spent years in and out of asylums and jails and would become one of the first people diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. At the time, the doctors who studied Louis believed that he had as many as ten identities. Today it is believed that he had no more than two, with the other personalities being a direct result from hypnosis by his therapists. It would be a hundred years before anyone started to put together Louis’ tortured childhood with the causes of his DID. There is a school of thought that says Louis never had DID, but suffered from a Dissociative Fugue. I’m not smart enough to say either way.

The history or Louis Vivet ends on October 20th, 1886 – the last mention of Louis as a patient at Bicetre Hospital in Paris, the former home of the Marquis de Sade. It is unknown when or how Louis died. His story would inspire Robert Louis Stevenson to write the classic novella, THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) Paramount Pictures

As explained in SPLIT, there is still a disagreement in the medical community as to the reality of Dissociative Identity Disorder. While the disorder has been studied for well over a hundred years, there is no consensus on how to properly diagnose the issue, or how to treat it. DID became a better known disorder in the 1970s, and with the, for lack of a better term, boom of cases came drastic changes. People with DID usually suffered from two to three personalities, or “alters” were now suffering with up to sixteen “alters”. DID became a common defense in court cases in the US, where the disorder appears to happen at an astonishing rate compared to the rest of the world.

The tragedy is that with the growth in public knowledge came an untold number of false reports on the disorder, leaving those who honestly suffer from it lost in the mix, unable to find the help they so desperately need.