Having multiple personalities, or dissociative identity disorder (DID), is a real condition that affects anywhere between 1-3% of adults. The disorder is frequently portrayed in media because it’s fascinating – the idea that two or more consciousnesses can reside in the same body is storytelling gold. M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, Split, features James McAvoy as a man with 23 distinct personalities. While these fictional versions of the disorder don’t paint an accurate picture, they make for compelling entertainment. In anticipation of Split, here are 10 of the most fascinating characters in pop culture with multiple personalities.
Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde
“The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson is the OG of fictional portrayals of multiple personalities. This 1886 novella tells the story of a man who transforms from a brilliant, mild-mannered doctor into a raving, beastial form when drinking a potion. While Dr. J and Hyde don’t suffer from a medical disorder, the split personality trope certainly begins with this penny dreadful. Sensationalist and extreme, Stevenson’s novella is a great look at late Victorian popular fiction.
Norman Bates serves as both the protagonist and villain of Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal film Psycho. Viewers don’t discover until near the end of the film that Bates and the murderous “Mother” are one and the same. It’s a great twist and a masterful reveal by Hitchcock, who superimposes the mother’s skeletal visage over Bates’ own in the final shot. Bates was so damaged by his childhood and imposing mother that she became part of his personality. It’s horrific and shocking and influenced other killer characters with multiple personalities in years to come.
Like Norman Bates, Tyler Durden and the Narrator’s multiple personalities weren’t revealed until the end of Fight Club. (Decade-old-spoiler!) Tyler is who the Narrator wishes he could be. The Narrator has no idea that when he sleeps, he’s actually Tyler. It’s an interesting dynamic that works best in the original novel, but also worked pretty well for the film adaptation.
Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear series is twisted and convoluted, so it makes sense that at least one character would suffer from multiple personalities. The super-agent Revolver Ocelot is a many-faceted man with a number of alternate identities used in his clandestine work. When he loses an arm and has it replaced with one belonging to Liquid Snake, however, Liquid takes over his mind. This parasitic takeover makes Ocelot/Liquid Snake one of the weirdest split personalities on this list.
Francis Dolarhyde of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon is a compelling villain. (So compelling that he’s been portrayed in three different versions of the novel.) Dolarhyde is a serial killer nicknamed “The Tooth-Fairy” due to various oral fixations. His murderous other half is “The Great Red Dragon” after the William Blake painting he fetishizes. It’s only after FBI analyst Will Graham teams up with infamous cannibal Hannibal Lecter that Dolarhyde is finally defeated.
There are some interesting characters with multiple personalities in anime, too. One of the most emotionally jarring is Lucy in Elfen Lied. Lucy is a mutant with telekinetic abilities. She murders her way out of the facility where they’re doing research on her,but is injured in the process. This brain injury leads her to develop a second, simpler personality, Nyu. Nyu is sweet and loving, while Lucy is violent and bitter. It’s a complete contrast and watching the characters in the series deal with the duality of Lucy and Nyu is heartbreaking.
The movie Identity is based on Agatha Christie’s brilliant mystery And Then There Were None, with one little twist. Ten strangers all arrive in a seedy motel together and deal with a murderer in their midst. About halfway through the film, it’s revealed that all of the strangers are actually personalities belonging to a serial killer named Malcolm Rivers. The movie falls apart after the reveal but is fascinating up until that point. It’s a great concept with faulty execution.
Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk are a modern Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Just as Dr. Jekyll’s potion accidentally turned him into Hyde, Banner’s failed experiments turn him into Hulk when he’s angry. Banner doesn’t need anything to shift from mild-mannered scientist to giant green hate machine other than a little rage. The Banner/Hulk dynamic is an interesting look at the way anger shapes us and those around us.
Beavis of Mike Judge’s Beavis and Butthead is probably the least intelligent personality on this list. His alter-ego, The Great Cornholio, only appears when Beavis ingests too many stimulants. The already spastic Beavis pulls his shirt over the top of his head and begins shouting obscene things at anyone around him. It’s really stupid, but that doesn’t mean it’s not funny.
On the TV series The United States of Tara, a middle-aged mom battles with her dissociative identity disorder. She goes off of her medication to try and live life with the disorder, and viewers get to watch her handle life with her “alters”. It’s one of the most accurate portrayals of multiple personalities in any medium, even if it goes a little off the rails in the name of comedy.