Dissociative Identity Disorder and Art

Art is one of the greatest ways people choose to express themselves; among the various means of art, painting has also been popular. Painting encapsulates multiple methods and styles. In most cases, a mature artist is known for his/her specifically developed technique and styles. However, there is an exception to this phenomenon where a group of people never settles on one type of artistic choice, Dissociative Identity Disorder patients.

Often, I make comments about how I am totally a different person when I’m studying from when I hang out with my friends as if we all have multiple personalities. Yet, we seldomly give a thought about how there is a specific group of people who demonstrate these traits and define different personality in an entirely different light. It moves on to affect their daily tasks, from work, to leisure activities. And even the simplest thing as having a unique individual preference can be a task so hard to define.

Work and Rest - Faith in BusinessDifferent Personal for Work versus Rest

One famous artist, Kim Nobel, is diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder and each of her altar has distinct drawing styles, concepts, and emotions to express. Kim has, in total 20 personalities and each one of them draws in unique styles. An unnamed nun altar likes to draw only women in long dresses in white on a black background; Patricia, Kim’s dominant personality, draws on landscapes with calm and vibrant colors; Missy, a personality that rarely communicates draws using only red, black, white. An altar without a name always draw to describe violent scenes of sexual abuse. One interesting case is Suzy’s drawing, which has always contained painting of a women holding a baby. After dozens of similar drawings, she drew one without the baby. Since then, she had stopped this series. It appears that she was narrating a full story and a sense of loss, expressing her pain and memory through the artwork. Yet, fascinatingly enough, no other altars are capable of comprehending this artwork.

Missy’s Drawing of Sexual Abuse – Plausible Memory of Trauma
Suzzy’s Drawing of Woman Holding a Baby
Suzzy’s Last Drawing of Woman Without the Baby

Dissociative Identity Disorder, commonly known as DID or multiple identities, is a mental disorder that happens to those who experience severe childhood trauma to the extent which multiple characters are prevented from integrating into one to protect one from the trauma. Common reasons are sexual abuses, extreme emotional abuse, and physical abuse at a young age approximately before 7 to 8. People diagnosed with DID refer to themselves as “we” instead of individual, and each character is called an altar. One symptom of this disorder is dissociative amnesia where one altar does not have memory of another’s experience in life. Patients often refer to them as memory gaps. Each altar possesses different identities, ages, genders, abilities, characteristics, and even species where some may be imaginary animals. Often, the main altar does not hold any memory or the trauma itself as it is stored in a separate altar to ensure living of the main altar. 

Interestingly, art therapy is on the most common ways of therapy for dissociative identity disorder patients. Art therapy is often used to assist one to begin a therapy session and recall one’s identity, memory, and trauma. 

Despite distinctions, artworks of Dissociative Identity Disorder patients often share a similar artistic choice in showing replicated or split figures. One research conducted collected drawing of DID patients of age ranged from 4.5 to 46 years. In this observational study on patients’ drawings completed during art therapy sessions, researchers have found a similarity among those collected artworks that 84% of the drawings show “multiplicity of part or whole human figures”. Most sampled drawings articulate the past trauma and present images that symbolize the presence of separate characters.

This research proves the important of art to DID patients in how they can express themselves and to doctors in helping to diagnose one. It also demonstrates the power of art in telling stories. Through the eyes of people who never experienced trauma, a DID artist never seems to settle down in styles; yet, from the eyes of those artists, it is under the colorful paints and brushstrokes can they retell a story they may not be able to communicate with the outside world.


Higginson R. Work and rest. Faith-in-business.org. 2015 Sep 28 [accessed 2020 Nov 25]. https://www.faith-in-business.org/2015/09/work-and-rest/

Engle P. Art therapy and dissociative disorders. Art therapy: journal of the American Art Therapy Association. 1997;14(4):246–254.

Kim Noble, an artist with dissociative identity disorder. The guardian. 2008 Sep 10 [accessed 2020 Nov 25]. http://www.theguardian.com/society/gallery/2008/sep/11/mentalhealth.art

VICE. The artist with multiple personalities. 2018 Apr 3 [accessed 2020 Nov 25]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8Oh1L1aN8M

Cloudfront.net. [accessed 2020 Nov 25]. https://d1wqtxts1xzle7.cloudfront.net/46353460/2005-_Dissociative_identity_disorder_as_reflected_in_drawings_of_sexual_abuse_survivors.pdf?1465447681=&response-content-disposition=inline%3B+filename%3DDissociative_identity_disorder_as_reflec.pdf&Expires=1606056317&Signature=LiL2nhxFaXPVWZYd4-SRkWJvdFWw9HE9421zoVGzjBAjXcbCG9ER8bwGISVwWKA5KiJqRScKvJtlu8mUsdfd1hrgF~4fd6cFkuYq4-g5RLugyiOrTJ7Q9TIE2uGDlEAjUS~CpC-PzpjxBg86sPtNem4eDb3XEYGNpY~wRpn0UnSdEPxyJqDRfVmBKYQaozjPLHsrd4Z6urm29a7RyWua9OL7pYgRz8Dup2PUCqXtWRbkGlFRuaSUTW~onqFtXSZM~5rMGJ9Am5MxWnJR4wKXoxy-mRsThBDHmiIIwUSkJQaPUTW20qfg~FudMvTvUVPE3rUEm-crCW798Vna8OghXA__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJLOHF5GGSLRBV4ZA

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Andrea Mancia says:

    Reading about this topic was very interesting! I have never really heard of an artist that has Dissociative Identify Disorder so learning about Kim Nobel and her works was fascinating. I think describing some of Nobel’s different identities and how they are so different was very informational and intriguing, but maybe adding some information about Nobel’s past and how she became an artist would be super interesting to read as well! This was a great post and thanks for introducing me to a new artist!

  2. Victor You says:

    This was a great read! For one, I had no idea or background in DID, so learning about that condition was very interesting. The featured artist was also very fascinating to see, and the research paper fits very well. Overall was a great read!

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