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Finally, to the relief of all, we meet Baby, who reveals that Oxnam was physically, verbally and sexually abused as a young child--the ultimate explanation for his later addictions and multiple identities. Indeed, experts in dissociative disorder believe that childhood abuse is often the reason behind multiple personalities. Says Smith: "When a child is in an unbearable situation, he or she can sometimes split off from that experience, leaving behind someone who's able to handle inhuman degrees of pain, and soon that part of the person's being takes on a personality of its own. Once that happens one time, it begins to be a preferred way of coping." That is how, he explains, a new negative experience can give birth to a new personality.
It sounds reasonable enough--but although dissociative identity disorder has an entry in the DSM-IV, psychology's official manual, it's still highly controversial. "I believe he believes he had all those separate personalities," says Joe Scroppo, a clinical psychologist and director of North Shore University Hospital's Forensic Psychiatry Program in Manhasset, N.Y., "but I don't think that's necessarily the way it is." Studies have suggested that patients can be convinced that they have memories of childhood sexual abuse that never actually occurred. And sometimes, says Scroppo, therapists use multiple personality as a metaphor for a patient's mental state, and then the patient--and therapist--begin to mistake the metaphor for reality.
Oxnam and Smith don't buy it. And whether or not Oxnam really was all those different people, his book is a brave effort to explain how a troubled man found a way to get better. He's already down from 11 personalities to three, he says, and they've hammered out a working relationship.