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Sana Malik writes:

Thought I'd contribute to your on-going forum about the nature of Vincent's illness.

I recently finished writing a paper on Van Gogh and bipolar disorder. at the same time I have been conducting some separate research on dissociative processes.

Presently I am of the opinion that Vincent may have suffered from some sort of a dissociative disorder. Or at least have had major dissociative symptoms. As Dr. Kay Jamison suggests, he might have suffered from complex partial seizures as well, which are correlated with dissociative symptoms.

Dissociation can be termed a 'splitting of consciousness'. in other words, processes occur in the human psyche that are somehow separated from conscious thought processes.

Most theorists today agree that dissociation occurs on a continuum. think of something like highway hypnosis on the normal end, and dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) on the pathological end. there are other dissociative disorders too, if you are interested, you can check out the DSM IV for the criteria.

I think it has been suggested elsewhere on the forum that vincent suffered from DID. I wouldnt go as far into the spectrum to say that, however I do think that he suffered from major dissociative symptoms.

Consider his history as we know it today.

If you take his ear cutting episode into account, he retained very little memory of it afterward.

I think that this could clearly be categorized as dissociative amnesia. He could have injured himself in a dissociated state and therefore may have not felt as much pain as another person would. a fit of despair could have been a trigger and he could have lost memory of the traumatic event afterward.

This displays the notion of dissociation as a defense mechanism. the manner in which he committed suicide could be another case in which the same mechanism was applicable.

There have been many cited cases in which people have injured themselves and lost memory of it afterwards. Self injurers employ the same mechanism while injuring themselves. The physical pain is sometimes a non-issue of them.

The issue of him looking different in his various self-portraits could be as aspect of dissociation known as depersonalization.

It can be termed a feeling of detachment from onesself, looking at ones self from the gaze of an outsider or also a detachment from various parts of ones body. An individual in such a state may not recognize themselves in the mirror.

Identity alteration seems to have been an issue as well. this can be determined by what Theo had to say about him while vincent stayed with him in Paris. Identity alteration involves a switching of identites. A certain side of the personality may emerge that can be seen and pinpointed by others as Theo did.

His painting style may have been due to the symptom of derealization, a feeling of detachmnt from ones are there, but not really there. You are not a part of your surroundings. The vivid colours, almost picturesque, fairy tale like quality of his painting could have been beacuse of that.

I am not ascribing a diagnosis or anything like that. I think that he suffered from severe to moderate dissociative symptoms. Actually figuring out what particular disorder he had (if he had one) would require an indepth analysis of his history and letters all over again.

Let me know what you think.

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