on the Case of Mme. D
Professor Warwick Middleton
MBBS, FRANZCP, MD
Suite 4D, 87 Wickham Terrace
In his book, The Dissociation of a Personality (1905), Morton Prince details his assessment and treatment of Christine (Sally) Beauchamp. In doing so he draws on the existing literature on dissociation and includes references to many dissociative patients including Mme. D. This is the account of the Case of Mme. D who was studied by Charcot and later by Souques and Janet and which is discussed in the review of the literature included in Morton Prince's "The Dissociation of a Personality" (1905) pgs 250-252.
"The second consciousness, as was afterwards shown, was not Sally. Such observations show the character of this kind of amnesia, but in these experiments no attempts were made at synthesising the disintegrated fragments of consciousness.
These phenomena confirm what Janet has so strongly insisted upon as the characteristic of hysterical amnesia; namely, that from one point of view it is not amnesia at all, that the lost memories are conserved, but so dissociated from the personal consciousness that they cannot be recalled. They can, however, be awakened as automatic phenomena.
The classical case of Mme. D. is a good illustration of extensive amnesia of this kind in an otherwise intelligent mind. It was studied by Charcot, and later by Souques, and Janet. On August 28, 1891, the poor woman received a terrible mental shock. She was working in her house when suddenly a strange man entered and roughly called out to her, 'Your husband is dead. They are bringing him home. Prepare a bed, Madame D.' The news was false, but the neighbours assembled and there was much emotional excitement. In the midst of it one of the women, seeing the husband approaching in the distance, was unfortunate enough to cry out, 'There he is!' On hearing these words, Mme.D., believing that her husband was being brought home dead, fell into a hysterical attack, characterised by delirium and convulsions. This attack lasted three days. At the end of that time Madame D. came to herself, but then it was found that a curious thing had happened. She had forgotten everything that had occurred since July 14, six weeks previous to the shock, - a retrograde amnesia. But this was not all. She continued to forget everything that happened, everything she experienced, as fast as it occurred, hour by hour and minute by minute. (This is called continuous amnesia.) She lived her life as usual, but under the restrictions of this amnesia, which lasted nine months, until May, 1892. Among other experiences she was bitten by a mad dog, and was taken to Paris to the Pasteur Institute to be immunised. Her husband, taking advantage of her being in Paris, brought her to Charcot, at the Salpêtrière, on November 23. She had no recollection whatever of anything that had taken place subsequent to July 14. For everything previous to that date her memory was good. She remembered nothing of the accident that caused her troubles, nothing of being bitten by the dog, of the journey to Paris, or of being treated at the Pasteur Institute. Later, after having been some time at the hospital, she could not remember, at any particular moment, where she was, or recall the names of those whom she daily met. Charcot was the sole exception. She had seen his portrait before July 14, and remembered his face.
Now it was easy to show that these lost memories were only dissociated, and not absolutely effaced. In the first place that patient was heard to talk in her sleep; that is, she dreamed about events which had occurred during the periods of the retrograde and anterograde amnesia. 'That dirty dog' for instance, she said, 'he has bitten me and torn my dress.' In the second place, when hypnotised she recalled all the forgotten events and related them with exactness. She recounted the scene of August 28, the bite of the dog, her arrival in Paris, her inoculation against rabies, her visits in Paris, her entrance in the Salpêtrière, etc., with striking care and accuracy.
It thus was shown that in hypnosis the memories of past experiences were associated among themselves, systematised, and preserved, as if in the memory of a second personality. Janet, experimenting still further on the same subject, showed that the lost memories could be recovered in the waking state by the process of abstraction and automatic writing. The memorial images, therefore, were not obliterated but were merely dissociated from the waking personality. It required only a device to awaken the systematised memories, dissociated from the personal consciousness.
But the facts were something more than this. It was not alone that by an artifice Mme. D. was made to recall what she had forgotten. We do this in a different way every day of our lives. It is rather that at a time when the subject is unable to remember anything of a certain period, at this same time while in another state she possesses completely the lost memories, and lose then again when she goes back to the waking state. With the alternating states there is an alternation of memory and amnesia, but during amnesia the memories almost seems to be waiting, as it were, to be recalled by the proper signal or device (pg 250-252)."
Prince, M. (1905) The dissociation of a personality : a biographical study in abnormal psychology. New York : Longmans, Green, 1910, c1905
Psychology 607/ child trauma/ 2008: http://dynamic.uoregon.edu/~jjf/courses/psy607-win08/index.html
Jennifer Freyd <email@example.com>