Updated: May 15, 2022
Steven and Marc debuted in episode one of Marvel's Moon Knight, portraying the first character in the MCU to carry the label Dissociative Identity Disorder.
I could say a lot about other characters showing some of the concepts of DID, but there is something special to me about Moon Knight- his DID is not used to represent a superpower.
As a system myself, I have been eagerly waiting to see how Marvel would portray DID on screen. I want to note a few aspects of the show that might cause people to draw the wrong conclusions and explain why I believe these directions were taken.
Before I get into the spoilers I want to say two things:
1. Moon Knight episode one left me feeling optimistic for the show, both as a system and as a Marvel fan.
2. I don't expect a comic book story to give the most accurate representation of Dissociative Identity Disorder. We turn to Marvel for spider bites, time travel, and Wakanda. So I want to keep that in mind.
However, I do expect them to handle the topic with care because this is something people live within their daily lives. The goal of my analysis is to compliment what is done well, correct when needed, and help others understand.
Here are a few definitions you will need to understand this post if you are not familiar with the terms used for Dissociative Identity Disorder.
DID - Dissociative Identity Disorder
Alter - a personality within a DID system
System - a person who has alters/has DID
Host - the alter who is interacting with the outside world the most often. The host is not necessarily the original or more important. The host can change as time goes on. Think of "host" as a title given to one (sometimes more) alter.
Headspace - the mental place where a system can see and communicate with their alters. Headspaces are extremely complex and this is the simplest definition I can give.
Switching/Switch - when one alter takes over control of the body.
*note* All systems are different. I am not a psychologist or a therapist. I have been diagnosed with DID twice and the following comes from personal experience.
Alters are not the same as possession. In Moon Knight, the Egyptian god Khonshu is not an alter. Steven and Marc are both alters.
This is an important distinction because people who have DID have been accused of being possessed. I won't go into the harmful effects of that accusation here, but it's safe to say that if you meet someone who has DID you should refrain from asking if they are possessed.
If you meet someone who can magically transform their clothes from a disaster of barely-business-casual to mummy-style-god-attire it's ok to assume they are possessed. Though I would be cautious about asking them any questions, but maybe that's just me.
Rather than possession, an alter is formed in the mind as a complex coping mechanism in response to trauma. I'm not going to give all the information about what DID is but I will post some information at the end.
One thing to highlight is the common misconception that people with DID hallucinate, or see things that are not there, out in the world. This is not strictly a symptom of DID. The voices and images of alters, and the headspace, all happen inside the mind.
For example, if my alter wants to communicate with me the way Marc is communicating with Steven, that conversation would happen within my mind rather than with a mirror. It can also happen in other ways- in a journal, messaging apps, etc. One of my alters leaves notes written on my wrist. The difference is, the communication is physically present or within the mind. It is not a hallucination that I see outside of myself.
Marc and Steven interacting through a mirror makes perfect sense to me for the show. I have given a lot of thought as to how something like alter communication could be portrayed on screen and this is one way that makes sense.
The best alter communication representation I've seen on film wasn't even meant to be DID, though it is trauma related. It was on the HBO show, The Flight Attendant. I highly recommend watching that show if you want to see a creative portrayal of headspace and alter-style communication. Still, The Flight Attendant method would not work for Moon Knight because the alters Steven and Marc are active in the world rather than only in the mind.
Let’s talk about the switch scenes as well. We see a switch several times in this episode, mostly during the truck scene and the end when we see the Moon Knight outfit.
Switching between alters happens in several ways and is different for every system. The switching in Moon Knight is fairly dramatic visually. That can happen for people but, in my experience it is rare. DID is born from trauma and, generally, when a person begins experiencing DID symptoms they are still in an unsafe environment. This means a lot of systems are covert and switches tend to be more subtle.
A switch is difficult to describe. Most systems don't realize what they look like when they switch. I have record of it from other people, being filmed and observed by psychologists, and my own recordings. My switches tend to be subtle. However, if I'm with someone who knows the differences to look for, once the switch happens it is obvious.
On top of that, I have been in a safe place for a long time now, with a few exceptions, so my current switches and experiences are different than they were when I was a teenager.
I will say, again, the visual switch needs to be understood by the general public for Moon Knight so I understand why they made it more dramatic. Also, Steven is only just realizing that he has DID. Switches during discovery of a system are more chaotic and feel harsher.
The visual aspect in Moon Knight, showing what Steven sees during the switch, where the world gets jumpy and confusing, is spot on for rough switches.
Going into a full amnesia block is destabilizing. I used to experience full amnesia blocks more often than I do now. I still have full amnesia, but most of the time I am co-conscious, which means one alter is in front (in control of the body) and I am not in charge but I can see and hear what is happening. Co-conscious is my preference, but it wasn’t always that way. When co-con happens during discovery it is extremely confusing and can lead to full amnesia blocks if it becomes overwhelming.
This takes us back to those mirror scenes with Marc and Steven. We see co-conscious representation in Moon Knight when they are communicating through the mirror. The best example is at the end when Steven chooses to give control to Marc. Steven is in control of the body but it is clear Marc is able to see what is happening in the world.
Lastly, I want to give props to the writers for the part at the end when Marc says, “Let me save us.”
That moment was so touching. As an exercise for trauma healing my therapist had several alters write letters about a specific situation. Only three alters from my system were able to write a letter for the exercise. When I wrote the letter the pronoun used was “I,” but when the other alters wrote letters they both used the pronoun “we.” I’m hoping these little touches continue to show up for the rest of the series because they add something to the story that is rarely seen in media portrayal.