A Fractured Mind

My Life with Multiple Personality Disorder


By Robert B. Oxnam

Formats and Prices




$12.99 CAD



  1. ebook $9.99 $12.99 CAD
  2. Trade Paperback $21.99 $28.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around February 5, 2013. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

In 1989, Robert B. Oxnam, the successful China scholar and president of the Asia Society, faced up to what he thought was his biggest personal challenge: alcoholism. But this dependency masked a problem far more serious: Multiple Personality Disorder.

At the peak of his professional career, after having led the Asia Society for nearly a decade, Oxnam was haunted by periodic blackouts and episodic rages. After his family and friends intervened, Oxnam received help from a psychiatrist, Dr. Jeffrey Smith, and entered a rehab center. It wasn’t until 1990 during a session with Dr. Smith that the first of Oxnam’s eleven alternate personalities–an angry young boy named Tommy–suddenly emerged. With Dr. Smith’s help, Oxnam began the exhausting and fascinating process of uncovering his many personalities and the childhood trauma that caused his condition. This is the powerful and moving story of one person’s struggle with this terrifying illness. The book includes an epilogue by Dr. Smith in which he describes Robert’s case, the treatment, and the nature of multiple personality disorder. Robert’s courage in facing his situation and overcoming his painful past makes for a dramatic and inspiring book.




All my life, now more than sixty years, I've felt a kinship with Humpty-Dumpty, that hapless egg with human features who toppled from his perch. As a child, I often leafed through my English nursery rhyme book, staring at Humpty-Dumpty, proudly teetering on his wall, a fat little egg dressed as if going to some nineteenth-century London men's club, not a care in the world. There was only one illustration, a "before" portrait, leaving the reader to imagine Humpty-Dumpty's fate after he splatted on the busy roadway below. Perhaps the story was poking fun at pretentious English merchants. Maybe it was to remind us of the biblical verse "pride goeth before a fall."

What caught my attention was not the jolly "before" picture, but rather imagining the terrible aftermath of the fall, with a broken yolk, oozing whites, and eggshell fragments everywhere. It seemed impossible, but I wondered whether "all the King's horses and all the King's men" might find a way to put Humpty-Dumpty "back together again."

I'm quite serious. I thought long and hard about how it might be done. After all, I knew you didn't really need the yolk and the whites. I'd seen those "blown eggs" at Easter time. Wasn't there some way to glue the broken eggshell pieces together and bring Humpty back to life?

Today I understand why Humpty-Dumpty caught my attention so many years ago. Multiple personality disorder (MPD) might just be called the Humpty-Dumpty disease, but psychiatrists now call it dissociative identity disorder (DID). I didn't know that I had MPD until 1990, when a remarkable psychiatrist, Dr. Jeffery Smith, made the diagnosis. Since then, I have met with several other dissociation specialists, mainly as a talking case study of an MPD patient. But I want to emphasize that I am neither a specialist in MPD nor a psychiatrist of any kind. What I have learned about the disorder comes from my own experience, from a few books I've sampled since being diagnosed, and from the insights of Dr. Smith.

My name is Robert. I'm one of eleven personalities whom you'll meet in this book. At one time or another, all eleven personalities revealed themselves as part of one human being, officially called "Robert Bromley Oxnam." On the outside, "Robert B. Oxnam" has done reasonably well for himself as a specialist on China and Asia, a published writer of both fiction and nonfiction about China, former president of the Asia Society, professor of Asian history and contemporary affairs.

But that's not the point. I want to be very clear that this is not an autobiography of "Robert B. Oxnam." This book gives limited attention to what happened in the "outer world"—the world of professional life, family ties, of relationships, of successes and failures. We did not write it to reveal "who did what to whom." Instead, we wrote the book to convey our inner experiences with MPD—surprising discoveries, arduous therapy, and a lifetime of coping.

For those with MPD, these personal pronouns—I and we—get pretty confusing sometimes. Remember that I told you there were once eleven personalities. Now, I'm proud to say, we have whittled it down to three remaining personalities through a process of "integration." The three who remain— Robert, Bobby, and Wanda—made a joint decision to proceed with this book, and all three of us agreed to very clear rules about how it would be written.

Since I'm the most outspoken in the group, I get the job of "narrator," but don't think for a moment that either Bobby or Wanda is powerless. Quite the contrary, both are potent personalities, as you will discover. Indeed we agreed that, to portray accurately our inner divided reality, each of the eleven personalities would speak in his or her own voice.

So, in one sense, this book represents eleven autobiographies. But it also seeks to capture the constant inner monologues and dialogues that are common with multiple personality disorder. Life inside the world of MPD is filled with squabbles and power struggles, often over which individual personality will dominate on the outside. Since all of the personalities eventually communicated with Dr. Jeffery Smith, the book also reveals the enormous complexity of conducting therapy sessions with an MPD patient.

When Bobby and Wanda first pressured me to narrate this story, I was very reluctant. Imagine the daunting task of narrating the sixty-year history of eleven personalities to an outside world filled with people who have never experienced extreme dissociation. Wanda sought to persuade me with quietly passionate pleas: "None of the rest of us is a writer. It's a story that should be told. It's eleven personalities in search of one soul." But I think it was Bobby, our naughty imp, who sold me. "Robert, you're such a worrywart," Bobby said with a laugh. "It's not such a big deal. Think of it this way. You're the tour guide on the starship Enterprise—exploring the farthest reaches of inner space."

So, we—Bobby, Wanda, and Robert—all decided that this book would not focus primarily on the "outer world," which was really quite remote from many of us, but rather on our "inner world" of severe dissociation. We do not seek to destroy or protect reputations of anyone on the outside, living or dead, but rather to explore the inner MPD psyche that we have occupied.

But how can readers possibly believe this story? For a while, we all fretted about this issue. We vowed to tell the story as accurately as we could, letting each personality speak for himself or herself. We carefully corroborated our own recollections with the records and remembrances of Dr. Jeffery Smith in the long therapy process. We cross-checked our memories with several of those close enough to have witnessed our multiple personalities firsthand. Finally, we came to believe that we could do no more than that. The ultimate verdict on credibility will rest with you, the reader, after you have absorbed the story.

If this book raises more questions than it answers, then we will consider it a success, as long as the questions are more sophisticated by the end of the book than they were at the beginning. Indeed, it is our hope that you, the reader, will be asking questions throughout—not only about us and our story, but also about yourself and the society in which we all live.

Over the past seven years, I, Robert, have related shortened versions of this story, always on a confidential basis, to roughly a hundred people, either individually or in small groups. With few exceptions, the response has been riveted attention, people often nodding their heads affirmatively as I described various personalities or inner episodes.

When I have asked why they were reacting so strongly, the response was almost always the same. "I'm nodding because it's my story, too. Don't get me wrong. I don't have MPD. But I can really relate to different inner personae. Unlike people with MPD, I don't have memory blocks between those personae, but I act so differently with different people, in different places, at different times." One person elaborated: "When I have a difficult decision to make, I always convene an inner committee meeting. I allow all parts of me to air opinions; that way I know that all of me owns the decision."

I have come to think that a lot of people, possibly all people, have multiple personae. Everyone I know reports feeling differently and acting differently in different places and with different people. Many describe various "roles" or "masks," suggesting that my experience may be an extreme exaggeration of what is normal human behavior.

Probably the biggest difference between "normal multiplicity" and MPD is that most people recall what happens when they move through their array of personae. By contrast, MPD is characterized by rigid memory walls that prevent such recall until therapy begins to break down the barriers. While normal people have "multiple personae," they do not suffer from "multiple identities." In this sense, the new term, dissociative identity disorder, is more descriptive of what is commonly called "multiple personality disorder."

So, while acknowledging that my case is extremely rare, maybe the multiple framework is embedded in all human beings. If this unusual tale helps shed some light on what we often call "normal human behavior," then I (and we) will feel both gratified and, to be honest, somewhat vindicated.

For those who have experienced abuse and dissociation, I hope this story has some special resonance. For me, the hardest thing was not suffering severe trauma, but rather suffering a lifetime of consequences—finding out what actually happened, understanding the devastating impacts on my psyche, and, hardest of all, trying to rebuild my life based on hope, trust, and love. All of us inside reach out to all those on the outside who have confronted similar challenges in their own lives.

But we on the inside hardly have the last word on how those on the outside might find our MPD perspectives useful in their own lives. Unlike Dr. Smith, none of us is a professional psychiatrist, and all of us have been distracted from such outer issues. We have been much too busy trying to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.





ON A COLD, CLOUDY afternoon in March 1990, driving my black Honda through the spiderweb of highways north of New York City, I had no idea that this day would change my life forever. I was in a funk of a mood, dark and irritable, loathing the meeting with my psychiatrist that lay ahead. Seven months earlier, when I first met Dr. Jeffery Smith, I had real hope that he could cure my spiraling depression and anger. But now, after enduring extensive therapy sessions and a month in a rehabilitation clinic, I felt worse than ever. It was time to break from Dr. Smith.

But I realized that cutting off relations with Dr. Smith would be a challenge. He seemed like a genuinely concerned colleague, professional but approachable, a very hard man to dislike. Working from a simple office in an unpretentious modern building, he certainly was not the sort of shrink who siphons off patients' money to pay huge overhead. He dressed in a casually professional way—button-down shirt, plain tie, sport jacket—never offering an imposing image. And, unlike any other therapist I had encountered, he conducted our meetings in an easy but attentive style: listening carefully with sharply focused eyes, letting me talk without interrupting, then offering cogent insights rather than "psychobabble."

I resolved to come right to the point. "Hello," I said as coldly as possible, "we've got to talk."

"Yes, Bob," he said quietly, "what's on your mind?"

I shut my eyes for a moment, letting the raging frustration well up inside, then stared angrily at the psychiatrist. "Look, I've been religious about this recovery business. I go to AA meetings daily and to your sessions twice a week. I know it's good that I've stopped drinking. But every other aspect of my life feels the same as it did before. No, it's worse. I hate my life. I hate myself."

Suddenly I felt a slight warmth in my face, blinked my eyes a bit, and then stared at him.

"Bob, I'm afraid our time's up," Smith said in a matter-of-fact style.

"Time's up?" I exclaimed. "I just got here."

"No." He shook his head, glancing at his clock. "It's been fifty minutes. You don't remember anything?"

"I remember everything. I was just telling you that these sessions don't seem to be working for me."

Smith paused to choose his words very carefully. "Do you know a very angry boy named 'Tommy'?"

"No," I said in bewilderment, "except for my cousin Tommy whom I haven't seen in twenty years …"

"No." He stopped me short. "This Tommy's not your cousin. I spent this last fifty minutes talking with another Tommy. He's full of anger. And he's inside of you."

"You're kidding?"

"No, I'm not. Look. I want to take a little time to think over what happened today. And don't worry about this. I'll set up an emergency session with you tomorrow. We'll deal with it then."


This is Robert speaking. Today I'm the only personality who is strongly visible inside and outside. My own term for such an MPD role is dominant personality. Fifteen years ago, I rarely appeared on the outside, though I had considerable influence on the inside; back then, I was what one might call a "recessive personality." My passage from "recessive" to "dominant" is a key part of our story; be patient, you'll learn lots more about me later on.

Indeed, since you will meet all eleven personalities who once roamed about, it gets a bit complex in the first half of this book; but don't worry, you don't have to remember them all, and it gets sorted out in the last half of the book. You may be wondering—if not "Robert," who, then, was the dominant MPD personality back in the 1980s and earlier? His name was "Bob," and his dominance amounted to a long reign, from the early 1960s to the early 1990s. Since "Robert B. Oxnam" was born in 1942, you can see that "Bob" was in command from early to middle adulthood.

Although he was the dominant MPD personality for thirty years, Bob did not have a clue that he was afflicted by multiple personality disorder until 1990, the very last year of his dominance. That was the fateful moment when Bob first heard that he had an "angry boy named Tommy" inside of him. How, you might ask, can someone have MPD for half a lifetime without knowing it? And even if he didn't know it, didn't others around him spot it?

To outsiders, this is one of the most perplexing aspects of MPD. Multiple personality is an extreme disorder, and yet it can go undetected for decades, by the patient, by family and close friends, even by trained therapists. Part of the explanation is the very nature of the disorder itself: MPD thrives on secrecy because the dissociative individual is repressing a terrible inner secret. The MPD individual becomes so skilled in hiding from himself that he becomes a specialist, often unknowingly, in hiding from others. Part of the explanation is rooted in outside observers: MPD often manifests itself in other behaviors, frequently addiction and emotional outbursts, which are wrongly seen as the "real problem."

The fact of the matter is that Bob did not see himself as the dominant personality inside Robert B. Oxnam. Instead, he saw himself as a whole person. In his mind, Bob was merely a nickname for Bob Oxnam, Robert Oxnam, Dr. Robert B. Oxnam, PhD.


This feels so strange. It's the first time in more than a decade that I'm speaking directly to outsiders. I feel awkward and tongue-tied. I used to find it easy to speak in public; the bigger the audience, the better. I thrived on television work. I once hosted a TV series called Asia: Half the Human Race. You see, I was an Asia expert with a specialization on Chinese history and contemporary affairs. So when China news was hot, I was often a TV guest for the Today show with Jane Pauley, and …

Oh, sorry, I used to be quite a name-dropper, too. But I was making a point. I'm really nervous talking to you. I'm out of practice. And now Robert introduces me? I used to be the one who made introductions. I was making introductions before anyone ever heard of Robert.

In the old days, when I was outside and he was inside, Robert was constantly criticizing me. You can't believe what he said about me. He was really nasty. Let's see if I can remember. "Mr. Rolodex and Mr. Résumé." "Willing to suspend a mile of values to achieve an inch of ambition." Then later, in 1990, as you will discover, Robert changed his tune and began saying nice things.

Know why I'm really anxious? Want to guess who was the egg who took the "great fall"? You got it. I'm Bob, your Humpty-Dumpty. For the longest time, I saw myself as the whole egg. By the time I found out about MPD, the egg was splattered all over the sidewalk.

During much of my early life, from the 1950s to the 1970s, I was on a pretty good roll. It wasn't until the late 1970s, and even more in the 1980s, that the dark clouds moved in. Look, I'll try to give you a balanced picture, both the upside and the downside. Bottom line—though I didn't know it at the time—both sides were directly related to multiple personality disorder.

My memories of childhood are very hazy, though I always had a rather rosy view of my early years in the 1940s. During World War II, I lived with my mother and her parents in a modest, comfortable house in southern California. My memory bank contains a few shards from those very early years—an upright piano that my grandfather played, sunshine streaming into the backyard, hummingbirds darting around flowering plants, a gum tree that put sticky sap on your hands, a view of a white-capped mountain from the breakfast nook. My grandfather worked as a Con Edison lineman, and my grandmother was, among other things, an early Tupperware salesperson.

My mother always described my relationship with her parents as "warm and loving," but I remember them with a mixture of sun and clouds. Both my grandparents were into fishing, and it was fun to accompany them and watch them use home-tied lures to catch trout by the dozen. They taught me to fish, and though I was better at splashing in the stream, one time I did catch a pretty rainbow trout. I remember that my grandparents had a small house trailer in the driveway, a great place to find a safe cubbyhole when playing hide-and-seek or just hiding from adults.

But one day, my grandparents took me to a chicken farm and I remember with horror watching chickens run around with their heads cut off; my grandmother had grabbed a chicken by the neck, killing it instantly with an expert ropelike snap of the wrist. I can't remember exactly when I started finding my grandparents' humor rather odd—my grandmother once said, "Wee, wee, wee … that's what the French say when they take a piss," only to be matched by my grandfather's question, "What's the longest thing on a giraffe?… Answer: it ain't his neck."

My father's side of the family couldn't have been more different. His father was Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam, the leader of the American Methodist Church and the first president of the World Council of Churches. Grand-daddy Oxnam was well known as a supporter of many liberal causes. He achieved national attention in the McCarthy era when he appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee. After grueling testimony, he was cleared of any "Communist leanings," but in the minds of some American conservatives, he was always seen as the "Red bishop."

I told Granddaddy I thought it was "cool" that he was on the cover of Time magazine. His response stays with me—"Yes, Robbey, I suppose it's 'cool.' But you see Time magazine every week at your house. Who was on the cover of last week's Time magazine?" I couldn't remember. He just smiled knowingly. I had learned an important lesson about the fleeting importance of fame.

My dad was prominent in his own right as a university administrator—a dean at Syracuse University, vice president of Boston University, president of Pratt Institute, and finally president of Drew University. Although I often sensed he was frustrated that he didn't match fully Granddaddy's achievements, Dad was always heroic in my eyes. He was my role model as a professor and an intellectual leader; I desperately sought to follow his example. Dad also had a genial laugh and inner warmth that drew others to him; in my eyes, he was both a "hero" and very "real" at the same time.

Dad also had a wild side. One time, when my grandfather was proudly sitting at a homecoming football game at Depauw University, where he was president, his son buzzed the field in his biplane, causing the players to scatter for cover during a play. With that bizarre sense of humor, Dad was a hard man to dislike, even when he resorted to strict discipline, such as whipping me with a thick leather belt when I had been "sassy" or had "broken the rules."

In his early twenties, Dad went off to Hollywood and studied to be an actor. According to my mother's reports, he was "too studied" to be a good actor, but he had the looks, with a Clark Gable mustache and a Rudy Valentino dark complexion and flowing jet-black hair. It was there he met my mother, Dalys Houts, blond and beautiful (so it appears in her publicity photos).

They were married in 1939 and I arrived in 1942. In the late 1930s, my mother pursued her undergraduate degree (courtesy of support from my dad's grandmother) and my father began his graduate studies, both at the University of Southern California. It was the end of their acting careers and the beginning of a more successful life in the academic world.

Mom, who died in the summer of 2004 during the editing of this book, was a complicated lady who had her share of supporters and critics. By the end of her long life, especially in the thirty years after my father died in 1974, I think the supporters outweighed the critics (surely spearheaded by two true gentlemen who were by her side in the later years: her genteel second husband, Harry Jaecker, and later, the lovable Ralph McVain, both of whom predeceased her). At Heritage Village in Southbury, Connecticut, where she lived after Dad's death, Mom finally fulfilled her acting dream by starring in several amateur productions and in a one-woman show where she took on various roles as defined by their hats.

But it was her acting penchant that also prompted her critics; back when Dad was alive, she frequently described herself as "the first lady of Drew University" or as the "hostess with the mostest." For some in Dad's family as well, her posturing prompted irritation, almost as if there was a family feud between the Oxnam cosmopolitan clan and the Houtses' earthier roots.

I actually felt closest to my mother when she was too weak and too needy to resort to acting. When Dad died, she needed my help sorting out the finances and establishing her new widowed life in Connecticut. I was touched when she vowed to always eat in the dining room, setting another place just so that she could sense Dad's presence. In the 1990s, when she had a near-fatal illness, I rushed to her hospital bedside. She grasped my hands and said, "Thanks so much for being here. I love you." I was so happy to connect that I ran out to the drugstore and bought balloons and a stuffed animal as presents. Finally, she had shown the genuine mother–son love that I had longed for all my life.

Looking back on her life, I feel grateful for those loving moments, but also sorry for a mother who seemed so much better at promoting her "ideal family" than she was at dealing with her own feelings. Once, late in her life, after I was married, when I had pushed her hard on this "always acting" matter, she stood up and pointed to where she had been sitting. Her voice changed into a deep rasping, and she said, "I hate that person. I hate everything she does." Then, realizing that it was a very odd revelation, she quickly sat back down and pretended nothing had happened. My wife and I simply stared in astonishment.

Early on, I became aware that Mom and Dad had very high expectations for my success. When Mom talked with family or friends, she would often tell them, "There's Robbey. He reads books when other kids are playing. He's such a good student, you know." I sometimes thought that Mom, along with Dad, wanted me to prove something to my father's family—was it that their son might also be a superstar? After all, I had my father's first name, "Robert"— and "Bromley" was my grandfather's middle name that he always used. It wasn't that the pressure was overt, at least not most of the time, but rather that the notion of a high-achieving son was built into an understated WASP family ethic. Successes produced smiles and failures prompted frowns. That was enough for me. I bought into the system with unquestioning passion.

I was always obsessed with success, feeling fleeting glee when I achieved it, then on to the next challenge. But failure, even partial failure or even almost-success, filled me with searing guilt and self-loathing. The successes never stayed with me. I harbored agonizing memories of every single mistake or shortcoming. To this day, I can reconstruct those ghastly moments in perfect detail.

Throughout my life—beginning as a teenager and later as an adult—perceived failures prompted severe self-punishments. Hiding in an attic or a secluded forest, I would scream at myself: "You're stupid! A stupid idiot! I hate you!" I pummeled myself with clenched fists slamming against body and arms, and then hammered my forehead against a tree or a wall. For days, I would sit sullenly, recalling the terrible episode, often writing the words You're stupid! on a notepad or whatever scrap of paper was at hand.

So, given the inner penalties for failure, my outer pressure to succeed was pretty strong. An early test was the sport of target archery. Dad, worried that I was going to maim someone with my homemade bow and arrow, declared solemnly: "Boy, if you're going to use a weapon, let's use it right." A firearms instructor in the war who almost lost his life when another soldier accidentally discharged a sidearm in the barracks, Dad was adamant about doing things safely and methodically. So, after buying archery books and making a couple of lovely, if rather hefty, bows, he joined the Newton Archers just outside of Boston. Inventing his own modified military system of teaching archery "by the numbers," Dad became a very competent archer himself, and I, not yet a teenager, was his pupil. His approach to archery taught me many lessons: disciplined practice was the key to success (so I began practicing several hours a day); quality equipment was essential to quality performance (my father bought the very best bows and aluminum arrows); and success in competition made my father happy.


On Sale
Feb 5, 2013
Page Count
304 pages
Hachette Books

Robert B. Oxnam

About the Author

Robert B. Oxnam is internationally recognized as an outstanding Asia specialist and dynamic speaker. He often accompanies prominent Americans–such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, former President George H. W. Bush and Barbara Bush–as they seek in-depth, firsthand knowledge of China. For more than a decade he was president of the Asia Society, which has headquarters in New York, across the United States, and throughout the Asia-Pacific region. He has hosted MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour specials on Asia. He lives in New York with his wife, Vishakha Desai.

Learn more about this author