In his novel, Assumed Identity, David Morrell develops his plot around Brendan Buchanan, a Captain in Special Forces, who is driven to assume hundreds of different identities due to the fact that he blames himself for the death of his brother, Tommy.
When they were boys, playing at a construction site, Brendan pushed Tommy into a pit where his body was impaled on a stake. Though he did not intend to hurt his brother, Brendan was overwhelmed with guilt at the memory of the stake projecting from Tommy’s chest. His efforts to escape from himself—and this horrible memory with its accompanying intense guilt—resulted in his assuming other identities.
This lifelong struggle resulted in what psychologists refer to as a “Dissociative Personality” which is described in the professional literature of psychology as “Conversion Hysteria.”
Brendan was attempting to mask, avoid, and deny the depression and anxiety that resulted from this unfortunate incident, and Morrell develops his story around this tortured and anxious person who cannot accept who he is. His guilt causes him to judge, condemn, and punish himself.
After he finished high school, Brendan joined the military so that he could get into Special Forces, which provided him with opportunities to assume other identities and sacrifice himself in an effort to atone for his crime. He thought that if he witnessed enough death, Tommy's death would not haunt him so much. He was superb at inventing a detailed and personal background for each of the characters he cultivated and whose identity he became. However, after eight years of impersonating hundreds of other persons, Brendan no longer knew who he was; nor did he want to know.
The trauma this unfortunate situation created within Brendan—coupled with his internal responses that resulted in a Dissociative Personality—is an example of how grief can become pathological. It underscores the need for positive grief therapy that enables the bereaved individual to face reality, find their way back to their true self, and rebuild life on a new, realistic, and sound footing.
Readers will find resources regarding the Dissociative Personality and support groups on the Internet, the library, and mental health centers. Professionals will find The Myth of Sanity by Dr. Martha Strout and the writings of Dr. Ralph Allison informative.