Dr. William E. Thomas
Karl May and Dissociative Identity Disorder
Trauma – Abuse Karl May Suffered In Childhood
The Beginnings Of Karl May’s D.I.D.
Karl May’s State Of Mind
Alternate Personalities Take Control Of The Person’s Behaviour
D.I.D. Can Be Cured
»I do not deny that I came into conflict with the law 40 or 50 years ago and was punished for it; but what I did then in the deepest mental depression and coerced state [of mind] would be in the present, more enlightened time heard not by a judge, but by a physician.« (Karl May on the 4 August 1910.) 
Karl May (1842–1912) was a writer of spellbinding travel and adventure stories born in Saxony. There are over 70 volumes of his books, translated into more than 32 languages . May’s narrative talent combining facts with fiction captivated generations of young and not so young readers. In his own biography May had described the state of mind he was in between the years 1862 and 1874 . This was an enigma to him and to all the researchers into his life and work.
In 1994 the perplexing Dissociative Identity Disorder was recognized and described in the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s ›Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders‹ . Dissociative Disorders are now understood to be the results of severe trauma in early childhood, of repeated physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. When faced with traumatic situation, from which there is no physical escape, a child may resort to »going away« in his/her head. By this dissociative process, which is a highly creative survival technique, thoughts, feelings, memories, and perceptions of the traumatic experiences can be separated off psychologically, allowing the child to function as if the trauma had not occurred.
The diagnostic features of Dissociative Identity Disorder are defined
in the Statistical Manual (DSM IV)
in the following way:
|Criterion A||presence of two or more distinct identities or personality states.|
|Criterion B||that recurrently take control of behaviour.|
|Criterion C||inability to recall important personal information, the extent of which is too great to be explained by ordinary forgetfulness.|
|Criterion D||the disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance or a general medical condition.|
Of importance is also the Fugue State, in which a person wanders away from home in a condition of altered awareness. The diagnostic criteria as described in DSM-IV are:
The distressing symptoms of D.I.D. are auditory and visual hallucinations, amnesia, time loss, depression, sleep disorders like insomnia, night terrors, panic attacks, and psychotic-like signs.
A person with D.I.D. has within him or her two or more entities, or personality states, each with its own independent way of relating, perceiving, thinking and remembering about him/herself and his/her life. In this connection it is of interest to quote the words of three outstanding writers: Somerset Maugham, Jack London, and Karl May:
»There are times, when I look over the various parts of my character with perplexity. I recognize I am made up of several persons, and that the person that at the moment has the upper hand will inevitably give place to another. But which is the real one? All of them or none?« (Somerset Maugham)
»All my life I have had an awareness of other times and places. I have been aware of other persons in me.« (Jack London)
»I have given my mind and soul an earthly garment, called a novel … this garment is the only body, in which it is possible for the people inside me to talk to my readers, to make themselves to be seen and heard.« (Karl May)
Some people with D.I.D. can hold highly responsible jobs, contributing to society in a variety of professions and the arts. To colleagues, neighbours, and others with whom they interact daily, they seem to function normally.
D.I.D. can be cured. The condition is highly responsive to individual psychotherapy as well as to a range of other treatment modalities, including medication, hypnotherapy, and adjunctive therapies such as art, music or movement therapy. The course of treatment is long-term, but carries the best prognosis. Individuals with D.I.D. have been treated successfully by therapists of all professional background in a variety of settings.
The case of the writer Karl May is interesting for many reasons. He was able to describe accurately the symptoms of D.I.D. almost a century before it has been recognized as a clinical entity. May was trying to find out what had happened to him from a contemporary textbook of psychiatry  and described a symptom which has not been recorded in there: the dissociative fugue state.
Karl May’s biographers and critics have often used the fact that the author had this textbook in his library, perused it but made no mention of it. As nowadays even then educated people turned to medical writings in an effort to learn more about their pathological conditions.
All the previous attempts to explain the state of mind of Karl May
were inconclusive and unconvincing. He was presented as a heavily affected neurotic,
suffering from hysteria, a psychosomatic dreamwalker. Even a new term was coined
– ›Pseudologia Phantastica‹
May was considered to have been afflicted by narcissistic affection. May’s description in
his biography of hearing voices, i.e. signs of hallucination, has never been taken
seriously. If it had been then May had to be diagnosed as a schizophrenic, which of course
did not agree with the course of his life and all the literary output.
Trauma – Abuse Karl May Suffered In Childhood
Karl May became blind shortly after his birth. The most likely cause of his blindness was xerophthalmia due to vitamin A deficiency . Such deprivation of one of the most important senses at an early age must have affected the child deeply.
»In my childhood I have been sitting quietly for hours without any movement and stared into the darkness with my diseased eyes contemplating … I saw nothing. There were no figures or forms for me, no colors, no places or changes of scenery. I could well feel, hear and smell the persons and surroundings; but this was not enough to make a true and plastic image of them. I could only imagine them. I did not know how a person, a dog, a table looked; I could only make an inner picture of them, and this picture was in my mind only. When someone spoke, I did not hear his voice, but his soul.« 
The young boy could not see for four years and his eyesight returned only after treatment by two professors of medicine in Dresden. During the time of his blindness his grandmother cared him for . She talked and read stories to him.
»All the time during the day I was not with my parents, but with my grandmother. She meant everything to me. She was my father, my mother, my tutor, my light, my sunshine, which my eyes lacked … The stories she told me I repeated and added to it what my child’s fantasy partly guessed and partly imagined. I narrated the stories to my sisters and also to others who came to see me, because I could not go to them.« 
Karl May’s father was very strict with his son. He wanted to realize all his own unfulfilled ambitions in life through Karl. School started for the boy a year before the usual age, and his father made him to transcribe and learn by heart all sorts of books and texts.
»As my father was impatient in everything, so he was also in that what he called my ›education‹. Mind you, he ›educated‹ me; he worried less about my sisters. He put all his expectations on that what I will achieve in life, that was not achieved by him, namely not only a more successful, but also an intellectually higher station in life.« 
The father, Heinrich August May, also used to beat his children: »Next to the weavers stool hung a three times twisted rope, which was leaving behind blue strips, and at the back of the oven stood the well-known ›Johny-the birch’, especially feared by us children, because father was fond of soaking it before beating us in a pot with warm water, to make it more elastic and painful.« 
Another observation by Karl May: »My father was a person with two souls. One was endlessly weak, the other tyrannical, full of excess in anger, incapable of controlling itself.« 
»… however even in the most cheerful and friendly moments we had the feeling as we would be standing on a volcano and could expect an eruption at any moment. Then we were thrashed with the rope or the »John «so long until father could no more [to beat us because he became exhausted].« 
The blindness certainly meant a prolonged trauma for Karl, during
which he learned how to dissociate himself from his misery. Later the strict father, prone
to »sudden anger, easily over-impetuous man «
doubtless abused his children, and his son more than the girls, because he transferred his
unfulfilled ambitions onto him.
The Beginnings Of Karl May’s D.I.D.
Two events contributed to the full-blown D.I.D. state in Karl May: Expulsion from the teacher’s seminary and an arrest by the Police followed by six weeks prison term.
Because the May’s family was poor, the local patron Earl von Hinterglauchau had subsidized Karl May’s education at the Teacher’s Institute. May’s sister reported later how the family had to economize in order to make Karl’s education possible. Everyone had to contribute parts of their weekly earnings.
At X-mass 1859 there were found six candles belonging to the school in Karl May’s possession. May was expelled from the seminary on the 28 January 1860. After an appeal to the Ministry of Education May was allowed to finish his studies at a different Teacher’s Institute, where he passed the final examinations in September 1861.
Again at X-mass in 1861, as a young teacher, he was most likely unjustly accused by a flatmate of not returning a watch, which May has been using with his permission during the school term. After two unsuccessful appeals for leniency May was sentenced to six weeks of detention, which he served from 8 September to 20 October 1862.
Karl May had failed all the expectations of his family. His teacher’s career to which they contributed so much was permanently ruined. Later Karl May described his state of mind at that time in these words:
»[The events] … had acted like a blow on my head, under which force I had collapsed. And how I collapsed! I stood up again, however only on the outside; in the inside I stayed down in a dull stupor; for weeks, even for months. That it happened at X-mass had only doubled its effect. I do not know if I consulted a lawyer, whether I lodged an appeal, appealed to the court or used some other legal way, I cannot tell. I only know that I spent six weeks in a cell with two other men.« 
»Those days have disappeared from my memory, completely vanished. I should like, because of important psychological reasons, describe gladly all this as frankly and fully as possible, but unfortunately I cannot do it, because it all has disappeared from my memory as a consequence of an extraordinary psychological condition, about which I shall report in the next chapter. I only know that I was completely lost and found myself in the care of my parents and in particular of my grandmother. After I have recuperated with great difficulty and was strong enough in my legs, I went to Altchemnitz, [May’s last teaching post] to refresh my damaged memory. It was useless as far as the locality was concerned; I recognized nothing, not even the factory [school], my former flat, or some other place where I had to be for sure in the past.« 
There is no reason not to believe what Karl May had written. What May described is known as pathological loss of memory, a phenomenon in which an area of experience becomes inaccessible to ›conscious‹ recall. In his case the loss of memory was emotional and dissociative.
Dissociative amnesia is one of the dissociative disorders described in DSM-IV. There are three diagnostic criteria:
All three conditions are fulfilled in what Karl May wrote about his state of mind at that time. It is important to realize that at this stage May was not given any therapy. He came back to his family, which he so miserably failed, and which must have caused him a painful sensory input, reminding him of the events and therefore acting as a ›trigger‹ for further psychological distress.
It is not so difficult to imagine the family situation of Karl May at that time. His father was a weaver, a self-opinionated character. His mother was a respected midwife. From fourteen children born to them only five survived to an adult age: three girls and Karl. The grandmother seemed to play an important role for the children. No doubt high expectations have been put into the only son in the family, Karl.
Karl May’s state of mind was getting worse between January 1863 and March 1865. After his return from the six-week detention he lived with the family, his teacher’s career closed to him forever, and with no means of making living. He became dependent on the family. Karl May tried to keep his mental balance with the help of music, composing. He also started to write short stories. It seems that it was a hard and loosing battle for him. May started to suffer more and more from hallucinations:
»It was as if I had brought home from the prison cell in which I spent six long weeks, a whole crowd of invisible criminal characters, who made it their business to settle down with me and make me one of them. I did not see them; I saw only the darkest, sneering main figure from the domestic swamp and from the Hohenstein’s [local lending library] trash novels; they talked to me, they influenced me. And when I struggled against they became louder to stun and wear me out, in order to loose my strength to resist. The main idea was for me to take revenge, revenge on the owner of the watch who reported me, only to get me out from his flat, revenge on the Police, revenge on the judge, revenge on the Government, on humankind, altogether on everyone! I was an exemplary person, white, pure and innocent like a lamb. The world cheated me out of my future, my life happiness. How? By remaining what they have made out of me, namely a criminal.« 
Dissociation from the traumatic environment meant for Karl May a refuge into writing stories. Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.) is often referred to as a highly creative survival technique, because it allows individuals enduring painful circumstances to preserve some areas of healthy functioning. Repeated or protracted dissociation may result I a series of separate entities, or mental states, which may eventually take on identities of their own. These identities may become the internal ›personality states’, or D.I.D. (formerly M.P.D. – Multiple Personality Disorder) system. Changing between states of consciousness is described as ›switching’.
Karl May has already described one important symptom of D.I.D., the traumatic amnesia. Another important symptoms are visual and auditory hallucinations.
There are four diagnostic criteria of D.I.D., all of which Karl May fulfilled:
Karl May was examined by doctors on several occasions and found bodily fit: in December 1862 he was found not suitable for compulsory military service only because of poor vision; seen by a Police doctor on 27 March 1865 after his arrest because of startling apathy; in June 1865 he was seen by Dr.Saxe at Zwickau prison; in May 1870 by Dr.Adolf Knecht at Waldheim prison. None of these doctors recorded any somatic abnormality.
The presence of voices described so clearly by Karl May in his biography has never been
taken seriously by various researches into his life and work. Perhaps because before in
the past May would have to be diagnosed as a schizophrenic, which did not correspond with
his literary output nor with the course of his life. The impression is that many of them
thought Karl May was using allegorical language. Yet – Karl May was very serious when
describing his experiences. Psychotic-like symptoms as visual and auditory hallucinations
are typical signs of D.I.D.
Karl May’s State Of Mind
The description from the pen of Karl May of his state of mind is best to quote in length:
»… the strict opposite of clarity ruled my innermost; it was the night, there were only few free moments in which I saw further than the day let me. The night was not completely dark, it had twilight. And strangely it reached only the soul, but not the spirit. I was sick in my soul, but not in my mind. I had the capability to reach logical conclusions, to solve every mathematical problem. I had the most acute insight into all what was outside myself, but as soon as it came close, to enter into a relation, the understanding ceased. Only sometimes came a moment when I knew what I wanted, lasting just a short time. It was a condition that I have never seen in any other person and never read about in any book. I was mentally quite aware of this psychological state of affairs, however did not possess the strength to change it or even to overcome it. I started to be aware that I am no longer complete but a split personality, quite as the new teaching says that a person is not a single being but a drama. In this drama there were various acting personalities, who sometimes not at all, at other times however quite clearly differed from each other.
First there was ›I‹, namely myself, who had observed it all. However who this »I «really had been and where he was hiding I could not say. It looked very similar to my father and had all his faults. A second being inside me stood always only in a distance. It resembled a fairy, an angel, one of the pure happy figures from grandma’s storybooks. It admonished, it warned. It smiled when I obeyed, and was sad when I was disobedient. The third one, of course not a physical but a psychic figure, was to me immediately repulsive. Fatal, ugly, sneering at me, repugnant, always dark and menacing; I have never seen her differently, and never heard her in another manner. Because I have not only seen her, but also heard her; she talked . She talked away to me whole days and whole nights long. Ands she wanted not the good things but all the time only that what was bad and unlawful. She was new to me; I have never seen her, but saw her first now, since I was filled with inner tension. However when she once became still and I found the time to it to observe her unnoticed and carefully, then she became to me so familiar and so well-known, as if I had seen her already thousand times. She then changed her form, and this changed her face as well. Soon she originated from Batzendorf , soon from Kegelschub  or from the Smithery of Lies . Today she looked like Rinaldo Rinaldini, tomorrow like the Raubritter [Knight of prey] Kuno von der Eulenburg and the day after like the pious Director of the Teacher’s Seminary when he stood in front of my tallow paper. « 
The description by Karl May of his visual and auditory hallucinations was accurate, as was the multiple personalities state:
»Inside me it was swarming with figures which wanted to participate in worries, work, creating, writing poetry and composing music. And each of these forms talked; I had to listen to them. It was driving me insane! Where before there used to be apart from myself only two personalities, the light and the dark one, now there were two groups in addition to me.
»Every thinking person, who endeavors to go forward, has to go through such inner battles. In him these are thoughts and feelings which quarrel with each other. In my case however such ideas and impulses condensed into visible and audible forms. I saw them with my eyes closed, and heard them, day and night; they disturbed me from my work; they woke me up from my sleep. The dark ones were mightier than the light ones; there was no resistance against their intrusion. During the usual hours there was peace in me; there was no conflict. As soon as I started to work however, one figure after another woke up. Each one wanted the work done so as she wished. Even the subject I was working on became involved. No one had anything against a humorous novel. This I could have finished without a quarrel or disturbance. With an earnest village story however numerous voices raised for and against me. In those village stories I was as a rule showing that God does not allow to be scoffed at, but punishes exactly as one deserves. Against this certain figures in me rebelled. I encountered the greatest resistance however as soon as I tried for higher levels in my work or my lecture. When I set to myself a religious or ethical or aesthetic higher theme, the dark being inside me rose against it with all its might and caused me unspeakable suffering.« 
Alternate Personalities Take Control Of The Person’s Behaviour
In a person suffering from D.I.D., who has within him or her two or more entities, some of these could take control of the person’s behavior for a period of time. Even if these alternate personalities – alters, states of consciousness, ego states, identities – appear to be very different, they are all manifestations of a single person.
This seems to be the explanation of the eight documented personalities under which Karl May appeared during the years 1862 until 1870. May presented himself as:
Karl May also suffered from brief psychotic episodes during the months of May, June and July 1869. How otherwise could be described the event from May 1869, when May collected into a child’s pram a lamp with a lampshade, spectacles in a case, two wallets with two thalers  inside and other various little items and took the whole lot in full view of the neighbors to a hiding place in the woods. On the last day of May 1869 he took in a restaurant a set of billiard balls. During the night from the 3 to 4 June 1869 May stole a horse, which he attempted to sell in the next village.
Yet again Karl May described his state of mind at that period of time:
»If I did not do what the voices requested from me, they overpowered me with derisive laughter, curses and malicious wishes, lasting not only for hours, but also for half days and whole nights long. To get away from the voices I jumped out from my bed and ran outside into the rain and snowstorm. It drove me away, how far, how far! I went away from my homeland to save myself, no one knew where; yet again I was drawn again and again to come back. Nobody found out what was going on inside me and how in- or superhumanly I fought, neither the father nor mother, or grandmother or one of the sisters. And even less anyone else, a stranger; I would not be understood, but simply declared insane. Whether someone else in my place would withstand this I do not know, however I doubt it. I was bodily as well as mentally a strong, even a very strong person, but despite this I was becoming more and more exhausted. First came days, then whole weeks in which it was fully dark inside me; I hardly knew or did not know at all what I was doing. During such time the light being inside me completely disappeared. The dark figure was leading me by hand. All the time he was going into an abyss. Soon I had to do this, soon that, what was however forbidden. In the end I defended myself as if in a dream. Had I told my parents or at least my grandmother, in what condition I was, then the deep fall, towards which I was heading, surely would not have happened. And it came, not at home but in Leipzig, where I visited a theatre. There I bought fur coats, which I did not need, and disappeared with them without paying. How did I do the whole thing I cannot say anymore; most probably even then I did not know. As far as I am concerned it is indeed certain that I could not have acted with clear consciousness.« 
This is a very interesting section in Karl May’s biography. Long before the acceptance of D.I.D. May described the most important components of this disorder: the presence of more identities or personality states (»the tempters inside me«); hallucination (voices – derisive laughter, curses and malicious wishes); amnesia (»I hardly knew or did not know at all what I was doing«); identities or personality states actually taking control of the person’s behavior (»The dark figure was leading me by hand … Soon I had to do this, soon that…«); and most interestingly a condition called the dissociative fugue, i.e. sudden, unexpected travel from home or work (»To get away from the voices I jumped out from my bed and ran outside into the rain and snowstorm. It drove me away, how far, how far! I went away from my homeland to save myself, no one knew where…«).
Between the 29 March and 1 July 1869 Karl May suffered from a series of brief reactive psychotic states. Such an episode consists of a sudden and brief psychosis lasting from a few hours to no more than one month:
»I was running around in a forest and came late in the evening home dead tired and laid down, without having anything to eat … I found no sleep. Ten, fifty even hundred voices jeered at me in the inside with incessant laughter. I jumped from my bed and ran again away, into the night, where to I did not care at all … It seemed to me as if the inner figures stepped out from me and were running next to me … They all pursued me here and there, they hunted me up and away. They shouted and rejoiced and sneered until my ears reverberated.« 
Of course anyone faced with eight various alter egos would ask whether it was a real dissociation (D.I.D.) or simple confidence trick. There are several points that suggest more the dissociative process. All the alters are connected with either Karl May’s past or are somehow hard to believe, are not in tune with the given circumstances, as the Albin Wadenbach character.
The former military eye doctor Heilig (9 July 1864) appeared after May was turned down for military service (on the 6 December 1862) because of poor eyesight. The name itself, Heilig, means in German holy, sacred, or the Saint. However May used it more in connection with the word ›heilen‹, to heal, cure. At the Teacher’s Seminary at Plauen, where May continued his studies after being expelled in 1860, there was a teacher named Ernst Lohse. Karl May used the name Ferdinand Lohse from Plauen. The third personality was Hermes Kupferstecher (on the 20 March 1865). Hermes in Greek mythology was the god of commerce, but also a trickster and a thief. A somehow unusual combination with the name of Kupferstecher.
On the 26 March 1865 Karl May was arrested and found »quite without movements and seemingly lifeless, and also, after the Police doctor was called in, [Karl May] did not talk.«  The fact that a doctor was asked to come to see Karl May suggested his abnormal behavior.
The next two alters were connected with the law, perhaps under the influence of May serving his prison term. They were the Police Lieutenant von Wolframsdorf (on the 29.3.1869), Member of the Secret Police (on 10.4.1869), and the Assessor Laube acting for a lawyer (June 1869). This time it was not clothing and furs the alters were dealing with, but money. We have an interesting detail on Karl May from a warrant issued by the authorities on the 31 July 1869: »… he speaks slowly, in selected phrases. Distorting his mouth when talking.«  The last alter, Albin Wadenbach (January 1870), is the most interesting one. Quite improbable, exotic young man from a tropical island, found in the snow of central Europe’s January, with no documents, but acting and speaking – albeit in German – as an inhabitant of the isle of Martinique in the West Indies.
This is what Karl May declared on 4 January 1870 to the arresting authorities: »My landed property in America represents the value of $20,000. I have occupied myself with practical agriculture, and besides that I have acquired also the knowledge of medical practice. From my young age I had only private tutoring; the practical knowledge of medicine I have gained from a physician called Legrande. My mother I do not know …«  Karl May also wrote a letter ›home‹ to Martinique, in which he showed a detailed knowledge of local conditions on that island.
The duty lawyer Karl Haase, to whom was assigned the defence of Karl May in 1870, called him ›an odd person‹: »The whole personality of the defendant made an impression at the hearing of an odd person, who to a certain extent seemed to sit on the accused bench full of high spirits.«  There seems to have been a reason for it.
A prominent lawyer Erich Wulffen used in 1908 Karl May as an example
in his book ›The Psychology of a Criminal.‹
At present courts are faced with the problem of criminal responsibility of people with
multiple personality disorder, in which two or more personality states exist within a
person and take full control of the person’s behavior. Dissociative amnesia and competency
to stand trial is also debated these days. Dissociative amnesia such as psychogenic fugue
and multiple personality syndrome in particular should render a defendant incompetent to
D.I.D. Can Be Cured
Dissociative disorders do respond to therapy. There are two main options open for treatment: individual psychotherapy and other therapeutic modalities. The course of treatment is long-term, intensive and often painful, if it involves remembering and reclaiming the dissociated traumatic experiences. Successful treatment could be achieved not only by psychiatrists or psychologists but also by other therapists working in a variety of settings.
A good therapist may employ ›talk therapy‹, achieve a good rapport and obtain the trust of his patient. Other treatment modalities may include nowadays hypnotherapy, psychodrama, and expressive therapies as dancing or participating in theater performances. Playing music is very important for its direct emotional effect on the patient. In psychotherapy sessions dysfunctional or maladaptive behavior, thoughts or beliefs are being replaced by more adaptive ones.
What was available to Karl May in his time? He had the advantage of knowing music and was given the opportunity to perform music. He had the luck to meet the catechist Kochta who recognized the troubling state of mind in Karl May. He also actively participated as an organ player in religious services. The prison regime and the length of his sentences reinforced the cognitive-behavioral treatment.
We know that the first prison term (served at Zwickau from the 14 June 1865 until the 2 November 1868) had not cured Karl May. Only after the second term (served at Waldheim from the 3 May 1870 until the 2 May 1874) the hallucinations disappeared. At Waldheim Karl May also met the catechist Johann Kochta (1824–1886), a man whose profound influence in his recovery May acknowledged himself .
During the imprisonment in 1865–1868 Karl May was subjected to regimented life. However he became a member of a brass band and made an assisting clerk to the prison inspector. May was given the opportunity to occupy a cell for himself and also had an access to the library. He started to write – a form of therapy.
On his hallucinations May wrote: »I have heard the shouting voices inside me, about which I spoke before, also in the cell. I fought with them and always made them to be quiet. But for sure they came back, they let themselves to be heard again, but in longer intervals, until in the end I had to assume that they fully and for good became still.« 
Karl May was released on the 2 November 1868, having served less then the original sentence, which was shortened by 253 days  because of good behavior. As Karl May was walking home, he started to hear the voices again: »I heard the sound of the same voices inside me, quite clearly, as before but from a distance and they seemed to come closer.« 
»I came [home] sooner than they expected me … Without greeting I asked where my grandmother was. ›Dead – she died!‹ was the answer. ›When?‹ ›Already last year.‹«  May’s paternal grandmother had great influence on him when he was blind. She had been telling and reading stories to him. She brought to life his talent. Little Karl learned ›to go away in his head’, to dissociate, from his misery of not being able to see. It was a healthy, creative process. It would not have been possible without the kind grandmother.
And now she was dead. It is of importance to note that Karl May had not met a person during the time of his imprisonment at Zwickau who would act as a psychotherapist. Such relation is one of the two requirements for successful cure of D.I.D. We also know that May did not tell anyone about his hallucinations he was experiencing. At this crucial moment the grandmother would have been probably the only person May could be able to have related to. It is also known that during the second imprisonment, at Waldheim, Karl May found a person he confided to about his state of mind and discussed his problem. It was the catechist Johannes Kochta. Kochta was the psychotherapist who helped Karl May to overcome the D.I.D., in combination with the other modalities, mainly the music and writing.
Another trauma at home, at a time when May must have felt insecure about himself and about his future: »It took a long time before I lifted my head to greet my parents. They were terrified. They told me later my face looked worse that the face of a corpse …« 
Without support May became subject to hallucinations, panic attacks and phobias, caused by flashbacks: »Reproaches emerged inside me, but not reproaches which are only thoughts, as in other people … but reproaches of more material, more compact kind. I saw them coming inside me, and I heard what they said, every word, indeed every word! These were not thoughts, but figures, real beings, which seemed not to have the smallest identity with me and yet they were identical. What a riddle! They looked similar to those shouting, dark figures inside me from before, with which I – my God, as soon as I thought about them, here they were again, exactly so, as I was then forced to see them inside me and listen to them. I heard voices so clearly, as if they stood in front of me and talked with me instead of my parents and sisters. And they stayed. They went, when I laid down, to sleep with me. But they did not sleep and did not let me to sleep either. The previous misery started, the previous torture. The previous battle with forces one cannot grasp, which were even more dangerous, because I could absolutely not detect, if they were part of me or not. They seemed to be, because they knew my every thought, even before I myself became conscious of it. And yet it was quite impossible they belonged to me, because that what they wanted was quite contrary to my will. I have closed my past. This part of my life in front of me should be a completely different than that which was behind me. But the voices were trying with all their might to drag me back into the past. They demanded, as before that I should take revenge. Now more than ever to take revenge, for the valuable time lost in prison! They were louder from day to day; I however resisted fiercely against them, I acted as if I heard nothing, nothing at all. This however was even with the utmost resistance not possible to bear longer than a few days. In the meantime I have visited some publishers to talk over the publication of my manuscripts written by me whilst in jail. It came out that during my absence the inner voices grew more silent the further I distanced myself from home, and again became more evident as I came nearer. It was as if these dark figures were settled there and only then could set upon me if I was careless enough to be there.« 
The family environment certainly acted as an irritating factor and triggered off the deterioration of Karl May’s state of mind. At this stage of his life, i.e. between the 2 November 1868 (released from Zwickau) and the 4 January 1870 (arrested in Bohemia), May suffered from episodes of brief reactive psychosis as well as from depersonalization disorder as part of D.I.D.
The importance of some kind of psychotherapy in the state Karl May was in could not be stressed enough. Unfortunately there was none for him available or offered: »I however felt lonely, lonely as ever. For in the whole place there was not one single person, who would want to understand me or even could understand. And this loneliness was for me, in particular for me, who was so heavily troubled inside, dangerous in the highest grade. Nothing was more wanted for me than an understanding company. However I was, even if not outwardly, than inside continually alone and was exposed to the beings, which wanted to conquer me, almost unprotected and without shelter.« 
Karl May never mentioned his state of mind to the family. His mother did not offer any support when he needed it most. It happened after a brief psychotic episode, best described by Karl May himself:
»It was a heavy, unlucky day. It drove me away, out. I was running around in a forest and came late in the evening home dead-tired and laid down, without having anything to eat. Despite the tiredness I found no sleep. Ten, fifty even hundred voices jeered at me in the inside with incessant laughter. I jumped from my bed and ran again away, into the night: where, I did not care at all. It seemed to me as if the inner figures stepped out from me and ran next to me. In the front the pious director of the seminary, then the accountant, who did not want to lend me his watch, a gang from the bowling place, with balls in their hands, and the knights of prey, robbers, nuns, spirits and specters from the Hohenstein’s trash library. The all pursued me here and there; they hunted me up and away. They shouted and rejoiced and sneered that my ears reverberated. When the sun came up, I found that I had climbed up a deep, steep stone quarry. I climbed too high; I could not go any further. There they held me firmly, and did not allow me to go up. There I was stuck between heaven and earth, until the workers came and with the help of some ladders brought me down.« 
»Then it went further, always further, further, the whole day, the whole of the next night; then I collapsed and slept in. Where, that I do not know. I was on grass; between two close together growing rye fields. A storm woke me up. It was night again, and the thunderstorm rain was falling down in streams. I hurried away and came to a turnip field. I was hungry and pulled out a turnip. With it I ran into a forest, crawled under the thick undergrowth and ate. Then I went to sleep again. But it was not a deep sleep; I was waking up again and again. The voices were waking me up. They sneered at me all the time ›You turned into cattle, you eat turnip, turnip, turnip!‹ … when the evening came I left the forest. Walking under the trees I saw the sky blood red; a dense smoke was coming up. For sure there was a fire. This had a special effect on me. I did not know where I was; but I was drawn to it, to observe the fire. I reached a hill, which was known to me. There I sat down on a stone and stared into the glowing fire. Indeed there was a house burning; but the fire was in me. And the smoke, the thick, choking smoke! This was not over there at the fire, but here with me. It covered me up, and it penetrated into the soul. There it rolled itself into clots, which became arms and legs and eyes and facial features and moved inside me. They talked.«
In such state – »I was dull, completely dull. My head was as being wrapped up in a thick layer of mud and chopped straw. I could not think … I staggered when I walked.« Karl May arrived home.
»In a while the door of the bedroom opened. Mother
came out. She used to get up very early because of her profession. When she saw me she got
a fright. She closed quickly the door of the room behind her and spoke excitedly, but
quietly: ›My God! You? Did someone see you coming?‹
›No,‹ I answered.
›And how do you look! Quickly now go away, away, away! Over to America! Not to get caught! If they arrest you again, I could not live through it!‹
›Away? Why?‹ I asked.
›What have you done; what have you done! That fire, that fire!‹
›What is it with the fire?’
›You have been seen in the stone quarry – in the forest – in the field – and yesterday also in the house, before it burned down!‹
This was horrible, downright horrible!
›Mo-ther! Mo-ther!‹ I stuttered. ›Do you believe perhaps that – – – ‹
›Yes, I believe it; I have to believe it, and father as well,‹ she interrupted me. ›All the people say it!’She blurted it hastily up. She did not cry, and she did not lament; she was so strong in carrying the inner burden. In the same breath she continued: ›In the name of God, don’t let yourself to be caught, of all the things not here with us in our house! Go, go! Before the people get up and see you! I am not allowed to say that you were here; I am not allowed to know where you are; I am not allowed to see you any longer! Go than, go! When it’s going to be behind us, come back!‹
She slipped away again into the room, without touching me and without waiting for any further word from me. I was alone and grasped my head with both hands. I felt there quite clearly the layer of thick mud and chopped straw. The person who was standing there, that could not be me? Whom his own mother does not believe any more? Who was the guy who looked like a vagabond in his dirty, crumpled cloth? Out with him, out! Away! Away!«
A rejection from his own mother in the hour of his great need. What Karl May needed was a sympathetic ear, a healer, a psychotherapist. There was none.
»I still had enough of sense to open the wardrobe and to put on a different, clean suit. Then I went away. Where to? Memory leaves me in the lurch. I was again sick as before. Not mentally, but psychically. The inner figures and voices took over completely. When I take the effort to recollect that time, so I feel as someone who fifty years ago had seen a theater performance and after such long time should know what happened from one moment to another and how the side scenery had changed. Some pictures stayed with me, but so unclear, that I cannot claim what was on them and what was not. I have during that time [between the 29 March and 1 July 1869] obeyed the dark figures, who lived inside me and dominated me. What I have done, seems to every unbiased person unbelievable. I was accused of stealing a pram! What for? An empty wallet with only three pennies inside!«
The episodes of brief reactive psychosis Karl May was going through have been already mentioned. Such an occurrence is preceded by a major event, which would be extremely stressful to almost anyone in similar circumstances in that person’s culture. The description of his mother’s rejection when May needed her encouragement and help is quite graphic.
Karl May described very accurately in the quoted sections from his autobiography the symptoms of D.I.D.: depression, sleep disorders as insomnia, night terrors, panic attacks, auditory hallucinations, eating disorder like anorexia. He also described amnesia and time loss. Dissociation – a process which he learned as a blind child – was for him a survival technique. Repeated dissociations of course result in separate entities, or mental states, which may eventually take on identities of their own. These entities become the internal ›personality states‹ of D.I.D. Changing between these states of consciousness is called ›switching‹.
Instead of being offered help, Karl May was left on his own: »I was arrested [on the 2 July 1869], and where something happened, they transported me there as a ›potential culprit‹ … I broke to pieces my handcuffs during a transport and disappeared [on the 26 July 1869] … over there in the distance an irresistible drive to return home seized me …«
»I have followed partly this irresistible compulsion, partly turned back voluntarily … but did not do it straight away, as it would have been correct, but gave in to those inner personalities which again appeared to prevent me from what I wanted to do. The result of this was that I, instead of coming forward voluntarily, was seized [on the 4 January 1870].«
Karl May may have welcomed the arrest. He knew what to expect in prison. He also knew that his state of mind had improved the last time he was in jail, that the hallucinations disappeared. When arrested previously on the 26 March 1865, the Police doctor found May almost in catatonic state. This time there is a different testimony by his lawyer Karl Haase: »[Karl May] seemed to sit on the accused bench full of high spirits.«
Karl May was sentenced to four years imprisonment (from the 3 May 1870 to 2 May 1874) at the prison establishment Waldheim. That May was in a favorable mood towards the jail regime testifies his »Well, I have submitted.« May’s whole description of the time spent at Waldheim is a positive one. Somehow he knew that it had done him good in the sense that the ›voices‹ had left him.
The most important event at Waldheim was that Karl May met the Institution’s Catholic catechist Johannes Kochta. There is no doubt that Kochta made a deep impression on May. Kochta was the missing link in the chain leading to Karl May’s cure from D.I.D. To him May opened his state of mind:
»I did not tell him about my inner
struggle, as I have never made any person a confidant in pure personal and familiar
matters. But at times there came a word, which should not intimate anything, and yet it
hinted. He became attentive. Once in the course of a discussion I mentioned the dark
personalities and their tormenting voices; but I did it as if I was speaking about someone
else, not about myself. He smiled. He knew quite well whom I meant.
The next day he brought me a small book, which title was: ›The so-called Schism of the Human Inside, a Picture of the Human Schism in General.‹ I read it. It was excellent! What enlightenment it brought! Now suddenly I knew where I stood! Now they should come again, the voices; I have nothing to fear from them any more. Later, when he collected the book again, I thanked him, with matching delight, which I got from it. He asked me then: ›Isn’t it true, it was yourself about whom you were talking?‹
›Yes,‹ I answered.« 
This is how Karl May described Johannes Kochta in his book: »He was only a teacher, without an academic background, but an honorable man in any respect, humane as rarely anyone else and with such rich educational and psychological experience, that what he thought had for me much bigger worth than many heaps of learned books. He never discussed confessional matters with me. He considered me a Protestant and did not make the slightest attempt to influence my belief. And as he behaved towards me, so I behaved towards him. I have never presented to him a question about Catholicism. What I had to know there, I knew already or could find out in a different way. To me the beautiful relation was sacred, which little by little developed between him and me, without allowing disturbing contrast to sneak into the pure human patronage. He did his church service, I my organ playing, but besides that the religion between us stayed fully untouched and could in this manner work on me more directly and clearly. More than ever his silence was so eloquent, because it allowed his deeds to speak, and these deeds were those of a nobleman, whose field of activity is small, but who knows how to make even the smallest big.«
It seems that the two men respected each other. They never discussed religion – May being a Protestant – yet Kochta’s example, May’s participation at the Catholic mass, and the influence of the Catholic priest, made Karl May think as a Catholic. Karl May described such relation very nicely in his book ›Winnetou‹ when the dying Winnetou confessed to Old Shatterhand that he was a believer, even though the two never discussed religion at Winnetou’s request during all the years of their friendship. 
Kochta initiated certain steps that made the stay in prison for Karl May more tolerable as a transfer into a less strict corrective class. In 1874 Kochta also made it possible for Karl May to be given a job in the prison library. The most important circumstance however was May’s organ playing at the Catholic mass: »I passed the test, and had to appear before the director, who informed me, that I was named the organist, and have therefore to conduct myself accordingly, to be worthy of this confidence. This was the beginning, from which so much developed for myself and my inner life.«
Dissociative disorders are highly responsive to individual psychotherapy, as well as to a range of other treatment modalities and adjunctive therapies such as music: »What organ and other music pieces came into my hands! I believed to have the understanding of music. What a fool I was! This plain catechist gave me nuts to crack that caused me much trouble. What music really is, I begun only now to comprehend, and music is not the most unimportant way, through which the church acts.«
The second time prisoner Karl May started to be treated with respect, and was given
position of trust and an opportunity actively participate in religious services. The
warden »came surprised into my cell to ask me, whether there was not a mistake in my
delivery papers, where I was marked as Evangelist-Lutheran. I denied a mistake. He stared
at me and said: ›This has not happened here! You have to – – – um, you, Sir,
have to be quite a musician!‹
The prisoners were naturally called by the familiar you; from now on however he called me ›Sir‹, and the others followed the example. This was a seemingly small, but in spite of that a valuable achievement, because from this followed much other.«
The warden (Carl August Leistner) was the conductor of a brass band and included May amongst his musicians: »This overseer became my dear, fatherly friend, and we have been in touch when he later retired and moved to Dresden, for a log time, in a most respectful way.«
All this was beneficial to Karl May’s mental well being: »As far as my mental condition was concerned, I had tranquility, complete rest. In the first four weeks of the last four years it had still happened that the dark personalities have tormented me inside and pestered me with shouting; this however gradually ceased and finally became quiet, without stirring any more. «
There is a question in the »Big Karl May’s
Biography «: Was Karl May cured in prison? The
answer is – yes, he was cured.
Karl May described very accurately in his biography  the state of mind he was in during the years 1862–1874. Until now all the previous attempts to explain his mental condition were inconclusive. Many authors considered May’s description of »voices «he heard as an allegory, a poetic and symbolic explanation of events in his life. Even at present time in some publications Karl May is considered to have suffered from a »kind of schizophrenia«. This of course is quite contrary to his writings and the course of life later on.
Using Freudian psychoanalysis turned Karl May into a neurotic or a hysteric personality with narcissistic affliction. Freudian theory required May to go through anal and oral phases during his childhood blindness presumed sexual envy and even his mother’s marital infidelity.
Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.) has been a perplexing condition until recently, considered to be a curiosity. In 1994 was published the ›Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV.‹ reflecting changes in professional understanding of this disorder, which resulted largely from increased empirical research of trauma based dissociative disorders.
Only individuals who have documented histories of repetitive, overwhelming trauma at a sensitive developmental stage of childhood, usually before the age of nine, develop D.I.D. There are four diagnostic criteria stated in the Manual.
Karl May’s blindness until the age of six, together with the later abuse by his father, represent the childhood trauma. May’s own words in his biography describe very well the four necessary criteria for the diagnosis of D.I.D. There are eight known personalities under which Karl May presented himself between 1862 and 1874. Also the diagnostic criteria for dissociative Fugue State correspond with May’s behavior at that time. Independent observers and authorities described May’s behavior of brief reactive psychosis.
D.I.D. is a curable condition. The course of treatment is long-term. It responds to
individual psychotherapy and to a range of other treatment modalities and adjunctive
therapies. The length of May’s sentences, active participation in musical events as an
organ player and a brass-band member, involvement in clerical work and as a librarian,
represented the cognitive behavioral treatment. A psychotherapist was found in the person
of Johann Kochta, the prison catechist, with whom Karl May was able to communicate. After
May’s release in 1874 he did not suffer from symptoms of D.I.D. and we may presume that he
was fully cured.
|MAJOR EVENTS||AGE||HISTORY OF D.I.D.|
(»going away in his head«)
|Father’s abuse||6-15||Unreasonable demands to study enforced
Corporal punisment – beating
|Expelled from teacher’s seminary
|Six weeks in detention
(8 September – 20 October 1862)
|No psychological support
(January 1863 – March 1865)
Multiple personalities state
|Alternate personalities take control||22||Dr.med.Heilig – July 1864
Seminar teacher Lohse -
|23||Hermes Kupferstecher – March 1865|
|Prison term served at Zwickau
(From 14 June 1865 till 2 November 1868)
|Returned home||26||Hallucinating again|
|Alternate personalities take control||27||Police Lieutenant von Wolframsdorf
– March 1869
Secret Police member – April 1869
Lawyer’s deputy – June 1869
Writer Heichel – Nov. 1869
Albin Wadenbach – Jan.1870
|Brief psychotic states||27||Incidents with:
|Prison term served at Waldheim
(From 3 May 1870 till 2 May 1874)
Psychotherapist J. Kochta
Sort of cognitive-behavioral
|Returned home||32||Free of D.I.D.|
Please click on the hyperlinked reference numbers to return to your place in the text.
 From a letter to the ›Hohenstein-Ernsthaler Anzeiger‹, published on the 6 August 1910 (in: ›Mitteilungen der Karl-May-Gesellschaft‹ No.III. March 1997, p.49).
 Published in English translation by The Seabury Press, New York, in 1977 (The Collected works of Karl May); only some books appeared: ›Winnetou‹ (Vols.1 and 2); Ardistan and Djinnistan (Vols.1 and 2); In the Desert; The Caravan of Death; The Secret Brotherhood; The Evil Saint; The Black Persian. There have been made 16 movies based on Karl May’s books.
 Karl May: ›Mein Leben und Streben.‹ Olms Presse Hildesheim-New York 1997.
 Version IV (DSM-IV).
 The 4th Edition 1994.
 Somerset Maugham: ›Of Human Bondage.‹ In: Mark Pierce: »The Multiple Personality Dispute«, Tomte Publications, US 1995.
 Jack London: ›The Star Rover.‹ Corgi Books, London 1976, p.9. – J. London also described dissociation (on p.50): »And then, for half an hour, ten minutes, or as long as an hour or so, I would wander erratically and foolishly through the stored memories of my eternal recurrence on earth. But times and places shifted too swiftly. I knew afterwards, when I awoke, that I, Darrell Standing, was the linking personality that connected all bizarreness and grotesqueness. But that was all. I could never live out completely one full experience, one point of consciousness in time and space."
 Karl May – translated from the original: ›Ein Schundverlag und seine Helfershelfer‹. Zwei fragmentarische Texte aus den Jahren 1905 und 1909. Erstveroeffentlichung aus dem Nachlass. Prozess-Schriften 2. Bamberg 1982, p.372.
 Dr.W. Griesinger: ›Pathologie und Therapie der psychischen Krankheiten‹, Braunschweig 1871.
 Roxin, C: ›Vorlaufige Bemerkungen uber die Straftaten Karl Mays‹, Jb-KMG 1971, p.82.
 Thomas, W.: ›Karl May’s Blindness‹, Private 1996. (Accessible from the Karl May Society)
 May, K.: ›Mein Leben und Streben‹, Olms Presse Hildesheim – New York 1997, pp.30-31.
 His paternal grandmother, Johanne Christiane Kretzschmar (1780–1865).
 In (12), p.32.
 In (12), p.50-51.
 In (12), p.10.
 In (12), p.9.
 In (12), pp.10-11.
 In (12), p.93.
 In (12), pp. 109-110.
 In (12), p.107.
 In (12), pp.117-118
 In (12), pp.111-112.
 In (12), p.159.
 In (12), p.159.
 In (12), pp.159-160.
 Not stressed in the original text.
 Imaginary village where people lie and play practical jokes on each other.
 Ten-pin-ball alley where the players swear and use obscene language.
 Pub where the regulars meet to create mischief.
 Christian August Vulpius (1762–1827): ›Rinaldo Rinaldini‹. Published in Leipzig 1798. A novel about Knights and highway robbers.
 Or candles found in Karl May’s possession, which he was accused of stealing.
 The whole quotation in (12), pp.111-112.
 In (12), pp.114-115.
 Old German small change coins.
 In (12), pp.118-119.
 In (12), p.163.
 Wohlgschaft, H.: ›Grosse Karl May Biographie‹, Igel Verlag 1994, p.94.
 In (37), p.113.
 In (37), p.115.
 Stolte, Heinz: ›Narren, Clowns und Harlekine. Komik und Humor bei Karl May‹, Jb-KMG 1982, pp.40-59
 Wulffen, Erich: ›Psychologie des Verbrechers. Ein Handbuch fuer Juristen, Aerzte, Paedagogen und Gebildete aller Staende‹, Gross-Lichterfelde-Ost. II.Bd. S.173 und S.314-315. Published in March 1908.
 In (12), pp.172-173.
 In (12), pp.130-131.
 In (37), p.103.
 In (12), p.154.
 I.e. 1867; Johanne Christiane Kretzschmar died in fact on the 19 September 1865; the family did not tell Karl May.
 In (12), p.155.
 In (12), p.156-157.
 In (12), pp.160-161.
 In (12), p.168.
 In (12), pp.161-166.
 In (12), p.167.
 In (12), p.168
 In (40), p.45.
 In (12), p.170
 In (12), pp.176-177.
 In (12), pp.172-173.
 Winnetou’s last words »Scharlih – I believe in the Savior – Live well!« have been omitted from the English translation (May, K.: ›Winnetou‹ – The Seabury Press, New York 1977, p.648.) The Winnetou’s last words are in most other translations (for example: ›Vinnetou‹, Volume 4; Touzimsky a Moravec, Praha 1939, p.255; ›Vinnetou’, Volume 3, Tranoscius, Liptovsky Sv. Mikulas 1947, p.379), and of course in the original German: ›Winnetou‹ III. Karl-May-Verlag Bamberg 1951, p.435.
 In (12), p.171.
 In (12), p.173.
 In (12), p.172.
 In (12), p.172.
 In (12), p.176.
 See (37), p.127.
 Published in English translation by The Seabury Press, New York, 1977
 Wohlgschaft, Hermann: ›May in Blickpunkt‹, KMG Nachrichten Nr.115, March 1998, p.46.
Karl May aus medizinischer Sicht
Karl May – Forschung und Werk