Ellert R. S. Nijenhuis
and Onno van der Hart
It is through the study of mental stigmata that the malady of hysteria must be diagnosed and understood. Each of them shows very well that the subject has sustained a loss in his personality and that he is no longer master of his own thought.
Pierre Janet ( 1893)
The observation that dissociation and the dissociative disorders resulting from it affect a wide range of mental and physical functions was basic to nineteenth-century views on hysteria. In that era hysteria encompassed symptom complexes that today would be diagnosed as dissociative disorders, somatoform disorders, sexual disorders, eating disorders and personality disorders.
Pierre Janet, the French pioneer in the field of trauma and dissociation, defined hysteria as "a form of mental depression characterized by the retraction of the field of personal consciousness and a tendency to the dissociation and emancipation of the systems of ideas and functions that constitute personality" ( Janet 1907/ 1965, 332). Such "systems of ideas and functions" could belong to either psyche or soma. In the introduction to his medical thesis, L'État mental des hystériques, Janet quoted Briquet ( 1859), who stated: "Hysteria is a disease which modifies the whole organism" ( Janet 1893/ 1901, xiii). And Janet immediately added: "If it disturbs nutrition and