By Kay Murray, Muswell Hill aned Crouch End Times
Kim Noble is an artist with 13 distinct styles. This is because she has 12 different personalities sharing her body. meets an extraordinary painter ahead of her Highgate exhibition
Kim Noble, 44, seems like a normal person. She's softly spoken, down-to-earth and self-effacing. But sometimes she's not herself. Sometimes she's more than 12 other selves completely distinct personalities who she has no memory or knowledge of, other than what people tell her.
Kim suffers from an extremely rare condition known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) previously known as multiple personality disorder. It means that she frequently blacks out, finding out later what her other personalities, or alters, have got up to in her body. She has lived like this since her teens, but was only diagnosed with the condition ten years ago.
"I had all different diagnoses up until then, from schizophrenia to depression," she says. "The problem is doctors weren't aware of DID, it was early days for it in England and I couldn't have diagnosed myself because I didn't know about any of the other personalities."
Psychologists believe that DID stems from intensely traumatic childhood experiences whereby the mind forms other personalities to cope with the emotional pain. As Kim explains: "They doctors believe it's through trauma but I have no memory of that."
Over the last two years Ms Noble has undergone extensive tests by leading psychology professor, John Morton, at University College London, who has established that there is no memory between her personalities. Kim explains that, according to Prof Morton, "Nobody else has actually had the complete memory loss between personalities like we've had." When she uses the word 'we', she is referring to her other personalities.
"I really don't know exactly how many there are, there are certain ones that are classed as main ones that come out quite regularly."
As she is not aware of any of the personalities taking over, it is with the help of therapy and her eight-year-old daughter, Aimee, that Ms Noble is able to learn what they have been doing. "When I hear about them, to me it feels like I'm hearing about a third person, not myself. "Other than knowing nobody else has been in the house and my daughter seeing it, I would have denied it," she said.
Two years ago, with the encouragement of a support worker, Ms Noble started painting and 12 of her other personalities followed her lead. The artists each have their own distinctive style, ranging from solitary bright desert scenes to robotic figures and paintings with traumatic content.
Already, Kim and some of her alters have had five successful solo exhibitions and she is now artist in residence at Springfield University Hospital in south London, despite having no formal art training. Many of the personalities are unaware that they share a body with other artists. "If I tell Aimee to tell the personalities to change something in a picture, I get told to mind my own business," Kim laughs.
She says that she could always tell who has been around by the style of the art that's been left in her studio. "If I'm in the art room and I'm painting and there's a switch to a different personality, it the painting gets put outside when the new person comes," she says.
"Switching can be amusing when you can't find the car."
In February, Kim was surprised to find some work that she could not attribute to any of the existing personalities. "It's a new personality, I have no knowledge of who's doing this yet which means they've not told Aimee either. "I was really shocked and I was trying to guess who it was as it wasn't familiar with anybody."
Her exhibition at Lauderdale House, in Highgate, displays work from all of the different personalities, put into sections relating to each artist. She laughs as she remembers how she took her work to one gallery but did not tell them about her condition and was told, 'come back when you find your style'.
But despite the condition being better understood these days, Ms Noble believes 'there's a bad press for people with mental health problems' and is hoping her art will help to raise awareness of this complex condition.