So a quick disclaimer here, we are NOT professionals, this below information is based off our own personal experiences with Dissociative Identity Disorder and our understanding and it is barely the tip of the iceberg.
Here is a blog post we made about how it feels to be multiple and have co-morbid mental illness which might give some quick insight.
We will put links up to proper information sites in the future to help those interested in learning more about dissociative disorders.
Ok, I’ve also got to admit I have had some ‘inside’ help with the formal info below because that’s apparently (obviously) not my forte, also so you don’t get confused as we interchangeably use the term “part”, “aspect” and “alter” throughout the site because we have different preferences but we mean the same thing.
So here goes the basics:
DID, or ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’, formally known as Multiple Personality Disorder is a dissociative disorder that is caused by repeated trauma, beginning in early childhood.
In a traumatic situation, in order for a person to cope with what is happening they may dissociate from reality while the trauma is occurring – this is a subconscious coping mechanism of the brain to protect the person from the fear, pain and general overwhelm of the trauma.
People tend to experience degrees of amnesia surrounding these traumatic events, in DID often the memories of traumatic situations are held by specific parts or alters and the dissociative barriers that form between these parts prevent other parts from accessing the trauma memories. This allows the person to separate themselves completely from these events and carry on with life as ‘normally’ as possible without being completely overwhelmed.
In the case of DID the complex and repetitive nature of the trauma/s gives way to dissociation becoming the brains ‘default’ coping mechanism and some of these dissociated parts are separated enough to develop their own personality aspects.
While humans all have different parts of ourselves that we present to the world, eg our work self differs from our Saturday night out-at-a-party self, most people have a cohesive sense of inner self, their likes and dislikes, beliefs, values and general temperament remain mostly the same and their memories and timeline of events stays consistent within themselves and compared to other people around them.
In DID the different selves are separated from each other by the amnesic barriers that originally allowed the person to cope with their life. That effectively means one part often cannot remember what another has done/ said / thought or felt.
So to use the previous example, their ‘work self’ is unable to access the memories/ thoughts or feelings of ‘hangs out with their friends’ self which worked well as a protective mechanism in childhood when ‘school self’ and ‘home self’ needed to function, but it can cause a whole lot of confusion and issues in adulthood with lost time, intermittent memories or forgetting important events you know you should absolutely remember, for example we don’t remember our wedding day.
Likes and dislikes
Because the life is “shared” to various degrees from early childhood, certain personality traits, opinions and tastes may be unique to individual aspects of the self, eg one aspect may love rap music, another may hate it and another might be indifferent to it.
Political opinions and stances on social issues can change drastically too depending on what that aspect was exposed to or experienced, this can be very confusing to people who know us as we can give conflicting opinions or appear to change our minds very often.
Generally speaking, alters have different roles within the person or the system as it is often termed. These are often things that are unspoken or undefined by the system to begin with but as you become more aware of each other’s behavioural patterns you can start to see these how parts have taken on these ‘roles’.
An example of a common role might be the ‘host’ which is considered to be the person fronting the most often at the time, they may or may not have any clue about the existence of the other parts of their system. Another well known part is a ‘trauma holder’ and a system may have developed several of these to cope with the experience of physical and/or emotional memories of a traumatic event.
‘Persecutors’ are widely thought of as the bad guys of the system because they might be more likely to self harm or verbally abuse others within the system. In reality they need love and nurturing but that’s a whole post of it’s own.
Another common system role is that of a protector that exists to stand up for the system as a whole or look after and protect what is (in their opinion) the best interests of other alters within the system – We specifically say ‘their opinion of’ because many parts originally considered to be persecutors are actually trying to protect the system they just have a really misguided way of going about it.
There’s a bunch of other common “roles” and many more unique to individual systems.
Some parts roles will change over times and some will kind of “job share”, particularly with the mediocre stuff once they have reasonable communication. For example in my system daily life things like work, looking after the kids, domestic stuff like cooking and cleaning are actually shared between a few of us, not just the ‘host’ and we call that “co hosting”.
This is our experience and while there are definitely a lot of memory related issues it mostly works okay, we can communicate internally now some of the time and we are often at least a bit ‘co conscious‘ which means we are kind of aware of what’s happening with various degrees of attention paid as another part is doing things.
Imagine being one the back seat of a taxi, your kinda paying attention to the general direction you’re headed but trust the driver knows where they’re going so happy to stare out the window and think of other things.
When this happens we have memories of the stuff going on but they’re often fuzzy or can be perceived differently to the memories of the person actually fronting because the memories are affected by the different aspects personal life experiences.
Switching between alters is some sort of subconscious magical thing that there is little control over (at least that is my experience). Most of the time there is a trigger, now triggers can be negative, positive or purely situational.
In event of a new trauma occurring or something that causes a flashback or sudden memory of an old trauma, an existing (or sometimes even a new) trauma holding alter may ‘switch in’ to deal with the situation. This is a ‘negative’ switch.
Now dealing with it doesn’t mean they’ll be all cool calm and collected, they might very well be a sobbing emotional wreck but they will store that trauma memory cognitively and or emotionally so that it’s not getting in the way of the systems general ability to function.
Some alters may be triggered out by ‘happy’ things that they just enjoy, like a certain food/activity or song, that’s a positive trigger.
And sometime switches will occur due to bumping into particular person at the store, a particular TV show they’ve been watching coming on or a conversation topic that’s important or related to them in some way – (like my desperate need to fix the educational hole a certain somebody left in her wake on the podcast) that’s a ‘situational’ trigger because it’s due to specific situation.
Differences Between Alters
Alters will vary in the extent that they have their own ‘personality’. Parts known as ‘fragments’ may hold specific memories, emotions or experiences but don’t have much in the way of opinions about stuff external to the body where as alters that have or currently front fairly often tend to form detailed personalities based on their perspectives.
Alters can identify as different genders and ages to the body, having several young child alters (known as ‘littles’) is common due to that being a time of frequent trauma for the majority of systems, but you also get teens, adults and some that identify as animals or even inanimate objects depending on the individual system.
In our case our youngest parts very rarely ‘front‘ and our cohost group doesn’t really have much decent communication with them, it’s only through random passive influences, flashbacks we’ve been co conscious for and some stuff other alters have written down that we know anything about them at all.
The quantity of alters in a system can vary from one fully developed part other than the host through to 1000s including fragments. We don’t know how many we have, we have identified approximately 15 with names, but there are others that are more like fragments.
Some systems have individual names for each alter, some have groups of alters or share variants of the body name, some use numbers or colours to identify themselves and some prefer to only use the body name.
We do have individual names for some of our aspects, but everyone responds to the body’s legal name in public because we are not an overt system, nor are we openly out of the closet about our dissociative disorder in the real world. Our co host group seems to have taken on mostly variants of our legal name anyway so it’s not too painful to be mislabeled, besides our husband calls us “hun” and the kids call us “mum” and they’re who we see the most.
While it can be hard at times, we do get a kick out of using our individual names at out of town coffee shops or when talking to people we won’t see again.
Although our co host group is co conscious a lot of the time and does a myriad of the same tasks, we still have different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to managing life and we can randomly forget how to do something that we know or we’ve been shown repeatedly.
For example, we did the same general tasks at our family business work place but a certain someone seems to forget how to do routine things in regards to basic daily book keeping. This stuffs things up and frustrates the heck out of another part who has to fix it and can’t understand how she even keeps making this kind of mistake!
We use a LOT of sticky notes, writing things down and keeping our phone calendar up to date is essential if we want to keep up with things like medical appointments, school events for the kids through to remembering to buy groceries.
Also while most of us like to write, one is far better at descriptive text and conveying emotion than the rest and another is better at explaining factual information so without a coherent narrative it can make our writings a confusing mish mash of different voices and writing styles – we’ve been working on editing a memoir for five years now…
Okay. We will try to make this information better in the future but this is currently just an attempt to make things make more sense for those reading the blog.
Please ask us any questions you have, we are generally better equipped to answer things than spout out information randomly and we can post an FAQ later if that interests anyone.
Also please note while a few things have been discussed in passing on the blog, we won’t be answering any questions specific to our early trauma because that’s something we are still struggling to understand and process ourselves and can be a very negative trigger for us (and others who may have had similar experiences) we hope you will understand that and be patient with us.