Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative Identity Disorder

Jenna Lowrance, Journalist

Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID, was previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder in the early 90s and before. This disorder is characterized by having two or more “Personalities” the term for these are not personalities, but alters. This disorder is caused by continuous trauma between the ages of two and seven. The reason why trauma between these ages can lead to this disorder is because a child’s personality is just beginning to develop at the age of two and doesn’t fully come together until the age of seven, therefore any traumatic abuse that occurs has detrimental effects on the personality and when mixing those things with an unstable relationship with a primary caregiver one thing that can happen is the formations of different alters.

Many alters can be made within a single system. One type of an alter is a persecutor, this is usually what you think of when you hear about DID, the “evil” alter, if you will. This type of alter was what was displayed in the awful movie Split that prompted hatred and fear towards people who suffer from DID. A persecutor, is an alter that holds an extreme amount of trauma, and because of this, they attempt to manage their pain they are aggressive, withdrawn, lonely and angry. They often feel as if it’s them against the rest of their system and they tend to adopt destructive and maladaptive coping mechanisms to try to manage their pain. They act out in ways that can seem extreme, like harming the body or being standoffish or aggressive, but that is the only way they know to try and cope.

It is extremely unlikely that any alter would harm anyone outside the body, and because of the trauma the persecutors hold, they would usually end up turning it inwards. But if this disorder occurs to help the child, why is there an alter there just to hurt the system? It’s because persecutors often have a convoluted idea of what needs to happen to keep the system safe. Persecutors are filled with negative emotions mixed with knowing what happened and knowing what the body had to experience. The persecutor will feel like they were just created to hold the horrible memories, and they kind of were, it makes sense that this alter would be scared and angry at the world. The persecutors will have learned that the only way to keep the system safe and to avoid more abuse from an outside source is to continue the behavior of the abusers on themselves. If they’re the one doing the abuse they the abuser won’t do it anymore, the abuse is under their control.

Another type of alter is a protector. The job of the protector is to look out for the system, keep it out of danger, and make sure that it is safe. There are many different types or protectors, physical protectors, verbal protectors, emotional protectors, sexual protectors, and caretakers. Physical protectors will do their best to protect the body and the system from physical abuse while verbal protectors will verbally fight back against abuse, be it verbal or otherwise. Emotional protectors will take emotional abuse and comfort others to help them cope with the emotional abuse they’ve endured. Sexual protectors will take over the body during sexual abuse, or if the alter that is fronting is uncomfortable in a sexual situation, the sexual protector will take over then too, they may even try to instigate abuse. This type of protector will take over in these situations so they feel more in control. A caretaker, the last protector type, is tasked with looking after younger, smaller, weaker alters, usually littles.

Littles in a DID system, are child alters. They can be trauma holders, but they don’t have to be. A little is considered to be an alter younger than the body that might be frozen mentally at the age the body was when they were created. Based on how they responded to the trauma they experienced they may be in a never-ending flashback. They may not even accept that the body has moved past the abuse and that it is no longer happening. Other littles might hold onto their good memories and childhood innocence. This is usually because the abused child never got to experience what it was like to have a happy childhood.

The host of a DID system is an alter that uses the body, or fronts, most often. Hosts can be completely unaware that they are suffering with DID. The other alters will expose themselves when they feel the host is ready. Hosts usually feel as if they are the original or that they are the only one in the body, and usually have a difficult time coming to terms with having DID. Host alters are responsible for daily tasks and taking care of the body.

A gatekeeper is an alter that controls which alters have the ability to front and who has access to certain parts of the inner world and certain memories. A gatekeeper stabilizes the system by assisting in preventing unwanted and unwarranted switches, switching when necessary, and switching to the correct alter. A gatekeeper will also help in preventing alters who aren’t prepared from receiving traumatic memories. Gatekeepers supervise and enforce boundaries, and are always near the front to witness everything that goes on within the system. Gatekeepers experience extreme amounts of abuse and can also be trauma holders.

Fragments are another type of alter. Fragments are alters that aren’t fully developed. They usually exist to perform one task or only hold a single memory. Fragments have usually not been through enough to have formed a full and cohesive personality. It is possible for fragments to become fully formed alters if the need presents itself, but they can remain fragments.

A trauma holder is any alter who holds one or more traumatic memories. Any type of alter can be a trauma holder. Alters that would usually be trauma holders would be persecutors, protectors, some littles, gatekeepers, and fragments that are made to hold such memories. It is rare for the host of a system to hold debilitating amounts of trauma if any at all. Another category besides trauma holder that an alter could fall into would be nonhuman alters. Just as alters can be younger than the body, older than the body, or even age sliders, they can be nonhuman. Being classified as nonhuman could range anywhere from having animal-like features to being a ghost. An alter would typically be created as nonhuman when a child who is being abused feels small and that if they were something powerful like a dog or a bear they would be better able to deal with the abuse. For example, a protector could be a dog and a persecutor could be a demon.

Something called ‘integration’ happens from time to time within a system, Integrating is when two or more alters begin to feel as if they can’t handle their duties anymore and feel as if they need help. A way they can get the help they need is to integrate into a singular alter. Integration can take a toll on the rest of the system. The other alters can feel as if they are losing a friend, almost like that person is dying. Sure, they’re just integrating, but when the two alter’s memories and possible trauma come together as they integrate it can turn them into a completely different person. The other alters know that they’ll never see their friend again, and while they have a new alter that has most of, if not all of the other’s memories, it still won’t be the same. Another thing that can happen when an alter feels like they can’t cope anymore is that they will go dormant. Going dormant is kind of like dying, except it’s not always permanent. Most of the time though, dormancy is permanent and the rest of the system must deal with the loss of that alter.

All of the system’s alters live in a headspace called their inner world. Many people with Dissociative Identity Disorder have what’s called an inner world. An inner world could be any setting a room, a cave, a castle, a house, or even a village or town. The inner world could be filled with only alters or it could contain NPC’s. NPC’s can interact with the alters but they don’t always. Alters will often retreat into the inner world to forget something that happened in the outer world and they usually end up playing out some very detailed stories within their mind. And because these stories happen in the headspace things can feel like they occurred even if they really didn’t. For example, an alter killed within the inner world is still able to front on some occasions. Most alters feel as if they are a real person in the inner world, and can often see themselves in mirrors. They usually don’t look like the body and can be a different race, gender, and even species as stated before. Some alters can also have false memories of what they’re life was like before they were in the system. They could have parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and they can realize that those memories aren’t real, even though they feel real. 

As stated before alters can be a different gender than the body they inhabit. This can cause a lot of mental stress for them when they front. For example, one girl that I watch on youtube that has DID has an alter that is a 40 year old man. Besides holding trauma, he also has to deal with a lot of gender dysphoria when he fronts. Being trapped in the body of a woman in her 20s is extremely traumatizing for him. In the inner world he is a man, and he hates fronting, so when he does it’s usually a shock. Different systems have different controls over their inner worlds. Some systems can simply make a new room when a new alter is created, but others would just have to find a place for them in their already existing world.

Dissociative Identity Disorder is rare, there are under 200,000 cases per year in the US. The only therapy that there is for this disorder is talk therapy. There is no cure, and the only thing that can really help with disagreements is the therapist approaching it like a family counselor and helping them work it out. Also, Even though it won’t cure the disorder, addressing and confronting the trauma they went through, and finding a way to work through it. That is important for any type of trauma, even if the person doesn’t have DID.

The only experiences that I have with this disorder is watching the youtuber DissociaDID. You can find them here. DissociaDID talks about their experiences with this disorder, and teaches their viewers the truth about it. It’s not a disorder that makes you dangerous like the movie Split portrays, and as DissociaDID shows people that. Learning the misconceptions about this disorder made me passionate about doing my own research about it and teaching people about it too. I think it’s important to not hold misconceptions about people as the truth no matter what makes them different.