This year has changed my life. I had no idea when it began just how far things would go or how much of my life would change. Things are harder now, but in true cosmic twist it’s also better. My life makes a lot more sense even as things get more and more confusing.
I am we. We is me. I have learned we have Dissociative Identity Disorder, or more simply, we are plural. This type of plurality is a trauma based disorder that causes multiple personalities or more accurately alternate identity states. This used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder and was used, badly, in movies like ‘Sybil’ and ‘Split’. [Please note: these are terrible examples of DID and have just enough information to be dangerous] There is also Otherwise Specified Dissociative Disorders (OSDD formerly DDNOS) 1a and 1b. There are even classifications in between and people that choose for their own reasons to not seek a diagnosis or don't identify as having trauma. I can go into detail about the differences between all the types of plurality, but in the end, all this means is one thing: There are other, real, people living in my head, or our head. You’ll notice I switch from I/me to we/us frequently. This is to acknowledge the others that share this body, this life, this existence.
We all have parts. A work self, a home self, a party self. Many people say they have to have their “work hat” on to answer a question in their field. This is fairly normal to the human experience. We all compartmentalize and dissociate to some extent. Some theories state that as children we are all many part. They start out very simply, happy, content, sad, hungry. Under this theory, normally by age 9ish all these parts fuse into one cohesive personality. What happened for us is trauma stopped that process as a way to cope. Our brain said, whoops can't hadn't life knowing that happened, threw up amnesia barriers, and some parts remembered the bad things and some didn't so we couldn't become one personality. Each of those other parts developed independently as full complete individuals. If you met them you would not think them flat or an affectation. You would see a normal person with their own likes and dislikes and ways of understanding the world. If you hooked the body up to an EEG, each personality would have different brain waves.
But we are not left with just those people. The brain is now locked into this coping mechanism and will continue to make new parts as needed to cope with stress, a new skill, anything needed. This is not purposeful. It’s entirely unconscious and no one in us has the ability to control it. New personalities, called alters, come when they come. The alters can be diverse and are often fully developed. Not all are human. This is very common. Some can be characters from beloved movies or books, even real people in your outside life or historical figures. It all comes down to whatever the unconscious brain thinks we need at that time to deal with what life throws at us. Dragons, wolves, demons, fairies, your favorite uncle, even your abusers can find their way into the fabric of the inner landscape.
Every system, or group of alters in one person, is different. Some switch out overtly like we see so commonly in movies. Some merely blend with the host, the alter that handles daily life. You might see the speech pattern or gait of the host change subtly. If you never thought to look you might not ever notice. Some systems there is amnesia between who is out, meaning no one else holds the memory of what they did while in the body but them. Some systems everyone remembers everything, or has access to those memories…and everything in between. There are literally no rules. Systems learn their way of coping with life as a multiple based on the personalities formed and the unique stressors life hands them. There is no one way to exist with this.
There are no hard and fast rules. Nothing we say here is a blanket statement, merely our own experience.
DID/OSDD specifically under the plural umbrella is a response to trauma at a specific stage of personality development. It is meant to be hidden. Some systems are better at hiding than others, but many fight to remain hidden, even after the host learns of their existence. A fear of letting anyone know about it or convincing yourself you are faking this and just delusional seems to be built into the fabric of many systems. It is very common to fight with these feelings. Many systems go round and round with themselves about this. How long they fight with it or the ability to open all the closet doors has a lot to do with the collection of personalities in their system and how deep or extreme the trauma is.
It is almost a joke in the DID/OSDD community that the most successful systems are never found out. While some discover they are part of a system in their teen years or early adulthood, a large percentage are not unearthed until 30’s or 40’s. Two systems very near and dear to us were in their 60’s when their alters first felt safe enough to show themselves instead of pretending to be the host. Our experience finding out at 41 is not uncommon.
DID/OSDD is not rare. It affects more of the population than schizophrenia. It is estimated that diagnosed systems make up 1% and 3% of the world’s population. Undiagnosed systems are estimated at 5%. That sounds small but think about it for a minute. That means 5 out of every 100 people in the world have a system of alters. The world population is over 7 billion people. 5% of that is 350 million. 350 million people worldwide have alters. This is not rare. Here are some more detailed numbers.
There will be friends and family reading this wondering how and why. Quite honestly, I, Susan, as host, don’t really know. My alters have given me snippets to give me some ideas. I do have flashbacks and the true c-ptsd (complex post traumatic stress disorder) is rearing its ugly head. But I do not have enough information to definitively say this person did XXX to us at age X, XXX times. In many traumagenic systems specific alters will hold specific trauma memories. The host could not live and be functional if they held that information. That is the primary purpose of a system of alts. What registers as trauma for a child is all over the map. This does not necessarily mean abuse of any kind. Bad things happen all the time. Normally a caregiver will help you sort through it. When caregivers are unable or unwilling to help a child sort through something that changes their world view, that registers to the young brain as trauma. There are children of warzones who developed systems. Medical trauma, like cancer, or repeated operations due to accident. Emotional abuse or neglect. Bullying in extreme forms. For most, what makes the alters form, is a complicated mix of several things in the child’s life at that time. There is rarely any one event or subset of events that cause this.
For us, beyond our own personal therapy and journey inward, it doesn’t matter. This is who we are now. This is the life we have to lead now. We will not share our trauma with anyone, friend or family, besides mental health professionals as needed for learning to live as we are now. Learning about and coping with our trauma is a personal undertaking and private. If you have loved ones who have opened their closet doors to tell you they are a system, I urge you not to pry into why. Focus instead on all the people that make them up now. Let the alters know they are safe. Let them make themselves known at their own pace. See each one as a different person and learn just like you would with any new friend.
To paraphrase a quote from someone we respect: We do not go through this life as one person. We are and always will be, the dragon, the dude bro, the father figure, the protector, the little girl, the panther, and many others.
We are the Collective Radio System.
For research and general information:
DID in the DSM5
Dissociative Disorders AMA
Dissociative Disorders: CRCC Lecture
Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES II)
How common is DID?
The Plural Association
Living with DID/DDNOS and Dissociative Disorders FB
An Infinite Mind
The Ivory Garden
Dissociative Disorder Hotline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)
Voices in Plurality:
Multiplicity and Us
Acrylic and Aether
Power To The Plurals
The Rings System
Susan is a plural writer and artist by day, a child and pet wrangler by night, and occasional crazy person on the weekends.