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Subject: alt.support.dissociation FAQ 3/4
This article was archived around: 15 Mar 1999 13:22:23 GMT
An Informal Look
>From an Insider
=== 3.0 Overview
This section deals with multiplicity from the standpoint of the multiple,
as well as the authors personal take on what dissociation really is, and
the issues that may surround the dissociative person. Some of this
directly contradicts "formal" studies of dissociation, but since it was
written from the viewpoint of a multiple, this is hardly surprising. ;)
=== 3.1 An Essay on Dissociation
You will find that many people have many different views on what
consitutes dissociation, who does it, and whether or not the simple
existence of dissociative processes in a person constitute a problem (or
when they do).
However, this is my own personal viewpoint, with some input from others
that helped me shape this section.
Consciously or not, temporarily or not, dissociation is a process in
which you assume a role or roles that are markedly different from the one
you might usually have. This includes a wide spectrum of things.
An example of an every-day dissociative process would be, perhaps not
surprisingly, actors. Actors often immerse themselves in their roles, and
while they are on stage are actually the person they are portraying.
Joe Smith, Actor.
Joe Smith is portraying Hamlet on stage, and the play is in progress.
During this time, he is no longer Joe Smith, the actor, but instead
_becomes_ Hamlet. He is thinking what Hamlet would think, saying what
Hamlet would say, using his speech patterns, his body language, his
belief system, his views of the world. For a short period of time at
he, they _is_ Hamlet. After the play is through, he becomes Joe Smith,
actor, again. Possibly when he goes home, he becomes Joe Smith, private
person who is little if anything like "Joe Smith, actor."
While he is on stage/being Hamlet, he is using dissociation to keep Joe
Smith's thoughts, body language, etc. out of the way. He has become
Hamlet to give a truer representation of Hamlet.
Likewise, the simple act of daydreaming could be considered a form,
albeit a very minor one, of dissociation.
Most people probably dissociate to some degree or another hundreds of
times during their life. And most of those would not be reading this
So let us focus a bit more on the type of dissociative states I expect
people reading this newsgroup would have.
There are, as talked about elsewhere, multiples. Multiples are people
who have dissociated fairly extremely (although there is, of course, a
wide variance with multiples). There are people who dissociate just
enough to be able to deal with wildly different situations in a smoother
way. There are people who use dissociation as a tool, deliberately
inducing in themselves a dissociative state (possibly to the point of
multiplicity) so that they can perform in a way that their usual state of
being might not allow.
A good example of this might be people who are psychic or who perform
acts of magick. [Note to skeptics: Feel free to be skeptical. Maybe they
aren't actually performing feats of psionics or magick, but they _think_
they are, and this is the tool they use.]
In any event, sometimes the dissociation can lead to problems. What
happens if you create this dissociative process and it begins interfering
with your usual state, or with other dissociative processes you created.
What happens if this dissociation _becomes_ your "usual state"? What
happens if you no longer _have_ a "usual state"?
I'd say that means you have a problem.
=== 3.2 Problems and Issues
Please bear in mind that I am not a psychologist or therapist, nor do I
think that my suggestions are necessarily right for everyone. However, I
have also never been to a therapist, and as a multiple myself, I cope with
it just fine even without therapy. Remember that this is an informal look
of things one can do to cope with the problems and issues arising from
multiplicity and related conditions.
If you are experiencing severe problems and dysfunction/impairment of day
to day living, I _would_ urge you to seek out a therapist or psychologist
that is sympathetic and understanding of these types of disorders. If you
cannot find one easily, you could come to the Internet for suggestions,
as a stopgap measure (although some have found healing solely from the
I would like to stress to people that they should not automatically
label dissociation (yes, that includes multiplicity) as a problem. For
many people, it is not. Sometimes the dissociation opens up new issues or
causes problems for a person, but sometimes it does not.
Some issues that seem specific to multiples (but might in a way apply to
other related conditions).
* Alters with different religions, especially if one or more have
even a small amount of religious intolerance.
* Alters with different goals in life
* Alters with different sexual orientation (including no interest)
* Alters with large differences in likes or dislikes
* Alters who, themselves, have a psychological problem
* Course of healing: should it include integration/fusion?
Some issues that might well apply to all dissociative disorders.
* Recovering lost memories/lost time periods
* Re-settling into life after an abrupt change (whether via fugue or
the actions of an alter)
* Deciding on a course of action regarding exploration of issues mentioned
above (i.e., sexual orientation, uncertain goals, religion)
=== 3.3 The Multiplicity mini-FAQ
[written by Discord and the Sapphire Gazelles]
TERMS (definitions may vary somewhat)
* alter/persona: one person/aspect of the multiple.
* birth person: the alter that was present originally, before splitting
(not everybody has one)
* host: the body and/or the "main" alter (not everybody has one)
* shell person: an "outside" alter that is run by "remote control"
* MP: Multiple Personality/ies
* multiple/multiple unit: referring to a single multiple system
* multiple system: defined below
* integration/co-consciousness: refers to a degree of cooperation between
alters that includes the ability to coordinate actions between alters,
as well as communication between them and the ability to share
* fusion: merging all the alters into one
Q: "What is/are MP/MPD/multiple personalities, multiplicity?"
Multiple personalities [also known as multiplicity, MP (for Multiple
Personalities) and MPD (for Multiple Personality Disorder, something
most people who ARE multiple find insulting)] means basically
what it says: someone who has multiple persons/personalities living
inside of one body. These are referred to here as alters. (As of the
DSM-IV, this condition is called Dissociative Identity Disorder, but most
people here will probably not use the official term.)
Multiples, and people who come to deal with them, are aware of these
different alters as completely separate people, rather than
different facets of the same person. For instance, someone who was
utterly professional and cold at work but who was a rocking metal-head
partier at home would not (necessarily) be multiple just because
of the wide difference in the way they acted in different situations.
[They might, however, be considered dissociative.] In fact, some
multiple systems have within them alters who are very similar to one
another, differing so slightly that sometimes the multiples themselves
have difficulty telling them apart.
The differentiating factors can vary greatly. One of the possible ways to
tell them apart is names, but many multiples have several alters of the
same name. Some might _all_ have the same name.
The various alters can be of the same or different gender as the
body, including being of no gender at all. They often have different
likes, dislikes, tastes, etc. They often have different body language, speech
patterns, and sometimes, voices. There are cases where eye color differs.
Many have different abilities, physical and mental. They may be
of widely varying ages. Sometimes they will self-identify as having
separate racial/cultural backgrounds or native languages. Often they have
different religions. Some studies have shown that different alters have
different brain wave patterns (EEG readings), although this is a topic
There can be as much variance within a multiple system as there would
be in your average room full of people.
Q: "How does this differ from different moods in a singular person?"
Example: A singular person may be, at heart, a quiet, introverted person.
If sie is suddenly very chatty, there will be a reason for this, such as
extreme comfort with those around, or nervousness. Or sie may be a
chatty, extroverted person, and if sie is quiet then sie feels ill or
uncomfortable. A multiple, however, may have alters who are extroverted
and alters who are painfully shy, or even mute or autistic. The differences
you see may be/often are due to different alters, not moods.
A person who has varying states of being for various situations might
well be dissociated to some extent, but not be multiple. There isn't
really a clear dividing line between simple changes of mood,
dissociation, and multiplicity. Everyone dissociates to some degree;
one interesting theory is that in a way, everyone is multiple.
Q: "What precisely do people mean by 'the birth person'?"
The birth person is the alter that was present from the beginning,
the one born into the body, who was present before the multiple
system was created. Some multiples believe they were born multiple.
In any event, the birth person may be the host (although certainly
not always) and/or the main alter (again, certainly not always) and
therefore often goes by the name of the body, at least officially.
The birth person may be still at the age where the original split
occurred, having missed all the time in the interim. The birth person
may not be accessible to those alters who are generally out.
Q: "What is the core personality?"
The core personality is often the same as the birth personality, but we
have been informed that this is not necessarily the case. The multiple
who so informed us tells us that in their case, the core was _created_ to
be the holder of the memories and, later, the main adult alter. However,
this is not the same as their birth person.
Q: "What is the host personality?"
For some people, this is the same as their birth person and/or the same
as their core personality. For others, it is the personality which most
often runs the body, dealing with the day-to-day functioning of the
system as a whole. Some people have more than one host personality, or a
sub-system of alters who function as host personalities, either singly or
Q: "Do all multiples have a birth person?"
Some multiples do not think they have a birth person, or consider
all alters to be part of the birth person. Whether or not this means they
do not have a birth person, or that they just aren't aware of one, I'm not
sure. However, I'm not sure it matters...what matters is how the multiple
in question views themselves.
Q: "What causes multiplicity?"
In many (if not most) cases, severe trauma at an early age (by early, we
mean before, say age 5), although there are definitely exceptions to this.
Please bear in mind that "severe" is an entirely subjective term.
In people who developed their multiplicity as a result of trauma, the
trauma was very likely some sort of abuse: physical, sexual, psychological,
emotional, or religious/magickal. Usually this abuse began at a very
early age and was long-standing.
Other trauma, such as witnessing a death, or the abuse of someone close
to you, or possibly just living in a family where there is a great deal
of negative emotion expressed, could be sufficient.
Some people who developed multiplicity as a child did so because they had
a dissociative role model, perhaps a parent.
Some people explore identity or alternate identity games, like role
playing, acting, pretending, or alternate social structures to the
point where they begin to question their original identity. In some
cases, these identities can take on aspects, experiences, and problems
which are essentially identical to those experienced by multiples who
experienced trauma. This effect seems to be most prevalent in people
who explore in their adolescence.
Some multiples are unaware of any initial trauma. Whether such trauma
exists and the memories blocked or whether no such trauma exists is
usually impossible to determine.
It is also possible to partition one's adult life so rigidly as to
create the effect of multiplicity. This sometimes happens if the
person uses multiple names, has multiple residences, multiple jobs,
multiple social contexts, or simply separates work and social life
distinctly. After a period of time, each facet grows its own
relationships, experiences, and skills which may or may not overlap
into other life contexts. This rigid partitioning can also closely
resemble the experience and presentation of multiplicity.
Q: "If abuse at an early age can cause multiplicity, why aren't all
people abused at that age multiple?"
Everyone deals with trauma in a different way. A constant among
multiples seems to be that they are intelligent and creative in
a particular sort of way. While there are people who were abused
who are intelligent and creative who did NOT become multiple,
they probably found a different way of dealing with it (repressing
the memory seems fairly common; sometimes, sadly, the way they
deal with it is "not at all").
What seems to happen in most cases is that, to escape the pain/trauma/abuse,
the multiple splits off a portion of their "self" (soul, mind, however you
would like to look at it), so that _that_ portion can deal with the
abuse/trauma and they do not have to. [It is possible that the split-off
portion may be the portion that does _not_ have to deal with the abuse;
there is at least one case like that known to the Gazelles.] This initial
split often occurs at the moment of trauma/during the abuse. The split off
portion somehow attains reality as a person, possibly through pure creative
This is not necessarily the _only_ way that initial splits happen, nor does
the split have to be into just two people...the original could fragment
into many parts, all at once, for instance.
Once the splitting mechanism is in place, many multiples split easily,
often even creating an alter for dealing with specific non-abusive people
and situations. This allows the multiple to have the "perfect" person for
Q: "How many alters can a multiple have?"
Err...infinite numbers, I suppose.
Each alter, from the birth person on, can split again and again
into 2 or 3 or 5 or more parts, and so on and so forth. Further
stress usually causes further splits.
Some multiples seem to create alters, rather than split them off. That
is, an alter will appear who really has little in common with any of the
existing alters, and doesn't seem to have split off from them.
Sometimes the alters merge into a new (or into an old) alter, lessening
the number, either because they need to form a alter that combines the
qualities of others, or because the degree of separateness is no longer
needed, or for no reason at all.
The highest number of alters within a system we are aware of is something
around 700, and we have heard claims of multiple systems with alters in the
thousands. The lowest is, as you might expect, 2.
Many multiples fall in the double-digit range, that is, 10 to 99. It seems
it is rare to have less than 5 alters. There are a number of multiples that
have a count in the lower hundreds (100, 200, maybe 300), but it also seems
to be rare to have more than that.
Q: "I've heard of something called a 'walk-in person', what's that?"
Despite the lack of belief many people have for this, there are a large
number of multiples who have what seem to be alters that did not originate
via a split or creation by the multiple system, but rather came in from the
It seems that, when one or more of the alters need help that the
system itself cannot provide, sometimes an outside source (a ghost,
a spirit, a "mythical" beast) shows up, moves in, unpacks, and says
"Where can I start?"
You don't have to believe it. But think of it as a kind of guardian
spirit, only this one lives inside the mind. (And try not to let your
skepticism get in the way.)
Q: "What's an internal landscape?"
An internal landscape refers to how the multiple "sees" the inside
of hir mind. It's where the alters live. It can vary greatly
both from multiple to multiple as well as from alter to alter
(for instance, one alter might live in a castle with a moat
and a drawn draw-bridge, whereas one "right next door" might live
in a city block). These are their internal homes, where they go when
they are not helping run things, or when they are hiding, or whatever.
Some people think that their internal landcape is actually a link to the
Astral Plane. Some people don't believe there is any such thing. I'm not
sure it matters.
Not all multiples have an internal landscape. (For that matter, not
everyone with an internal landscape is multiple.)
Q: "Can you explain how the various alters run the body/interact/etc.?"
Oh, sorry. This differs so much from multiple system to multiple
system that I don't know where to start.
For some, each alter takes turns experiencing and performing
actions and talking and so forth, sometimes without the others knowing
that it is happening. For some, the alters can jointly run
the body, either in tandem (picture two or more alters sitting
around in a control room, discussing rapidly what to do/say and
sharing the feelings), or by partially merging/overlaying.
For those who have alters who are co-conscious, the degree of consciousness
experienced may vary by alter, by situation, or just by whim. The alters
sometimes may choose how much they feel/decide/interact.
The alters not currently helping run things may or may not retain
memories, emotions/feelings, and so forth. They further may or
may not have any access at all to such, either vicariously (like
watching a video) or more personally (accessing the memories and
feeling as if it DID happen to them) or something in between.
They might talk to one another, they might not.
Q: "Isn't this confusing?"
When several alters are out at once, they may talk at the same time,
causing incredibly garbled sentences to emerge. Or they may listen at
the same time, causing, for example, each of two alters to catch every
other word in a sentence. When this happens, neither of them will
understand what was said.
Additionally, switches may cause disorientation, even within multiples
that are co-conscious to some degree.
For multiple systems that are particularly integrated/co-conscious, it may
be difficult to have a sense of self at times. It is possible to not be
sure who was "doing", and who was just watching. This seems to be
exacerbated with greater similarity between alters.
People who are dissociative but not multiple probably find themselves
with similar feelings to those who are somewhat integrated/co-conscious.
Q: "Who has the ultimate control in the body? Is it the host person?"
This (like everything) varies from system to system. In many systems,
the alter with the veto power is the core, the host, or both. Sometimes
guardian alters have the most control.
Sometimes everyone has control; anyone can wrest control away from anyone
else. This, as you can imagine, has its downside, but it works fairly
well for a number of systems.
In a well-integrated system (co-conscious), things are often decided by
a set number of alters, through a strictly democratic system, or
something similar to that. There may or may not be alters with effective
veto power in these cases.
Q: "How do you communicate with other alters?"
Sometimes it's through what would be speech if it were outside the body;
telepathy might be a reasonable word for it....one hears the words the
other alter speaks.
Sometimes it's through a sort of telepathy without words--you just know
what the other alter is trying to convey. This can either only happen
when the alter wishes to communicate things or happen when you wish to
find things out ("mind-reading" of a sort).
Sometimes this mind-reading/telepathy is accompanied by insight into the
alter's feelings (empathy). Some alters communicate solely through
Sometimes the various alters take turns controlling the body so as to
Sometimes it's a mix of all of this.
In the case of "mind-reading" and "empathy", sometimes it is not possible
to shut out the alters thoughts or feelings when communicating with them.
Feelings sometimes "bleed over" into the various alters communicating.
Some systems teach the various alters how to shield their feelings and
thoughts from other alters so that communication is strictly deliberate.
Q: "Do I have to lose time/have complete amnesia between alters to
Despite what the DSM publishes, many multiples do not lose time, or only
some of their alters do. Often, it is only the alters who are out the
least often who miss periods of time. Particularly in the case of
integrated/co-conscious multiples, even alters who do not experience a
particular act as their own can be in some way made aware of the passage
of time and the actions during that time.
Q: "What is 'switching'?"
Switching refers to a change in the configuration of who is "out",
"up front", or "in control" in a multiple system.
Switching may be as drastic as a complete switch between two alters,
where the new alter has no idea where sie is or how sie got there. It
may be as mild as a shift in the configuration, where one of the several
alters currently out departs and a new one emerges.
For some, switching involves little or no effort, nothing is lost during
the switching, and switching out of control does not necessarily mean the
alter doing so will lose anything either. For others, switching involves
anything from a brief fuzziness of recent memory or a small perceptual jump
to a complete sense of disorientation/fugue including time loss, not
knowing where one is, or what one was doing.
Q: "Isn't schizophrenia the same as multiplicity?"
[or: Some things "the average person" might mistake multiplicity for.]
Schizophrenia: It's not. Although some of the symptoms may look the same,
both to outsiders and the multiple. For a more detailed discussion on this,
see Section 2 of the FAQ.
Manic/Depressive, Bipolar, or Cyclic Disorders: Commonly referred to as
mood swings. Multiplicity may involve what looks like mood swings if the
alters are not in similar states of mind, and one or more alters may
themselves have mood swings, but it _is_ a seperate disorder.
Other forms of dissociation: These are so close to multiplicity that
there is a large grey area between them. However, there are people who
are dissociative who do not in any way consider themselves multiple.
Q: "How can I tell if I'm multiple?"
NOTE and CAUTION: We (Discord and the Sapphire Gazelles) do NOT claim to
be able to diagnose a multiple in 3 easy steps. However, these are some
classic symptoms/signs that one is multiple. This is not meant to be a
complete list, nor does the absence of a symptom from this list mean you
are not multiple. If in doubt, and it is of concern to you, you may wish to
discuss this with a therapist.
A brief listing of some common symptoms:
* losing time/being in a new place or situation with no memory of how
you got there
* feeling "little"/like a child
* sudden disorientation/feeling as if you missed something
* memories seen as happening to someone else
* memories available only sporadically, possibly including non-abuse and
* inadvertent use of the word "we" to refer to self
* frequent out-of-character actions that surprise even you
* actions that are overset with a haziness, as if you aren't really in
control of what's going on; feeling removed from one's actions
* other people noting one or more of the above in you
* likewise, other people discussing with you things they say you did/said
but that you yourself have little or no memory of, provided that you
were not under the influence of any sort of drug at the time
Q: "What is an inner child? Is this the same as being multiple?"
An inner child is a portion of oneself that retains a sense of being a
child to some extent or another. In Discord's opinion, people who have
this inner child are dissociative, but not necessarily multiple. Some
peole think that everyone has some sort of inner child, even if it is
a rather dusty and disused portion of the self. Some people might
disagree that the inner child is a dissociated part of one's self.
**** Dealing with multiples, a suggestion.
When dealing with someone who is multiple, remember that each
of those alters are *different* people. They just happen to
be wearing the same body. One may do or say something, and
another may either disagree or not even remember what happened.
Some alters have very specific jobs and you will only see
them when they need to do those jobs (or you may never see
them if they have internal jobs). Some may not even be aware
that the others exist. You may like some, and dislike others.
Nevertheless, try to some extent to keep in mind that you are dealing with
separate people. Sometimes its hard, but it *is* possible.
Psychology teaches that the people within are not seperate people
and that may, when it comes down to it, be the case. Even if they are
write and I (and other multiples) are wrong, it still would seem
courteous to treat them as if they were, keeping in mind the varying
likes and dislikes, the varying actions and beliefs, etc.
This FAQ is copyright (C) 1995. See section 1.1.2 in part 1 for full