Dissociative Identity Disorder Q/A
Updated: Jul 10, 2021
This article is not meant for diagnostic purposes; this is simply a snapshot of how I live with Dissociative Identity Disorder, written from my own experiences and knowledge. Every person with DID will answer each question slightly differently.
There is a glossary of terms at the end of the article as I use terms that are congruent with widely used DID language.
What is DID?
Hi, I’m Ryan. I am the host of The Crescendo Clan. We have Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID for short. You might better know it as its former name: Multiple Personality Disorder.
DID is a natural occurrence to extreme trauma in early childhood and infancy. It is when one’s personality does not fully integrate during the normal personality growth of a child, leaving separate parts of their personality who have taken on their own individual existence.
DID is developed before the age of 9, before a child has a solid sense of ‘self’. When a child receives less love, care, and safety than is required for normal development; mix in a myriad of threats and abuse; the brain’s survival instinct will kick in and DID can be one of those ways that it copes.
When fragments of personality get stuck like this, DID can form. The alters can last right into adulthood where DID becomes hard to manage day after day.
Why did DID have a name change?
DID needed a name change because the former name, Multiple Personally Disorder (MPD) was not an accurate title. MPD assumes that each personality is a whole personality, when in reality each part that has developed their own personality are actually fragments of one personality. It is due to the brain not integrating properly and staying split off into different parts. Dissociative Identity Disorder takes into consideration that it is a dissociative disorder and not a personality disorder.
How does each individual alter develop?
If a child has less love, and attention than required for a child to survive, an alter may be created to give that love and attention to the child. A protector can be formed this way.
If a child goes through some trauma that involves them being hurt, an alter may be formed that can handle the pain. At the very least it can take on the trauma that the child is being exposed to, by fronting and taking on the memories and pain onto itself. A trauma holder can be formed this way. Sometimes a non-human alter is formed because the animal or being might be perceived as stronger than the force that is the trauma
DID is diverse in that it stems from trauma and everyone’s trauma is different.
What are the different types of alters?
There are many different types of alters, every system is unique. Some of these types are:
Animal alter - An Alter who is a creature of some sort.
Host - The alter who is out the most.
Co-host - An alter who shares the host role.
Fictive - An Alter who is has taken on the personality of a fictional character.
Introject - An alter who takes on the personality of someone else that exists, or a fictional character.
Little - A child alter.
Non-human alter - An alter who is not human.
Teen alter- A teenager alter
Not all alters have to be human? Just how diverse can a system be?
Every system is different. I know systems with dragons in it. In my system there are 2 animals, a winged cat, and a spirit wolf. There is also a boy of unknown species, a winged elf, and an android. The rest are human, young, teens, older, Female, Male and Non-binary.
What are the different roles of alters?
Caretaker - An alter who looks after another alter, for example a babysitter.
Gatekeeper - An alter who controls switching or access to front.
Guide - An alter who instructs, gives advice, and insight into situations
Persecutor - An alter who purposefully harms or criticises the system they are in. Some persecutors think that they are helping the system by keeping the system in trauma time. They think that the familiarity of the trauma is safer because at least they know how to survive.
Protector - An alter who protects the system or a part of the system.
Trauma holder - An alter who has taken on a traumatic event/s and holds onto that trauma so that the rest of the system does not have to.
How many alters do you have?
We have 19 alters, including myself. Over the course of time, some alters have integrated with other alters and become a new alter that is a mix of the two or more alters who integrated. New ones can also form if there is a need to be met or if the body goes through more trauma.
Are there dangerous alters?
No alter is inherently dangerous.
Do you have a system name?
Yes, we do, The Crescendo Clan
How did you come up with your system name?
Music is one thing that holds us together. When we are listening to good music, everyone quietens a little to listen. However; our music tastes differ a lot, we all have different playlists that we use. We wanted a musical term. The word crescendo in music means to get louder. In some languages it translates, to grow/growth. The word clan was used because I love alliterations.
How should we address you?
This would change for every system, for it is always best to ask how they prefer to be addressed. For me, personally it is:
You all (multiple)
How are you (singular)
How is the clan (multiple)
We go by they/them pronouns
Depending on how you address us tells us what kind of answer you are looking for.
Do you name your alters?
They either come up with their own names or use names that were apart of our life at the time. I did rename the introject persecutors by referring to them by their middle name instead, because it reduced some of the association pain.
What is the inner world?
The Inner world is a place inside my head where all of the alters reside. When I am fronting I am in the outworld. When I am inside I am in the inner world.
What does yours look like?
A log cabin next to a lake, full of blankets, plush animals, and cushions.
A large house where everyone has their own room.
A tower where you can hear nothing else.
The well, which is our meeting place.
The forest where the little ones love to play.
The mist, where alters form and wonder out of, if you get lost in the mist, you probably will not find your way out.
My safe haven, which is called Stone Creek. There are fields as far as you can see, paper cranes flying everywhere, a creek with some massive precious stones in it, and a tree.
What are the relationships between alters like?
Much like relationships between singlets, alters have all sorts of relationships with one another. Some fight, some have romantic relationships, and some have a bond similar to family. They shift and change like any relationship does. We have two trauma holders who are bound like family and two child alters who are best friends, often leaving the other children out of their games.
How does DID effect personal and romantic relationships?
If you put 17 people (us, and another person) in a room together, it is unlikely that all 16 of us will like that person. Just like I do, the other alters also form friendships, basically it can get really messy.
I was in a romantic relationship with a guy, he was quite ill and needed a carer, which I somehow became. He only had capacity to love one of us and it did not end up being me, even though I was the one who initiated the relationship. When we broke up, there was a lot of fighting in the inner world because I had to make a choice that I did not get everyone’s approval for first. We hardly agree on anything, I can sit there for 10 minutes waiting for a debate over which colander is the best one whilst in the middle of cooking.
How does consent work within a romantic relationship?
Consent of course is up to each system’s relationships, but for me, if you are dating me, you are not dating the others. If I consent to sex, that consent only extends to the time when I am fronting. If a partner was to have sex with an alter he wasn’t dating, I would consider it as cheating. Just like if the alter was another physical body.
How do you deal with persecutors within your system?
Honestly, not very effectively. There is supposed to be a healthy level of compromise and learning from both sides of the coin, but we are not at that stage in therapy where we can deal with them. We just try to keep them detained so they do as little harm as possible. I believe they are protectors that have their interpretation of protecting skewed. Keeping us in trauma time is their way of saying that we know how to survive it, so if they keep things familiar, that we will survive.
How do you handle conflict resolution?
One of our protectors does most of the conflict resolution. Most of the system will not stick up for themselves, they will run at any given moment. We try to uphold a buddy system where alters that are close can look out for each other and get help when needed. It is easier to stick up for someone else than to stick up for yourself.
Dissociation and Switching
Do you know when you are about to switch?
This depends. There are two main types of switching. One is a negative trigger switch, where whoever is fronting gets triggered and is pulled inside by a protector. In this type of switch there is generally an amnesia period for the length of the dissociation where I will not remember what happened or what was said.
The other is when an alter first moves into the co-conscious space. There I can communicate with them. If we switch the alter fronting at the time will switch into the co-conscious space.
What does dissociation feel like?
I have many different types of dissociative episodes.
Sometimes it feels like I am having an out of body experience where I am watching the body do things that I cannot control. I am either standing beside myself or floating above myself. One time I was supposed to give a speech, but one of my teen alters gave the speech instead, I was standing beside her watching her speak but unable to hear her. This was early on for me, before a diagnosis. I was yelling at her but I couldn’t hear myself either. By the time the meeting ended I had come back to my own body and at the end I was applauded on my performance, of which I had no clue what it was about.
At times I feel like things around me are not real. This normally happens in an environment change, or when we are feeling switchy. Things can appear bigger or smaller than they really are. I will have thoughts like ‘I need to leave the room but I’m not tall enough to reach the door handle’ even though I can in this body.
I am dissociated from my feelings about the past. Most of the time I can talk about the trauma without feeling anything, speak about it all as a matter of fact. Which is helpful in some scenarios, but in places like therapy where I need to tap into those emotions, they are locked up tight.
My most common one would be just before a negative trigger switch. I can feel highly distressed, to the point where it is too much. I start staring off into nothing. I can no longer hear or see what is going on around me properly. I just start screaming within my head for one of the protectors.
How do you deal with the constant stream of information?
Alters in the co-conscious space are constantly thinking and feeling. Sometimes it is hard for me to discern what thoughts and emotions are my own, more so while feeling switchy. They have their own opinions and biases.
Big decisions are made through debating, except you choose your side. However, they debate over everything, which colander, green, or pink, salt, or no salt etc. Every time we are asked a question, I get an answer from everyone in the co-conscious space. I have to sift through them and decide which one is most appropriate for that scenario, this is why we have a delay between the question being asked and my answering said question.
How do I know who is out?
If an alter is comfortable with your knowing their identity then they will tell you, it is not ok to try and force a name out of them. That being said, we all present with different body language, ways of speaking and mannerisms. A good friend of ours can tell who is out based on that alone, and she can spot a switch as it is happening.
What if I need a specific alter to be fronting?
Asking for another alter can be invalidating to the alter that is fronting right now and will get quite upset at you. However, if it is an emergency, you can try to call one of the protectors forward if you know their names.
Did you suspect you had DID before being diagnosed?
I sort of suspected it. It is a diagnosis that has been chasing me for a long time. Receiving a diagnosis was both relieving and scary. Relief because I finally found an answer to my experiences. Scary because I didn't know what that meant for the future of my therapy journey.
When/how were you officially diagnosed?
I had one alter that I knew about all my life, a protector, when I was younger, I thought she was my imaginary friend, as I grew up, she stuck around.
In 2019 I was seeing a clinical psychologist where I would record audio in sessions due to my poor memory. In one of her sessions, she made an assumption of some sort, I became distressed, and my alter who I thought was my imaginary friend, fronted and set the psychologist straight. I listened to the recording that day and was shocked. It was not me in the recording. She sounded direct and assertive. I was later told she has an intense gaze as well, even though I have issues with eye contact.
I received the diagnosis soon after, and later confirmed it with my psychiatrist. I spoke with the alter often after that and in the years after I learnt about the inner world and the other alters who had been hiding away.
Were you in denial?
Yes. I am still in denial at times. I get terrible imposter syndrome where I question and think that I am faking, but then something happens that affirms that I am not. I constantly feel like I have to prove myself to other people because I also have medical conditions that are invisible, they aren’t taken seriously.
Do you tell others about your Diagnosis?
Apart from the hospital when I am inpatient, I do not tell many people. I feel safer coming out as transgender than DID; it is not just my life that I have to worry about. DID is a trauma related disorder, I feel that telling everyone I have DID is essentially putting a sign on my head that says ‘I am vulnerable, take advantage of me’.
What happens when you tell someone you have DID?
I generally get one of two responses when I tell someone. They either cut off contact, or they become really interested and ask all sorts of questions. We do not mind questions, we love educating, but sometimes we feel like we are an attraction at a zoo.
Has anyone reacted in a bad way?
People close to me have told me straight out ‘you don’t have that, who told you that? I know you and you don’t have it’.
How did your system handle it?
Not so great. They felt invalidated and started second guessing their entire existence. The very nature of a system is to stay hidden for survival. So when going out on a limb and exposing our system, it goes against that and of course we are going to recoil in response.
Is it ok to ask you what happened to you?
Unless you are our treating physician, it is never ok to ask that question.
What did you think of the movie, Split?
This movie is a horrible representation of DID and causes even more stigma to the diagnosis. Any movie that portrays mentally ill as law breakers, serial killers and the like are extremely harmful. Split takes it further by adding a persona that has supernatural abilities. When people ask me about Split I often get the following question, ‘are there dangerous alters’. No alters are inherently dangerous.
How do you deal with the stigma caused by movies like this one?
Due to the stigma around DID, I tend not to tell people that I have DID. There is a lot of tension and a heavy sigh when having to tell someone, especially a physician, because the next three words can strip you from all credibility (from their point of view). This can also put us in danger if one of the littles gets pulled out into the outworld. They will not be able to communicate effectively. It is likely the person talking to us will not know what to do. They may tell us to snap out of it, or to stop mucking around. We have cards that I made that explains (in dot point) what DID is. I also have a card for each alter which introduces them.
Without that stigma there, I would probably be out and proud about my DID and all that it does and has done to keep me safe. I would tell most people, instead of hiding it to a select few and the littles would not feel so alone.
I once had a mental health professional tell me that I can't possibly have DID, even after having been diagnosis with it by another mental health professional. He said that if I had it, I wouldn't know that I have it. I wouldn't have any awareness at all of my alters. He was saying things that were out-dated. I challenged him. I told him that if I didn't have it, to prove it. Do the diagnostic interview. He agreed to do it. In the following two weeks between sessions, he must have done a lot of research because when I saw him again, he said 'oh, we don't need to do the interview now. I believe you.'
Glossary: DID TERMS
Alter: A generic term that refers to a personality.
Co-consciousness: Aware of one another, able to observe and hear one another, opposite of dissociation.
Fronting: When an alter is in the driver seat and in control, that alter is fronting.
Co-fronting: Similar to co-piloting a plane, both in control.
Cooperation: A path of therapy that leans towards collaboration. all parts working together in unison. A team.
Dissociation: Unaware of surroundings, of other alters, stuck in a flashback, or unaware of oneself. Amnesia likely to occur. Feeling disconnected and separate from reality.
Fusion: A point in time when two or more alternate identities experience themselves as joining together with a complete loss of subjective separateness.
Final Fusion: Final fusion refers to when an individual with Dissociative Identity Disorder no longer perceives themself as having multiple identities.
Inner world: The world in our head in where each alter lives. They all have their own special safe place. We also have a “meeting well” where we have meetings. Gardens, cabins, forests, fields.
Integration: Integration refers to the entire process of recovery from the dissociation between parts.
Out: Who is fronting at the time.
Outworld: The physical world where the body resides.
Singlets: People who do not have DID.
The body: The physical body in which we all reside.
Trauma time: A word that means a time in our lives where we are currently going through trauma. For example: (alter) tries to keep me in trauma time by saying things my mother would have said = (alter) reminds me of things that happened to me while the trauma was present and ongoing by saying things my mother would have said.
Trigger: An event, taste, smell, sound, touch, or sight that links me to a memory and sends me down a spiral that leads to high distress resulting in flashbacks, dissociation, or panic attacks.
Switch: The act of one alter fronting and another alter going inside.
Switchy: A disorienting state of mind where I can feel and hear the thoughts and emotions of some of my alters in a way that is more blended. If you were to ask me who I was while feeling this way, I’d probably tell you that I do not know. Many switches can happen quite rapidly.
System: A generic name given to a person with DID. Example: I am a system, this person who has DID is a system but someone without DID is not a system.
Glossary: ALTER ROLES AND TYPES
Age slider: An alter who slides between more than one age. Sometimes they are 12 sometimes they are 30, for example.
Caretaker: An alter who takes care of another alter, a babysitter for example.
Fictive: An alter who takes on the personality of a fictional character.
Gatekeeper: An alter who controls switching or access to front.
Guide: An alter who instructs, gives advice, and insight into situations.
Host: The alter who fronts most of the time and makes most of the day-to-day decisions.
Co-host: An alter who shares the host role.
Introject: An alter who takes on the personality of someone else that exists, or a fictional character.
Little: A child alter.
Persecutor: An alter who harms the system and tries to keep the system in trauma time. Most of the time they do this in order to protect. They think that by keeping me in trauma time, that having the familiarity of trauma is a way to keep safe, because it is familiar - we already know how to deal with it.
Protector: A protector is an alter whose role it is to protect the system.
Trauma holder: An alter who switched to the front during a point of trauma and now has to hold onto that trauma.
Author: Ryan (Host)
Co-Author: Kittelle (Protector)