**This is part 2 of an educational blog series I am writing about DID. It is based on scientific research, my experience, and the experiences of others with DID. To view all posts in the series, click on the tag “educational” on the sidebar.**
What are alters?
Alters are parts of an individual’s consciousness that have been set apart from other parts of a person’s consciousness. The severity of this separation can vary between alters and across time.
Many people with DID and sometimes supporters of individuals with DID are concerned about the “original” personality and whether or not the presenting personality was the birth person. While an individual with DID may be able to find a portion of their personality that seems to have been around the longest and tag that part as the “original”, it really doesn’t matter.
Imagine a person with DID as a piece of glass. If you snap off a piece of the glass, which part is the original? Is it the biggest piece, the best shaped piece, or something else? What happens when another piece breaks off and another and another? Which piece is the original now?
DID is not about having a “real” personalities and some other “fake” personalities. DID is having one personality that was broken into pieces and compartmentalized so the person could keep functioning.
How are alters created?
Alters are created when a piece of the child’s perception is isolated from the rest of his or her mind. This can happen in several different ways, including organically and inorganically. The way in which alters are developed depends upon the individuals intelligence, creativity, personality, circumstance, degree of abuse, type of abuse, the security of the environment, and many more factors.
Organic Alter Creation
One way the mind can create an alter is to isolate the experiences of abuse. An alternate personality is created and the memories of abuse are placed with that personality rather than the birth personality. This allows the birth personality to live as if the abuse had never occurred and he or she may or may not have any conscious awareness of the past or present abuse.
Another possibility is that an alter personality is created in the midst of a particularly traumatic or painful experience of abuse. Sort of a “last straw” situation where the child can no longer deal with the abuse. The child dissociates and disappears into his or her mind and another personality is created to take the abuse. The difference between this creation and the one listed above is that the abusive experiences of the past were not isolated in an alternate personality and only future instances of abuse will be compartmentalized with this alter.
Sometimes the original or birth personality goes entirely into hiding and may never come out again or may emerge at the very end of healing.
Some people create different alters for every traumatic experience (this is usually referred to a polyfragmented DID), others have only one alter to take all the trauma, most people are somewhere in the middle. Having different alters for different types of trauma seems to be fairly common: a sexual abuse alter, a physical abuse alter, etc. or even more specific: an alter for rape, an alter for oral rape, an alter for molestation, etc.
Inorganic Alter Creation
Some people are surprised to find that alters can be created inorganically. By inorganically I mean deliberately rather than naturally or accidentally. This is commonly the case in ritual abuse. I don’t want to get too far into ritual abuse as it is a very complex subject and could fill a thousand blog posts, but I do want to cover the basics as this is a pretty common cause of DID.
Perpetrators of ritual abuse use the creation of alter personalities for two main reasons. The first is to hide what they are doing to their victims. If you can compartmentalize abuse in a child’s mind so that it cannot be easily or deliberately recalled by the child, than pedophile and child prostitution rings can run much more smoothly.
In addition to alters, these groups often create unbelievable scenarios to discredit child witnesses. For example, they may wear masks, dress up as cartoon characters, stage satanic rituals, or use special effects to trick a child into believing they witnessed or participated in a murder. When the child finally comes forward and tries to get help, no one believes their outrageous stories and the very real abuse goes unpunished.
The second motivation to create DID is to test the limits of the human brain for research into torture techniques and mind control. This was done in the 70’s (there are many official government papers available online that document this) and this form of abuse may or may not be going on today.
Many different techniques are used in the actual creation of the alter, but the most common techniques seem to be pairings of extreme fear, pain, and a disorienting drug. The child is abused, tortured, and disoriented until he or she can no longer take the pain and dissociates, then the perpetrator(s) use suggestions and threats to form the characteristics of the new personality. Often the perpetrators have the ability to call out particular alters through trigger words, phrases, or sounds.
How many alters do people with DID have?
The number of alters present in people with DID range from one to hundreds. The number of alters depends on the intelligence, creativity, circumstances, home life, and personality of the child, among other things. There is no way to predict the number of alters an individual with DID has.
The average number of alters has been estimated at around 10. There is a subset of people with DID who have what is called poly-fragmented DID, these are individuals who have dozens to hundreds or even thousands of personalities. This is usually caused by ritual abuse and most alters may hold only an emotion or a single memory.
Do alters dress up in different clothes or have different accents?
Not really. Some people have alters who prefer to dress differently, although the difference is usually subtle enough to go unnoticed and it is extremely rare for people to have alters that insist on changing clothes if they appear after the individual is dressed. Differences between alters are usually subtle and can only be detected by those who are very familiar with DID and the individual’s alters or when the alter wants other people to be able to tell it’s them.
Alters have vocal patterns than can range from nearly identical to the presenting personality’s or radically different. Most people are in between. Child alters are usually the most detectable, because they move and speak like children.
**Please leave a comment or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any questions or comments.**