Tuesday, February 8, 2011

DID 103 - Dissociative Identity Disorder and Switching Personalities

**This is part 3 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.**


One of the largest misunderstandings about DID are the symptoms.  Everyone has seen Hollywood movies like Sybil and TV shows like United States of Tara that hype up the disorder, seem to be real and ultimately cause a lot of confusion.  I urge you to wipe these preconceptions about the disorder out of your mind and act as if you know nothing of the symptoms of the disorder. 

DID is an extremely variable condition.  Everyone with DID has different numbers and types of alters, different experiences, levels of amnesia, and types of dissociation.  There is no mold to conform to, there is no right or wrong way to experience alters.  DID is vastly different for different people and that’s okay.  It’s a coping mechanism, a last resort, it’s not always going to look the same.  Sometimes it’s going to be confusing, disorganized, and chaotic.  

DID is a spectrum disorder and like any spectrum, there are people at both extremes as well as all the places in between.  If you or someone you know doesn’t fit where it seems like they should on the spectrum, don’t worry: there is no “normal” when it comes to DID. 

Do people with DID have no idea what their alters say or do when they come out? 

This is the most commonly represented symptom of DID in the media and unfortunately, it is extremely misleading.  There are some people with DID that always have full amnesia of what their alters do and say when they come out.  There are some people with DID who always remember what their alters do and say when they come out.  Most people with DID have a combination of both experiences as well as a more middle of the road experience where they are partially aware of their alters’ behavior without full memory or full amnesia.  This “middle ground” experience is the most common. 

Often, more than one part or alter is aware of what is going on and is influencing what is being said and done.  This can happen with or without the host personality or other alters’ awareness and is called co-consciousness. 

Just because an individual always knows some or all of what an alter said or did, does not mean they are faking or do not have DID.  This is a fairly common manifestation of the disorder. 

What is co-consciousness? 

Co-consciouness is when more than one part is aware of what is going on outside the body and is influencing the thoughts, actions, or emotions of the individual.  This experience can vary greatly from actually hearing the voices of the alter (internally or externally) or simply feeling their emotional presence as an “other”. 

Co-consciousness is the most common experience of alter personalities for many individuals with DID.  For others, achieving co-consciousness or more cooperative co-consciousness will be the goal of therapy.

Co-consciousness can feel like many other things.  Many individuals with DID live much of their lives without realizing the way they think and feel is not “normal”.  Sometimes it just feels like your emotions are not coming from you or when you speak your voice doesn’t sound like your voice.  Sometimes individuals with DID even feel like they cannot control their own bodies. 

How often do people with DID switch personalities? 

As with all aspects of DID, this depends greatly on the individual.  Some people with DID switch constantly.  Others switch very rarely.  It is not uncommon for individuals with DID as well as friends and family to be unaware of personality switches, especially if those switches are co-conscious and the host personality is present the majority of the time.   

Why do people with DID switch personalities? 

The most common reason someone with DID switches personalities is because of a trigger.  A trigger can be a word, phrase, emotion, situation, experience, or anything else that encourages a particular part to emerge.  Alters are usually created with a specific job in mind, which means that particular interactions are likely to cause particular alters to emerge.  For example, there may be an alter that deals with hostile interactions, an alter for school, or an alter for sex. 

A trigger may also be involuntary.  For example, a part that holds a trauma related to water may emerge every time an individual takes a shower. 

Alters may also come out against their will when they are forced out by other alters or when no other alters want to be on the outside.  It is also possible for alters to come out to do something they like to do or when they are around someone they like. 

Some alters never come out and exist only on the “inside”.  This does not invalidate them, they are still alters.  Some people have whole systems of alters that rarely or never “come out”, but that can still be felt as an internal presence. 

**Please leave a comment or email me (elliem.mail@gmail.com) with any questions or comments.** 


  1. I have noticed new alters have emerged lately and my behaviour and thoughts have been really erratic. One thing is different and my question is whether or not this is normal for someone with DID. Is anyone else able to see an image of one of their alters in their mind as there in the back ground in full form? He always stands behind my left shoulder and I always have my back to him. He never comes out like the other internal ones who switch in and out and he is not always there either. Usually he just communicates to me verbally although I don't acually hear it, is kinda like a kind of telepathy between us I guess. I tries to make me do things and likes to negotiate and make deals with me like he'll help me if I do what he want's me to do.He tells me things and I've found myself a few times answering to him out loud because I don't want to do something but if I don't he threatens to go away.Is this normal for someone with DID or do I have something else going on mentally as well. I also have ADHD and currently medicated for it. Also my age regression episodes are getting worse and I slip into child mode often throughout the day.I get very playful, exciteable and act all child like. I was in hospital recently when it happened and felt myself shrink in size is what felt like but know that didn't really happen of course and felt like I was only 5 yrs old and only able to display responses associated with a child of that age. Having DID and ADHD can be very chaotic to live with and behavioural aspects among other symptoms prevent me from being able to go back to work and hold down a job.

    1. I have had one alter who is almost always physically out. He is Rage...a very large black organic shape that stays just behind me raising up above the back of my head. Even before I was diagnosied with DID, I "knew" he was there. Through therapy I have learned that he is my friend and not some one that I should be afraid of.

      I completely agree about this being a very chaotic way to live. I'm usually fortunate to be able to go to work, but am known by my friends as having to back out of social events at the last minute, or leave early. One reason that I can work is that I have a very good psych who talks with my therapist and we have agreed that I always have Niravam with me. It calms me almost instantly and helps me get my "outside" person back into control if young alters are trying to get "out" when it would be inappropriate.

      Good luck with your treatment.

    2. dear guys help.
      I have a guy who sometime pop out of nowhere while i meditate he looks like a white guy and triggered by a bloody color he tells me to kill people for the rush of it what to do?

  2. What is it exactly that triggers the change? Medically, is it a switch in the brain? Some sort of nerve extension or something of that sort?

  3. What trigger the original alter to switch back?

  4. I beleive in DID, but to Anonymous who has the "black shape" behind you - that sounds demonic. Make him leave in Jesus's name.

  5. Can people with DID make the switch themselves? Like on purpose? And is it like a switch? Instantaneous? (I'm told my biological mother has multiple personalities, and I know I've spoken to them, so I'm very curious)

    1. This is what I want to know as well.. it normally takes 5 minutes for my boyfriend to switch when I want to talk to his alter, or when the alter wants to speak with me.

      He is co-conscious and can hear his alter in his mind and communicates with it that way... I want to know if these types of people with DiD actually exist or are they faking it? I am supporting my boyfriend with this %100 percent and being there for him, but I would like to hear about others who *can* switch on a whim.

    2. i can't "switch on a whim" but i have found trying to dialogue with my personalities has created a dynamic where i think this could be possible with practice, and very beneficial if not abused. first i have to say i have a young understanding of this phenomenon. i just know i have very different personalities that sometimes i see shifting and sometimes i don't. some personalities are very aware of others and some totally forget they are one of a few. there is always my given name, just strong variations and sometimes i don't recognize myself as me. anyway, i have a meditation i do where i invite all my personalities to sit down and talk to each other, ask each one what they need etc. when i do this regularly i have found it possible to call on the ones i need at a certain time. i find it easier to do this if i make time to let each one come out and spend some time in control so they don't get resentful. with the severe anger, the personality that makes me or "us" the most nervous there is a check in to make sure i won't act from that place, just get to be present with how that part of me feels about and sees the world. rotating personalities in as planned a way as possible has given me the closest to a sense of balanced and integrated psychic awareness as i've had in many years. gotta say thanks to some pop media for giving me concepts and language to do this, as much of a grain of salt as pop narrative must be taken with. before films like Waking Madison and that show United States of Tara i was pretty much in the dark as to what might be happening to me.

    3. I don't think anyone with DID has control over switches. It's not pleasant knowing you can lose control/consciousness over your body. I think we'd all choose to not have alters at all. ..except for the fact that they took the abuse..

  6. Have you ever been doing something and can't figure out why you're doing it and not be able to force your body to stop? Or feel like an emotion izn't yourz? Or have a random thought with no prompt pop into your head that doezn't feel like your own thought? Iz that a normal people thing or do I just have issuez?

  7. I talked to an old friend and I could see that I wasn't able to talk to him for whatever reason then it must have been a child part that cried and said that they missed him and another to stop that one I remember my mind going blank many times and them he said he had to go? Now I feel like a fool. I lost my fiancé and have had too many traumas from age 3 on. I can't seem to find somekne who gets this and no matter how much I know it doesn't help! Is there a way to stop the switching ??

    1. To anonymous..I've experienced too much of what you wrote happening with your friend...I don't know what to do about it. I also have had too many traumas and RETRAUMATIZING since as early as I can recall. You aren't alone and I feel less alone knowing you could word what I couldn't and I have found somone else talking about it. My heart is devasted, my brain extra shattered from losing these friendships...or ARE they lost?? How do you communicate with people you dont fully recognize, especially in speech or energy...and how are they supposed to recognize or know you. Lots of fear overcoming this terrifying obstacle.

  8. How do you guys know when you lose time? Is there any way to work toward coconsciousness?
    What about when there's no context to ..audio clips?

  9. It's have had experienced of losing time ... Once was when talking to a friend, and I realized I had no idea what we were talking about. So I mentioned the last thing I remembered, and she told me how long "I" was away. But I have also had the experience of completing large projects with no memory of doing so.