Not many people know what dissociative identity disorder (DID/OSDD) is, as it is more commonly referred to by its misdemeanor, “multiple personality disorder. (MPD)”
It is an incredibly taboo subject, and very taboo to be an advocate and educated ally on this subject and for those with it. Knowing anything correct or proper about it, your information is ignored. This may be due to how, anything accurate about it, is not what the age-old narrative is, or tells us. In this narrative, we are told that DID is “the most mentally ill someone can be.” We are also told that these people are insane. The moment you learn that these people are simply living with a very complex form of post-traumatic stress disorder, (PTSD) hopefully your inner narrative changes.
DID/OSDD forms in children between the ages of 5 and 10, and it forms due to a child repeatedly experiencing a traumatic experience. A child cannot cope, or process the horrors around them, leading them to develop another part, or identity, to deal with the ongoing trauma. (Mayo Clinic Staff) It is a defense mechanism. It is not insanity.
When new parts, (alters) form, the part they split from, or themselves, or neither, or both can carry the traumatic memory. In some systems (a person with DID/OSDD) there are specific types of alters to hold traumatic memories (these are called trauma holders or emotional parts (EP.)) Still, systems (excluding OSDD-1b systems) will experience memory gaps between alters. This is called dissociative amnesia. This is a simple concept to understand: when an alter is front (when an alter is present and interacting with the physical world) how is another alter who is not interacting with the physical world supposed to have the memory of the one who was/is interacting with the physical world? It is like if one friend out of your friend group went to a party and the rest did not go- obviously the person who went will remember the party, but the rest of the friend group would not know because they simply were not present. That is how memory gaps between alters works.
Alters come in many different types, and form to help one another deal with trauma. Types of alters includes, but are not limited to: child alters, adult alters, age sliders, protectors, gatekeepers, non-human alters, trauma holders, fictives, sexual alters, parental figure alters, normal parts, and persecutor alters.
Persecutor alters are where the “evil alter” stereotype comes from. Persecutors, like all other alters, form to protect the system, they just have their own way of doing so, and that is usually by being mean, rude, cold, and distant. It’s the same as individuals who become cold and closed off after trauma. However, persecutors are often “mean” to other alters, and do this as a way to protect the system. They may express distaste about a new friend another alter may have made because they are scared about what could happen with this new friend. They could worry this new friend might demonize them for being a system, or worry this new friend could be abusive. Persecutors can be very difficult to deal with, in some cases they may be more than just cold or rude, sometimes they can be cruel. Still, this is a type of defense mechanism to keep people away from the system. Many persecutor alters are not stuck as persecutor alters, after being around for a while, making friends, and being in a safe and loving environment they may become docile and warm up to people and other alters.
Systems are not dangerous. They are not insane. DID is not related to schizophrenia in any way. That being said, here are some ways you can be a better ally, whether you are a friend of a system, have never knowingly met one, or are a teacher who may eventually have a student with DID:
- Be understanding of someone’s amnesia and memory gaps. Don’t pry and ask if they are a system just because they have amnesia. If you are a teacher, be understanding of why a student struggles in school as DID could possibly be a factor.
- If someone around you is acting “younger” than their age, be patient, and kind. You may be working with a child alter or age slider. (Age regression also exists in individuals with other mental illnesses like C-PTSD and BPD.)
- Do not use the term “multiple personality disorder,” as it is outdated. (The DSM-5 renamed it in 1994.)
- Do not call Jeckle and Hyed-like characters schizophrenic. One, you’re talking about the wrong mental illness. Two, you’re demonizing systems and individuals on the schizophrenia spectrum.
- Do not ask people who experience the symptoms of DID if they’re a system.
- Do not pry for information about a system unless they give the “OK” to ask questions.
- If someone tells you that they are a system, don’t go about telling others without the system’s permission.
If you are wondering why I give little to no citation for any of this, it is because I know a handful of individuals on the DID/OSDD spectrum. What they say, and what I have seen is much more informational and accurate than articles that may have been written by someone who has never spoken to a system.
For more information please use websites/sources that are either overseen by a health professional or written by a system.
Here are some links to help you get more information if you are interested in being a better ally to systems:
https://dissociation-station.carrd.co/#ii (written by two systems)
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/dissociative-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20355215 (written by a medical professional)