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Why I Prefer the Term 'Personalities' for My Dissociative Identity Disorder

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) was formerly called multiple personality disorder (MPD). I find that, when I tell people it was called that, they usually have a better understanding of my condition than when I call it DID — when they look at that big word at the beginning and wonder what that is when it’s at home. However, the name change was made because DID explains the condition more accurately than MPD did.

Dissociation is a normal part of life for human beings. Have you ever caught yourself staring into space? Has someone called your name several times before you even realized? These are forms of dissociation that all people experience at different times. It can happen to us when we’re bored, tired or generally need a break from what is happening around us; it can even be used as a tool to help us focus on the task in front of us while dissociating from the distractions around us. There are many different reasons why a person may dissociate, but the result is that our brain takes a short vacation.

People with DID do this more than others and can remain in a dissociated state for longer. In fact, we don’t just dissociate into vacancy, but we also dissociate into other “parts,” formerly called personalities. The reason for this name change was to reflect the person’s identity being split apart rather than the growth of additional or separate personalities. DID is the result of our minds typically being broken by severe and prolonged childhood trauma — not a random, superfluous growth.

The most common term you’ll hear to describe these parts is “alters;” this reflects the change in name from multiple personality disorder to dissociative identity disorder and the corresponding reasons for the name change. Some people don’t like the term “alters” and use other terms such as “inners” or simply “parts”. Personally, I respect whatever term people like to call their parts; it is their individual and unique experience we are talking about anyway.

The controversy comes when we use the term “personalities.” Some people are adamant that this term should not be used; some even get incredibly defensive over it and demand that this term should not be used. For me, this makes me feel quite uncomfortable because I actually prefer the term “personalities” to describe my parts.

My main reason for preferring the term personalities is simply relating to the way in which I process my experience and work towards healing. When I speak of healing, I do not mean my personalities merging, but simply them working together in harmony so I can function as a person. My mantra is this:

Each of my personalities must be respected as an individual, while being accepted as all being parts of me.

Alters feels detached to me; perhaps this is why some people like it. Dissociation is in a sense a form of detaching, mainly from traumatic situations, in order to survive. However, my healing process is essentially knitting all of those detached parts together, encouraging them to work together to make one person. Therefore, the detached term of “alters” doesn’t quite sit right with me, although it is probably my preferred out of the alternatives.

“Inners” doesn’t sit well with me at all. I am encouraging each of my personalities to express themselves. At different times, they will take turns to decide what clothes and makeup we can wear (little ones’ dressing up clothes are regrettably for wearing at home or on Halloween only). Part of my healing process has been to allow the people closest to me to meet each of my personalities and to trust they will accept all the parts of me. The term “inners” feels too inward bound and isolated for my comfort.

Parts doesn’t feel right to me either. While it is good to acknowledge they are all parts of me, making a whole, I feel it fails to respect them each as individuals. While I acknowledge I have multiple parts, I still prefer these parts to be called personalities.

Personalities is a term that begins first and foremost with “person.” It acknowledges and respects their individuality. When I look at the dictionary definitions of “personality,” I am further convinced that those definitions best represent the way each of my parts relates to myself and the world around me.

There are visible differences between my parts, most notably in the way my facial expressions change. Some very close friends have been able to pick up from a mere glance when I have switched into a different personality and each one is so unique that people speak differently to those parts; the children are spoken to with calm and simple language, while the adults can have a more intellectual debate, and so on.

There are some qualities that are consistent throughout all my personalities; a generally kind and caring approach, and honesty, for example. However, each part embodies a slightly different collection of qualities, with some personalities being very blunt and direct in their approach, some being quite shy and timid, some are very outgoing and some are very innocent and naïve. Each part has its own collection of qualities, which is one of the definitions of personality.

This is further related within psychology, where a personality is the organized pattern of behavioral characteristics of the individual; in some respects, each part is a part of my pattern and therefore a part of my personality — I can see why people don’t like to refer to them as personalities in themselves. However, despite some common characteristics, each of my parts has differences in their patterns of behavioral characteristics. Each part will respond differently to the same situation and there is no guarantee of switching to one specific part each time so sometimes different parts deal with similar situations. This means there is less of a pattern to my behavioral characteristics — inconsistencies in my behavior — but recognizable patterns which are individual to each of my parts.

If other people don’t want to refer to their parts as personalities, then I completely respect their choice. However, I would also ask that other people respect my choice to call each of my parts personalities; we, in my system, all agree it’s what feels most comfortable to us.

Photo by Raechel Romero on Unsplash