10 Types of 'Alters' in Dissociative Identity Disorder
In this article, we will be going over the basic roles of every type of alter in dissociative identity disorder (DID). I (Louane) decided to do this because when I state what my role is people are oftentimes confused. An alter’s role can be very important because it can be a huge part of why they are there. As well as explaining, I will also give examples that relate to the host’s alters.
1. Animal Alters
Children often develop animal alters due to either being treated as an animal would be or they consider animals to be friends. This can also happen because the host was compared to an animal during the traumatic events they experienced. They should be treated like any other alter and can eventually adapt to having the human body.
2. Infant Alters
These alters are not able to talk. They can stay the same age and even grow up at times. Their memories consist mostly of emotions and bodily sensations.
3. Child/Little Alters
These alters are very common in many DID systems. There can be many littles or children within a single system. Unlike biological children, they can usually understand very complex concepts. They commonly speak and act like children. They can be a version of the host as a child, the child that was wanted, or just a trauma-free version of the host. In our system, we have Ajei. She is Native American and the host when they were with their grandmother. The reason for us to have her is to remember times from childhood when there was not abuse.
4. Dead Alters
This usually refers to alters who hide away from the rest of the system. They usually feel like one of the memories are where they died. We have Nikki who is a dead, she presents as a ghost alter. She died during a very traumatic abuse episode in the host’s life. A child who has a near-death experience may develop a “dead alter” to contain the experience.
5. Demonic Alters
Demonic alters are not actual supernatural beings, they just are in the mind. The person with these kind of alters are not possessed. That is a very important distinction because improper treatment can be very lethal to a person with this condition. They come about by the host blaming the abuse on a supernatural being or the abuser using it as a reason to hurt the child. These types of alters are usually the form of the child who was tricked into believing they are evil. These alters usually try to keep the victim loyal to their abusers, blaming instead the victim. That is not always the case and sometimes they can be helped with therapy.
These are alters based on fictional characters.These are any alters that are based off of works of fiction that somebody in the system really enjoys. In our system, we have both Poison Ivy and JD (from “Heathers”). These alters either adapt into the fictional character or become the character to help serve a purpose in the system.
These alters are ones who hold a specific emotion or memory. They usually do not hold too great of an effect on the system. Most fragments only hold part of an event. If a system has many fragments than it is likely that if all those fragments were to integrate, they would reveal the entire event.
8. Gatekeeper Alter
These alters help prevent traumatized alters from fronting. This can be important because there is a chance that the trauma holders may want to harm the body. We have two gatekeepers. One is to prevent the little alters from coming out at a serious or important environment. The other is to keep the trauma from not fronting but harming, when they do front.
These alters are ones that often act in harmful ways, but have protective intentions. They usually have distorted views of reality. Sometimes, they can come out to keep the hosts from disclosing an abuser or punish a child alter for telling somebody about the abuse. They are often described as “misguided protectors” because they want to keep the host from reliving what they have gone through.
Oftentimes they are the first alters to appear. Their job is to protect the host from any trauma that they can. Oftentimes, even taking the place so they experience the trauma instead. They try to manage feelings of anger and shame. Out of the types of alters, They focus the most on defense. It is common for them to also have self-destructive behaviors, including eating disorders. They can also be very aggressive verbally at times. Protectors often view themselves as people of strength.
The most important thing to understand about any alters is that they manifest a certain way for a reason. A person’s brain created a person that they needed to help the body and person. All alters are a part of somebody and unless they are extremely harming the body, or the host says they want them to integrate, the focus would be best to be thriving together. It can be very hard to understand an alter. We use a journal to communicate what needs done in a day, what has happened and what we are feeling. Though this style of communication is not for everyone, sometimes talking together to a therapist can help some people with DID.
Getty Images photo via ANNA ISMAGILOVA