Acting Childish – What is Age Regression?

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CW: This article references adult topics, including kink. Reader discretion is advised.

I received a notification from Tik Tok that my video had been taken down. It was my video on little alters.

I did a series showcasing different types of alters, and for each video, I dressed and acted like the type of alter in the video while providing helpful information.

So in the little video, I held stuffed animals, had a pacifier, and acted childishly. It got taken down for “adult nudity and sexual content.”

I was able to appeal and get the video restored, but I was not surprised at this reaction. When people see adults acting like children, they automatically think it’s related to pedophilia.

My entire life, I have been complimented for seeming mature and grown-up. Now that I’m an adult, I’m bombarded with the need to experience childhood. I needed a safe space to be cared for as a child.

Age regression is a complex topic that we don’t know a lot about. Science has almost no research on voluntary age regression, and the little that’s been explored has been on involuntary or hypnotic regression.

Social media has shed light on age regression, showing a community of people coping similarly.

What is age regression?

Age regression is the voluntary or involuntary experience of reverting to a childlike state (little space); mentally, emotionally, and somatically. It is not a sexual experience but a coping mechanism for dealing with stress, particularly if the person has experienced childhood trauma.

Age regression is exhibited in many mental conditions, including anxiety, BPD, PTSD, DID, OSDD, autism, and more.

Involuntary age regression is often the result of trauma and may be a cognitive/primary sensory flashback. This may look like going temporarily mute, suddenly having a reduced vocabulary or higher pitch, being flooded with childhood memories or emotions, craving that a loved one “makes it better”, or any other behavior that is regressive to your usual state of being. This is done without a conscious effort or control over the reaction.

Conversely, voluntary age regression is an intentional state of regression that is a coping mechanism to de-stress and regulate.

In many ways, age regression is a form of self-hypnosis, where you enter a trance-like state to achieve mental relief.

There is a hypnotic therapy technique that involves a therapist initiating age regression but has been critiqued for its tie to false memory recovery. Voluntary age regression is different as it is not for memory recovery or necessarily done with a therapist.

Since there is not enough literature to conclude whether voluntary age regression is healthy, the subject remains controversial among therapists. Some worry that it is a state of avoidance to distract from difficult processing, whereas others believe it’s a healthy coping mechanism that allows the individual to return to homeostasis.

I agree with this second school of thought, where as long as it’s being practiced safely, I think there are health benefits.

Age phenomena

Age regression is a small piece of much broader “age phenomena.”

The one that age regression is most commonly compared to is age play. Age play is a sexual kink dynamic where two consenting adults usually pretend to be a child and caregiver. However, age play can be any age, and some will play out other dynamics involving being older than they are, etc.

Age play has a negative stigma because many view it as tied to pedophilia. Age play does not involve minors and is usually done for the power dynamic and level of care the “caregiver” provides the “little.”

This can be confusing compared to age regression because many littles in this dynamic describe “little space” as an age regressor would, where they are cognitively similar to the age they are roleplaying. The most significant difference is that age play is for sexual intent, whereas age regression is strictly not.

Another commonly confused term is “little alters.” Little alters are alters in a DID/OSDD system that is cognitively like children and often stuck in time. Littles do not regress, they are generally permanently that age. Regressors, however, revert back to the adult age they are when the session is over.

The last confusing term is age sliders. Age sliders are also unique to DID/OSDD systems, and they describe alters that are not a set age but switch ages depending on the circumstances. They may regress, but they stay that age cognitively until they decide to slide back. Some can also slide to be older than they are, so it flows in both directions.

While many of these terms are used interchangeably like “littles”, “little space”, “caregiver” and “regress”, context is important for determining the type of age phenomenon being discussed. Depending on whether discussing systems or non-systems, sexual or non-sexual, you can determine whether what is happening is age regression or something else.

Benefits of age regression

Age regression can be very beneficial for establishing a good relationship with a caregiver, engaging the parasympathetic nervous system to calm down, return to a state of homeostasis, and heal the neglected needs of your inner child. It can help process difficult emotions or as a form of temporary escape.

It can also be powerful in engaging play, which improves brain functioning, connection, and well-being. Especially when someone has experienced childhood trauma, play can become a foreign experience, and returning to a childlike state can help facilitate this.

How to safely age regress

I’ve mentioned safety several times in this article. What does age regressing in a safe way entail?

The most significant safety consideration is regressing alone vs. regressing with a partner (referred to as a caregiver in the age regression community). Regressing alone gives you more freedom to do whatever you need in the space and prevents harmful dynamics from forming. However, you lose out on the connection to a caregiver, and it can be harder to exit if you’re unfamiliar with your own triggers.

Regressing with a partner gives you the experience of being taken care of and can be a powerful bonding experience. Many adults are uncomfortable taking on this role, which may force someone to look online or in other public spaces for a caregiver. This is where safety really comes into question.

While most age-regression spaces forbid sexual content, many predators lurk on the forums looking for vulnerable individuals under the guise of non-sexual regression. That’s why it’s crucial to vet the person you want to regress with. I would highly discourage minors from looking for caregivers. For this reason, it’s much safer to regress by yourself. Never bring a non-family adult into your regression if you’re under 18.

Another safety concern is that you should not be in little space when interacting with children, as this violates the boundaries between adult/child relationships. Even if you may feel cognitively similar in the moment to the child, you have the brain and body of an adult. Little space should be achieved in your own time, in a designated environment.

As for regressing by yourself, a big part is letting go of feeling like you’re doing something wrong. Our society looks down on children, so people are critical when an adult desires to act childlike.

One of the most helpful ways of regressing is using kids’ toys and materials to help enter little space.

I set up my closet with a soft rug and rainbow lights. I replaced the door with a shower curtain and a comfy chair to give me the space to regress.

Some of the products that I would recommend:

Entering and Exiting Little Space

Something to watch for when trying little space is what takes you in and out of it. You should choose activities and items that will help you regress in a controlled manner and take you to a comfortable level. There’s no hard and fast rule on how to get there. You’ll just have to observe your own state as you regress. I’d recommend starting with items or activities you enjoyed doing as a child.

The other important part of regression is to have triggers to pull you out. That way, if there’s an emergency or an interaction you have to be an adult in, you can quickly come out of the headspace. After all, if you think of this as hypnosis, it would be very irresponsible of a hypnotist to leave you hypnotized without pulling you back out.

Some exit triggers could be entering a new room, engaging in a more complex task, having a ritual for putting away your little space stuff, setting a timer that signals the end of regression time, counting up from 10, or having a cool-down activity like playing with play-dough to re-gain your mental capacity if you have time.


Age regression can be an amazing tool for healing a wounded inner child and regulating the emotional demands of adult life. Understanding that age regression is a healthy, non-sexual coping mechanism can help fight the stigma against it.

DID Integration – Accepting My System’s Cohesion

My life was in pieces when I started therapy with my incredible therapist three years ago. I had a suicide attempt only two weeks prior. I was housing insecure, I had been unemployed for months following one of the worst psychological breakdowns I’d ever had, and I was still experiencing uncontrollable amnesic switching.

My therapist furiously took down everything that first session, letting me fill her in on my extensive trauma history. One of the initial green flags was that she stayed until I was done, which was thirty minutes past the session. She cared about me more than the “therapy hour” (45 min session) that all the previous therapists I had lived by.

It’s bittersweet writing this because I’m now in a place where I am stable, have achieved more than I ever thought I would, and have to say goodbye to someone that helped me change my life.

One of the things that amazed me about this therapist is that she had worked with clients with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) in the past. She knew exactly how to treat my symptoms and work with all of my alters.

It’s satisfying walking away from this relationship knowing that she helped me achieve integration, all while I was completely unaware it had happened.

What is integration?

Integration is often confused with many other terms by both clinicians and people with the condition.

The ISST-D cites Kluft (1993) for the definition of integration.

[Integration is the] ongoing process of undoing all aspects of dissociative dividedness that begins long before there is any reduction in the number or distinctness of the identities, persists through their fusion, and continues at a deeper level even after the identities have blended into one.

Kluft (1993)

Put simply, integration is alters working towards cohesiveness without dissociative or amnesic barriers.

Since integration is a process, there isn’t a distinct endpoint. Each person can decide where they are in that.

A term this is most commonly confused with is fusion. Fusion is when two or more alters fuse together to become a new identity made up of those identities. In many communities, the concept of fusion is compared to gem fusion in Steven Universe. I like this analogy best, but some systems feel that the SU analogy sensationalizes fusion.

The final form of this is called “final fusion.” This is when all alters fuse to become a singular identity. Final fusions aren’t recovery from DID as someone can un-fuse or split new alters during stress or trauma. All fusions have the potential to un-fuse later, but many don’t.

There aren’t any specific therapies to fuse. There hasn’t been any formalized process either. Most systems that experience fusion describe it as happening randomly and without control. It can be a scary experience and come with a sense of grief from losing distinct parts.

We haven’t had any fusions in our system. We all have bets on who’s most likely to fuse, though. 😉

Since fusion is a scary and unstable process, when it’s conflated with integration, it can give integration a bad reputation. Integration is one of the best-known treatments for DID and doesn’t necessarily involve any loss of identities.

Therapists work on reducing amnesic and dissociative symptoms and help the system work united. This typically involves identifying alters and their needs, coming up with solutions to meet those needs, building communication between alters, and confronting trauma in a safe environment as it organically comes up.

Many systems say they are against integration and for functional multiplicity. What is functional multiplicity?

It’s integration. Or at least integration without fusion. Functional multiplicity is alters working together with limited or absent amnesic or dissociative symptoms. It’s seen as affirming since the focus is not on trying to make alters an inseparable identity but instead to have all remain distinct and allied.

So much of the hate towards integration comes from a misunderstanding in literature and community language.

Why do we call our system integrated?

Why call our system integrated if integration is a process without an endpoint?

For us, saying we’re an “integrated system” is another way of saying we’ve achieved functional multiplicity. I like integrated over functional multiplicity because it better describes how our system acts as a whole. Our switches are so seamless now that while we are still separate, we function as if we weren’t most of the time.

Every system can choose to define their system the way that they want. We have no problem with someone using functional multiplicity to describe themselves.

It took a while to accept that we are integrated. It wasn’t a big event. There was no finite moment where we knew. It was a gradual process over years of therapy and working together.

When reflecting on our current levels of amnesia and dissociation, it became clear that it doesn’t happen often. We don’t experience amnesic switching anymore. Our dissociation is minimal and typically related to autism. We have some memories that aren’t accessible to the host but aren’t causing distress and will be recalled in their own time.

We are still on the path of integration. Memories will continue to arise, and we will definitely have lapses throughout our life. We hope to eventually achieve fusion. But we also have made incredible progress and can remain integrated through periods of high stress and instability.

Being integrated is so rewarding and allows all of us to live the lives we want while being ready for anything. We can use our alters’ strengths to face any challenge without losing time or being at odds.

If you believe you can’t achieve integration or functional multiplicity, we didn’t think we could either. Check out our system resources for help accomplishing this process.

The Abuser Within – Persecutor Alters in Dissociative Identity Disorder

CW: Suicide attempt

During my freshman year of college, I sat in my biology course, taking a final. Somewhere in the back of my mind, something clicked into place. I knew enough about my triggers to know I was suicidal, but I didn’t want to die.

As if my body weren’t my own, I floated home. I knew today was the day. I made my preparations and woke up four days later after being put in a medically induced coma.

I felt light and told everyone that I felt so much better. I wasn’t lying. The me that was inhabiting my body didn’t want to die.

So, how did I go from depressed but wanting to live to making an attempt on my life on the same day?

At that time, I didn’t know I had someone inside me that learned that death was a coping mechanism.

So, when I first learned about my system, this conflict arose. This person was willing to risk our lives and well-being. They would control from behind the scenes and take over the body. And during that initial high amnesia time, I would often wake to a horror scene of terrible coping mechanisms.

I hated them. I wanted them gone from the system, locked away forever. And most of the system agreed. We turned against this alter, telling them we didn’t want them in the system. This increased amnesia and this power struggle. They fronted (took over the body) more often, and I lost more time, waking to destructive actions.

Then I saw this video. This alter was a persecutor.

What are persecutors?

Persecutor alters typically hold trauma and cope in destructive ways, often jeopardizing the system’s safety.

Persecutors often engage in anti-social behaviors. They may burn bridges with relationships, engage in self-harm or suicide, berate the system, use drugs, alcohol, sex, or other addictive behaviors, lash out at inappropriate times, or do unsafe things and put the body at risk of harm.

They can be a direct reflection of real abusers in the system’s life (introjects), children with a lot of trauma, fictive villains, non-humans, or other less savory self-parts.

Persecutors sound like the worst, don’t they? That’s often how (particularly new) systems view their persecutors.

When an abuser is outside the body, the system is well equipped to handle them by any means necessary. When that abuser is inside the body, it becomes a sort of auto-immune response. The system will often self-destruct in an attempt to rid it of this perceived pathogen.

In reality, persecutors are nothing more than protectors with harmful coping mechanisms.

Breaking down the wall

Once I understood that my persecutor was just an injured part of me, it was easier to know how to help them.

I sat with myself and meditated as part of self-therapy, holding space for them to come forward.

Marion (Host/”Me”): I know you’re hurting.

Zed (Persecutor): You don’t know sh*t.

Marion: You have a lot of pain from everything they did to you. All the pain you’ve gone through.

Zed: Oh yeah? And how would you know that? All you’ve done is said how awful I am and how I’m ruining your life.

Marion: I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.

Zed: …

Marion: That trauma you went through, I can feel it. I know how hard that was for you. I’ve experienced trauma too.

Zed: You don’t understand me. Stop trying to pretend you do.

Marion: Do you want proof I’ve suffered? Do you want to see how I know?

Zed: I don’t believe you understand me.

Marion: (Describes my trauma in detail)

Zed: I’m… sorry.

Marion: Yeah, I understand what it’s like to hurt as badly as you do. It’s horrible, isn’t it?

Zed (crying): yes, yes it is.

Marion (crying): It’s so tiring, trying to act like everything is normal when your pain is hanging over you every minute. Come here.

Zed: (hugs)

Marion: That’s why I’m here. That’s why we’re all here. We are here to keep you safe. And we are safe. This is all that’s happened and why we’re safe.

Zed (nods): okay…

Marion: What if we find something that could help you process the hurt you’ve been through? I remember you like sewing and crafts?

Zed: Mmhm.

Marion: Okay, we’ll go to the store, and you can pick out ANYTHING you want to work on. And I’ll give you some time to front so you can work on it.

Zed (crying): thank you.

This wasn’t the only conversation we had. We talked over months, and I got to know that part of myself. They were a trauma holder that was only a child. They were trying their best to cope with the overwhelming emotions they experienced and were trying to keep us safe. They were also dealing with mental health issues that the rest of the system didn’t experience.

They didn’t need more people labeling them as dangerous and bad. They needed genuine connections to people that loved them. We stopped calling them a persecutor after that conversation. Persecutor painted them as an enemy against the system when they were really a protector and trauma holder.

But what our persecutor has done is REALLY bad

All things considered, my system was lucky that our persecutor was a child. Zed still had access to adult coping mechanisms and did many things I won’t discuss here, but they mostly did damage internally. They very rarely took out their trauma on other people.

Other systems may have persecutors that act in much more destructive ways. If they’re an introject, they could be very triggering, reminding you constantly of abuse you’ve endured. They may have caused you to lose jobs, material support, or even be involved with the court system.

System accountability is essential. All members are accountable for what one has done. And that may require owning up to difficult actions that don’t feel like you did.

A part of you did. And you should accept that as if you had done it. Take whatever steps you have to to be accountable in whatever your situation is, especially if external people were harmed.

Beyond that, recognize that this persecutor is part of you. They are you. There is no distancing or cutting them off, and any attempt to do so will likely backfire.

Recognize why they’re acting the way they are. What trauma did they endure to react this way? How old are they? What do they think the consequences of their actions are? Do they realize how it impacts others in your system, or do they only consider themselves?

Dealing with persecutors as a system

While I don’t know your situation and what is necessary for you, there are some universal principles in dealing with persecutors.

  • Reframe your way of thinking about them. They’re not persecutors, they have a role in the system. They exist for a reason. Do they hold a trauma you couldn’t function if you lived with? Have they learned harming you or others is a way to stay safe?
  • Hold a meeting through whatever communication you can. Send whatever alter they are most likely to get along with. Find out what they need and who they are.
  • If you can’t communicate, examine their behaviors. What coping mechanisms have they been using? What is this communicating?
  • Remember, they’re part of you. Resisting them only hurts the system. Work with them and accept them as they are.
  • Set boundaries. Accepting them doesn’t mean letting them do things that harm the body. If a gatekeeper or other alter needs to step in or a rule needs to be set, do it.
  • Give them a safe space. That could be a hobby, a change in scenery, or personal items. Once they trust you, they will be open to other coping mechanisms.
  • Swallow your pride. It’s really easy to dismiss them as the worst, out to get you, and the problem. Be open to the fact there’s likely more to them that you haven’t seen.

Dealing with the system as a persecutor

  • Have patience. They often have a hard time understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing to keep yourself (and them) safe.
  • Be open to their attempts to communicate. You don’t have to agree with them, just hear them out. And if they disrespect you, you can tell them to f*ck off.
  • Consider your body as shared. While you do have the right to make decisions for yourself, others may be negatively impacted if you don’t consider them. Just like they shouldn’t have the right to alter the body without consulting you, don’t do the same.
  • Know that most of them hold trauma too. They may be acting out of their own trauma responses.
  • Let them know what you want directly. What is it that you’re trying to get? What do you need? How will you get it?
  • Pick an art form. It could be painting, music, writing, knitting, theatre, designing shoes, dancing, etc.
  • Connect with others. Is there a group that would understand you better than your system does? If the system has a therapist, could you be honest about how you feel about the system?

“There is a way out of the suffering. It’s a hard route that requires both the system and the persecutor(s) to face aspects of themselves they may not like and trauma that hurts beyond recognition.

But the other side is so much better. It’s worth the work. And it’s like breathing for the first time in your life. It doesn’t mean it never hurts, but it no longer becomes unbearable because you have the support of a whole system to carry that pain.

I’m sorry you went through what you did. We deserved better.” – Zed (“reformed” persecutor)

Catatonia – More Than Just Freezing

My heart races as I freeze, my whole body flexed in an uncomfortable position. I cannot move or speak, and I am stuck staring ahead. This feels like sleep paralysis, but I’m awake?

It feels like I should be able to move. I command my legs and arms to move, but nothing happens. My brain is trying desperately to maintain this illusion of control.

Like sleep paralysis, I have the urge to scream, but nothing comes out. The more I fight, the worse I’m pulled into this sense of helplessness. It’s a waking nightmare.

I’m experiencing catatonia.

Over time, catatonia becomes another mental health symptom I greet with resigned familiarity.

At least 1 in 10 people with severe mental illness will experience catatonia at some point.

Despite this, information on catatonia is not widely available. I didn’t learn the name for my catatonia from any doctor or therapist. I had to actively search to find a name for what I was experiencing.

Who Experiences Catatonia?

Catatonia is a prominent feature in schizophrenia (up to 35% of people with schizophrenia). It is classified under psychotic disorders but “can occur in the context of several disorders, including neurodevelopmental, psychotic, bipolar, depressive disorders, and other medical conditions” (DSM-V, 2013).

Nearly one-third of people with bipolar have it, roughly 3-12% of autistic people have it (across multiple studies), one small sample found 87% of people with Tourette’s met the criteria, and in one sample of inpatients with catatonia, 57% had experienced childhood trauma (ACEs). Psycho-physiological symptoms, BPD, dissociative amnesia, and paranormal experiences may also be correlated with catatonia.

What is Catatonia?

While they are under the same definition in the DSM-V, catatonia is often split into two categories. There are two main types of catatonia, akinetic and excited.

Akinetic is the most common. It is characterized by at least three of the following symptoms:

  • immobility
  • mutism
  • withdrawal
  • refusal to eat
  • staring
  • echolalia
  • echopraxia
  • atypical inflexible postures (posturing)
  • resistance to movement
  • repetitive movements
  • declining requests or not responding for no apparent reason (negativism)
  • grimacing

Excited type may be characterized by any of the symptoms in akinetic type but is also characterized by agitated psychomotor behaviors, which may express as meaningless movements or vocalizations and may result in self-injury or aggression.

Considering the prevalence of catatonia in autism, there are significant implications with excited catatonia type. Self-harm and aggression may be expressions of catatonia in autistic people, which further raises ethical concerns for behavioral interventions if catatonia is not considered as a differential diagnosis.

In extreme cases, there may be malignant catatonia which can be lethal. This is generally descriptive of drastic physiological changes (like blood pressure and hyperthermia) in catatonic episodes or other complications like malnutrition from a prolonged inability to eat.

Catatonia exists on a continuum of severity ranging from minutes to weeks. Historically catatonia was only diagnosed if it was extreme, but now it is considered commonly associated with many mental and medical diagnoses.

Treatment for Catatonia

Treatment for catatonia typically uses electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) or benzodiazepines. In addition to these treatments, psychological therapy also seems to help some people with catatonia. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a potential treatment for catatonia, though the evidence is preliminary.

For less severe forms of catatonia, formal treatment may not be needed. Catatonia is not an extreme enough symptom for me to need treatment for it. Things that have helped me personally are grounding exercises and anxiety coping mechanisms, as anxiety from catatonia can often aggravate it.

If you experience catatonia, you are not alone. Since the condition is not well known and carries some stigma, it can feel very isolating. But it’s far more common than people realize.

Please let me know your experience with catatonia in the comments or reach out to me through the contact form.

I Think I have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), Now What?

This post contains affiliate marketing links.

Check out Pt 1: How Do I Know if I Have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)?

When I was diagnosed with DID, I couldn’t believe it. It felt like I must be faking it. I was obviously just exaggerating symptoms and lying to the clinician, right?

Even though logically, I knew the recognition was coming from a genuine place of seeing me switch in therapy, experiencing amnesia, and even starting to put names to my alters, it felt unreal.

Self-doubt seems to be one of the universally experienced symptoms post-recognition of DID or OSDD-1b.

Add any doubt you receive after revealing your recognition to other people or seeing people online who present the way you do being called fake. It can be unbearable at times.

I still sometimes feel that creeping self-doubt after seeing comments discussing how a creator is “obviously faking” for symptoms that I also experience. That’s the danger of fake-claiming.

If your system has a host, this can be especially difficult. To a host, the world feels like a singular experience. Sure, you sometimes feel “influenced” in particular directions, but that’s just how most people think, right? Don’t people experience conversations in their head with people that don’t exist in the outside world?

(Note: Before you self-diagnose, please understand the importance of differential diagnoses and DID)

One of my favorite metaphors for being a system vs. not having distinct parts is to think of your thoughts like a tree. For non-systems, thoughts are like roots stretching from the ground to make a singular tree. There may be many different roots, but they’re all part of the same tree. For systems, thoughts are like the same root system that makes up multiple trees. Each is its own distinct tree with unique thoughts, still tied to the same root system but do not form just one tree.

That is to say, non-systems don’t have conversations in their head with people that aren’t in the external world. They aren’t “influenced” by other voices in their head. They have one singular voice. It’s the same voice regardless of where they are.

So, while the hosts in our system were desperately trying to cling to this idea that they were the only people there, a gatekeeper, Penn, decided to try to prove that we were a system.

He binged research pointing to case studies that fit our description to a frightening degree. He categorized photographs by alter to show the physical differences in our presentation. He examined evidence on different dissociative disorders and tried to log dissociative amnesia. It’s hard to know what you don’t remember.

I was consumed with trying to “prove” to myself that I didn’t have it. It was professionally confirmed, and I still felt there was no way. No matter how much evidence was presented, it felt like I was just looking for signs to trick others.

And then, one night, an event happened that made me never seriously question being a system again. I accessed memories.

I wish I could say that I magically recovered a significant portion of my past when I started working with my system instead of against it. But it was an external event that triggered a dissociative episode so bad I could see myself outside of my body.

And then I was flooded with memories of traumatic events like a psychological dam had suddenly been broken. I wrote and wrote everything that was coming to mind so that I didn’t lose it. At that moment, I finally felt like I couldn’t be faking it. How do you fake suddenly remembering years of your life?

Forcing Myself to Remember

Whether you’re a newly recognized system or questioning, some common experiences come up.

When you have dissociative amnesia, you can’t control when you remember your past. It’s so tempting to go digging for it, to try to intentionally trigger yourself to find out your own history. I’ve done it, and I’ve heard many others do it.

It feels like this, desperately trying to connect the events in your life:

Don’t do it.

I know, easier said than done. There’s a kind of distress that people without dissociative amnesia won’t understand. It feels like information that’s on the tip of your tongue, something you should know, but you just draw a blank. Only the information you’re blanking on is severe, stomach-wrenching trauma.

It’s further reinforced by trying to remember to “prove” you’re not a system.

“If I can just force myself to remember, then it’s not dissociative amnesia. I have a right to know my history!”

I can assure you, if you don’t remember it easily, forcing yourself to remember isn’t going to work. It’s like trying to force yourself to not be sad. Chances are you’ll only make yourself more miserable.

Siding with Abusers by Gaslighting Myself

CW: The following section contains descriptions of child abuse.

Something that seems true in almost all trauma victims is that they feel at some point that their trauma wasn’t bad enough to be “real trauma.” This goes for DID as well. Many times I’ve seen new systems say, “but my trauma wasn’t bad enough to create DID!”

When you hear stories of other people that experienced trauma, it’s easy to feel that self-doubt. It’s not like I experienced that. Mine was mild.

Comparison is an act of violence against the self.

Iyanla Vanzant

Who does that voice sound like? Does it extend the same compassion you’d give a friend?

When you’ve experienced complex trauma, you internalize the voices of your abuser(s).

Every child develops a mental representation of their caregiver to self-soothe as they grow older. When your caregiver is also an abuser, you internalize a mental model of an abuser that is central to your understanding of yourself.

You may have heard your abusers say things like, “you’re being dramatic,” “it wasn’t that bad,” “you’re remembering that wrong,” and “I did what was good for you.” How else would they be able to get away with abusing others?

Your internalized abuser says those things too. They tell you that you do not remember things accurately or the trauma wasn’t that bad.

You’re not your abuser. Don’t gaslight yourself and give them that power.

Your trauma was bad enough. It was real. And your experience is not comparable to others because it’s what you experienced.

It Doesn’t Matter if You’re Faking

Chances are, this article won’t permanently change your mind on whether you’re faking being a system. You’ll likely go through the ups and downs of believing you are and aren’t.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re faking.

Wait, but what if I’m taking resources away from ‘real systems’? What if I’m spreading false information by saying I’m a system?

If the label fits and it helps you, use it. You’re not taking away resources by using resources that help you. It’s not selfish to use what works.

Both non-systems and pro-dxd systems can spread misinformation. Spreading accurate information is not a prerequisite to being a “valid system.” If you’re making it clear you are only speaking for your experience, it doesn’t matter if you change your mind later. You’re being honest about what fits and helps you now.

You’re not saying you’re a system to gain anything. You’re looking for answers that fit your situation. It doesn’t matter if “you’re faking.”

And if you’re seeking a professional diagnosis, it’s been demonstrated multiple times that people who intentionally fake DID (actors) can be easily distinguished by professionals from those that experience real symptoms.

Now What?

It can be incredibly lonely and confusing when you first realize you’re a system. That’s why it’s important to find others that share your experiences.

Logging Tools:

Here are some of the groups I recommend joining:

Here are some resources to get you started:

Learning you’re a system is a very overwhelming and exciting process. You are not alone in this process, and there are resources you can use to learn more about yourself. Please reach out through the contact form if you have any questions.

Congrats on getting a little closer to understanding yourself, and good luck on the path of self-discovery ahead!

How Do I Know if I Have Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)?

Disclaimer: I am not a licensed professional. I cannot diagnose you, and my advice should be taken with a grain of salt. I know what it’s like to be a system, but I don’t know your unique experience and if another diagnosis might fit your experience better.

“I love my job,” I told my therapist, detailing how the social interactions were challenging and invigorating.

In the next session, I walked in and proclaimed, “I hate my job!” and detailed all of the horrible interactions I had to deal with every day.

My therapist smirked and took down detailed notes to confront me with later. Alex would front (take over the body) in the mornings for our sessions, and he loved the job, and I would front in the afternoons and absolutely despised it.

Anytime I’d go out to eat, it felt like I had many different voices talking over each other about what I wanted. Choosing was nearly impossible, and no matter what, it felt like I wasn’t fulfilling my needs.

Sometimes I loved writing with a passion. Other times I couldn’t stand it.

My “style” consisted of various clothing styles across different genres. I had low-cut sparkly tops, cargo shorts, flowy robes, polos, and ripped jeans all in the same drawer.

If you asked me what music I listen to, I’d have to say “a little of everything.” And I didn’t mean that I mainly stuck to a few genres but was open to others. It meant I had playlists full of classical, punk rock, rap, country, EDM, folk, etc.

My gender expression and sexuality fluctuated wildly, but I never felt “genderfluid.” I felt like a man, woman, or trans at any time, but I didn’t feel like I was fluid between them.

I had male and female pseudonyms that I would use online in different interest groups. I wrote papers under pseudonyms not because I wanted to remain anonymous but because I “liked how it sounded.”

When I was upset, I acted like a child, my voice getting higher, my cognitive functioning through a fog, and only finding comfort in items “made for children.”

It’s easy to look back now and see how being a system affected how I interacted with the world. When I found out I was a system, there was a click. I finally had an explanation for my unstable, shifting sense of self (which had been misdiagnosed as BPD). I understood my “zoning out,” my dissociative hallucinations, rapidly changing emotions, and being told I was “like a different person” sometimes, and why I felt the need to have so many names.

Wading Through the Sh*t

I have Dissociative Identity Disorder. And if you’re here, you think you might have it too.

It can be scary suspecting you have the diagnosis. There are so many different sources pulling you in all directions.

When I looked up “Do I Have DID?” going through this process, there was quiz after pseud0-scientific quiz asking for your credit card information. There were articles pathologizing and referencing systems as if we were rare monsters causing chaos everywhere we go.

YouTube videos sensationalized and demonized the disorder, saying, “come one come all! See the DID System perform the fantastical switch to become a whole new person!” References to Split and other problematic media are littered with connections to real systems.

All the scientific articles were arguing about the existence of DID, with little on what it actually looks like. And if you want to find research from the last 10 years, you’re pretty much out of luck.

Tik Tok, Reddit, and other social media users have loudly degraded anyone public about being a system. When there’s so much wrong information and incentive not to figure out you’re a system, how are you supposed to work through your own experience?

Finding out you’re a system is not just about wading through pools of bullsh*t to find good information. It’s also about deconstructing what you’ve known your whole life of what it means to be a person.

A Breakdown of the DSM Criteria

Let’s first examine the DSM-V criteria for DID. Since I am American, this is the criteria I am most familiar with but the ICD criteria is similar. Try to read this non-judgmentally. You are trying to find a label for your experience, not fit your experience to a label. I’ve paraphrased the criteria below to help with readability.

Dissociative Identity Disorder Diagnostic Criteria (F44.81)

  1. Two or more distinct personality states with their own sense of self and change in consciousness, memory, perception, cognition, and/or sensory-motor functioning. Discontinuous sense of self and agency. It may be described as a possession. It can be noticed by the individual or other people.
  2. There are gaps in remembering everyday events, important personal information, and/or traumatic events beyond normal forgetting.
  3. Clinically significant distress or impairment in functioning.
  4. Not attributable to cultural/religious practice or physiological effects of a substance or medical condition. In children, it can’t be better explained by imaginary play.

(American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Dissociative Disorders. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). doi: 10.1176/appi.books.9780890425787.x08_Dissociative_Disorders.)

It’s one thing to look at the criteria, but it’s another to understand it. One of the difficulties of any diagnosis (but especially uncommon diagnoses) is that it’s hard to know what the symptoms look like in application.

Criteria 1 Examples: Two or more personality states

  • Your brain functions like a conversation of multiple people talking or thinking at once
  • You hear voices that aren’t yours
  • You regress significantly and feel powerless
  • You regularly feel like you’re a different person altogether, or others have mentioned you’re a different person
  • You’ve had an experience of possession
  • Your preferences shift dramatically, you may have opposite food, gender, etc. preferences, and this happens regularly
  • You have body or gender dysphoria
  • Others comment that you sometimes talk or act differently, or you’ve noticed this change. This could be significant changes in vocal tone, vocabulary, posture, situation assessment, facial expressions, etc.
  • You feel non-human at times or like you’re the wrong age
  • When someone mentions you did something, you don’t feel like “you” did it
  • You can identify distinctly different “versions of you”

Criteria 2 Examples: Gaps in Memory Recall

  • You cannot remember a period in time beyond what would be considered normal forgetting (e.g., you can’t remember anything between age 12-13)
  • People mention how forgetful you are, or you notice you feel your memory is unreliable
  • You can recall specific memories very vividly sometimes but can’t remember those same memories at other times
  • You remember details of an event but can’t remember anything emotional, as if you read it out of a newspaper instead of experiencing it
  • You sometimes forget your name, address, phone number, or other vital information
  • You minimize when you do forget something most people wouldn’t forget, blaming it on other factors like being tired
  • You can’t remember a particular location at all that you visited frequently
  • You find yourself “waking up” somewhere, especially when stressed with no recollection of how you got there
  • You sometimes forget significant skills like driving, your job, your ability to write or speak, etc., especially while stressed
  • You recall the same memories very differently at different times, with no explanation for why your viewpoint changed
  • You have to write things down regularly if you want to remember them. You find notes you don’t remember writing

Criteria 3 Examples: Distress or Impairment

  • Your poor memory makes it difficult to work, attend school, parent, or take care of yourself
  • You feel haunted by not knowing parts of your past
  • Being a different version of yourself makes it hard to maintain friendships or has gotten you in trouble at work, school, or in public
  • You struggle to date because there’s a conflict in your head about who you’re dating, or your partner complained that you were “inconsistent”
  • You struggle to remember important deadlines or meetings
  • Losing the memory of how to perform certain skills makes it difficult to take care of yourself or affects other areas of your life
  • You find it overwhelming that you can never make a consistent decision on a direction in your life or a sense of self
  • You spend an inordinate amount of time deciding what to eat, wear, listen to, and it makes making any decision difficult
  • You feel like you have no control over your life
  • You regularly feel helpless
  • You feel like you’re constantly on the verge of a breakdown
  • You struggle to maintain relationships because people have said you’re “unreliable,” “wishy-washy,” or “unstable”
  • You experience any of Criterion 1 or 2 symptoms, and that causes you trouble in some area in your life or a lot of stress

Differential Diagnosis: The Biggest Risk of Self-Diagnosis

This is where Criterion 4 comes in. Self-diagnosis is sometimes necessary, especially when only 55% of clinicians believe the diagnosis is valid. Unfortunately, many clinicians don’t have any experience diagnosing DID, and the psych field has not treated DID systems well. That leaves a lack of information in a situation where a professional diagnosis is needed.

I am not against self-diagnosis because financial and cultural barriers are insurmountable for many minorities and impoverished people. This is an unfortunate reality of our current medical system.

But there are dangers to self-diagnosing DID that need to be addressed. The most significant one is differential diagnosis.

Since DID is so complex, many disorders mimic DID symptoms that may be difficult to spot without a trained eye. If you misdiagnose yourself with DID when you don’t have it, this could have serious consequences.

For example, simple partial seizures are where someone is fully aware but frozen. They may experience hallucinations, deja vu, and headaches. All of these symptoms may mimic a dissociative episode and cause a misdiagnosis.

Absent seizures (the most common type) are similar, where a person freezes and gets a blank look on their face. It is very short and results in a lapse in memory. This can look like dissociative amnesia.

The only way to diagnose seizures is through an EEG which requires a doctor. The last thing you want to do is have epilepsy and misdiagnose yourself as having dissociative identity disorder. The two have very different treatments, and untreated seizures can be fatal.

DID and epilepsy can co-occur as well, so it is worth looking into even if you receive an official DID diagnosis.

A few other differential diagnoses that are important to rule out are BPD, characterized by a discontinuous sense of self and dissociation similar to DID. OSDD is characterized by dissociative amnesia without alters, vice versa, or other specific circumstances (like intense brainwashing or only occurring for a short time). PTSD – which could present as gaps in recall or personality disturbances. Schizophrenia – shares psychotic symptoms with many DID presentations, and negative symptoms could be interpreted as dissociative or personality disturbance.

If you have the means to get a diagnosis, it is important that you seek a professional for DID. If you’re looking for a website to help find someone that can diagnose DID, try this or this.

If you don’t have the means, you are welcome to self-identify but know that there are certain risks of missing a serious medical or other psychiatric condition.

Now What?

After reviewing all the information, if you feel like you are a system, I recommend checking out my next article, I Think I have DID, Now What?. I detail common experiences of newly discovered symptoms and resources you can utilize to further investigate your experience.

A Professional Educator’s Guide to Dissociative Identity Disorder

(Infographic Below)

Finding accurate information on DID as a professional educator can be challenging due to widespread misinformation and under-recognition. Use this guide to help inform your curriculum and your practice.

DID Systems are incredibly vulnerable

Approximately 61%-72% of DID patients attempt suicide, and 34-38% engage in self-harm (Brand, 1997). Samples of people with high levels of trauma have also been related to increased substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and decreased life expectancy (Felitti et al., 1998). This is why educators must be informed about the condition and spread scientifically supported information to future clinicians.

DID patients are waiting >3 years for diagnosis

25% of dissociative disorder patients had >10 years delay to get a diagnosis, and 57% had a > 3-year delay (Leonard et al., 2005). This is striking compared to the 1.3 year average for anxiety and mood disorders (Jorm, 2012).

DID Myths Vs. Facts

Myth

  • Therapists create DID, and acknowledging alters makes symptoms worse.
  • DID is overt, you can easily tell when a person has it.
  • DID is incredibly rare.
  • DID is a dubious condition.
  • Integration is the only proper treatment for DID.

Fact

  • DID is formed from trauma and can only be successfully treated by acknowledging alters (5th ed.; DSM–5; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2013; Brand et al., 2014).
  • DID is primarily covert, which is why the DSM-V criteria was expanded to include self-reported identity states (APA, 2013).
  • DID affects approx. 1.5% of the population, or ~5 million Americans (APA, 2013).
  • DID is well-established in research and can’t be replicated fictitiously (Brand & Chasson, 2015).
  • Integration can be beneficial but not practical or possible in all cases (Ringrose, 2011).

The Iatrogenic/Sociocognitive Model is Harmful and Demonstrably False

Only 55% of clinicians believe DID is a valid diagnosis despite scientific evidence (Leonard et al., 2004). It’s no surprise that there are considerable delays in diagnosis and treatment.

Edit: 40% of clinicians were unable to identify DID from a clinical vignette. This directly correlated with their skepticism of the disorder (Perniciaro, 2014). It’s no surprise that there are considerable delays in diagnosis and treatment.

The false belief of DID as an iatrogenic condition has led to under-diagnosis, rampant misinformation, and lack of research. There are no excuses for clinicians or educators to assert this belief still, considering the extensive literature supporting the trauma model and disproving the socio-cognitive (APA, 2013; Brand et al., 2014; Loewenstein, 2018).

Conclusion

It can be challenging to get accurate information as a professional educator on Dissociative Identity Disorder with the medical and cultural attitudes surrounding DID and the lack of research and education. As a professional educator, you directly influence the way future clinicians will treat patients with the disorder, which is why it’s essential to ensure the information is accurate. DID is a valid, scientifically supported disorder that is more common than many clinicians believe. DID patients are vulnerable and experience significant delays in treatment which actively harms this population. Luckily, as an educator, you can help change the stigma around DID and support it as a traumagenic condition, assisting in shaping the future of DID research and treatment.

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM- 5 (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.books.9780890425596.dsm08

Brand, B. (1997). Establishing Safety with Patients with Dissociative Identity Disorder. Journal of Transnational Management Development, 2(4), 133–155. https://doi.org/10.1300/j130v02n04_07

Brand, B. L., & Chasson, G. S. (2015). Distinguishing simulated from genuine dissociative identity disorder on the MMPI-2. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 7(1), 93–101. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035181

Brand, B. L., Loewenstein, R. J., & Spiegel, D. (2014). Dispelling Myths About Dissociative Identity Disorder Treatment: An Empirically Based Approach. Psychiatry: Interpersonal and Biological Processes, 77(2), 169– 189. https://doi.org/10.1521/psyc.2014.77.2.169

Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., Koss, M. P., & Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245–258. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0749- 3797(98)00017-8

Jorm, A. F. (2012). Mental health literacy: Empowering the community to take action for better mental health. American Psychologist, 67(3), 231–243. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025957

Leonard, D., Brann, S., & Tiller, J. (2005). Dissociative Disorders: Pathways to Diagnosis, Clinician Attitudes and Their Impact. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 39(10), 940–946. https://doi.org/10.1080/j.1440- 1614.2005.01700.x

Loewenstein, R. (2018). Dissociation debates: everything you know is wrong. Controversies in Psychiatry, 20(3), 229– 242. https://doi.org/10.31887/dcns.2018.20.3/rloewenstein

Perniciaro, L. A. (2014). The influence of skepticism and clinical experience on the detection of dissociative identity disorder by mental health clinicians

Ringrose, J. L. (2011). Meeting the needs of clients with dissociative identity disorder: considerations for psychotherapy. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 39(4), 293–305. https://doi.org/10.1080/03069885.2011.564606

14 genders, 1 body: How to Navigate Gender Identity as a DID System Pt. 2

Check out Pt. 1

A man named Alex took over my* body for 6 months. (*This story is from the primary host, Marion’s perspective.)

If you’re not a system, you’re probably confused. How does someone take over a body? Was I possessed?

I have been the main person that has interacted with the world since my DID system was about 11. Most people that know my system think of me when they describe us. I didn’t realize that there was anyone else inside my head.

Following a traumatic event, I disappeared. It wasn’t a conscious choice. I got so overwhelmed and so traumatized that a new alter split.

He’s a trans man. I am not. (I’m trans non-binary, but I identified as a woman at the time)

So, you can imagine my surprise when I woke up for the first time in months, sitting in a coffee shop halfway across the country, wearing men’s clothing.

We fought for control and became more dissociated and amnesic. I wanted to identify as a woman, and he wanted to identify as a man. He had spent all summer going through the painstaking process of gender questioning, meeting other trans folks, and coming out to everyone in our life. He had been harassed for being trans and dealt with discrimination I hadn’t experienced. He had a whole life that I was suddenly interrupting. Meanwhile, he had taken my life and changed nearly every aspect.

During this time, he went into a clinic to get trans hormone replacement therapy (HRT). He was doing what every trans media and resource encouraged him to. He was pursuing his true identity and becoming more comfortable in his body.

When he went to the clinic, things devolved pretty quickly. Several alters fought to control the situation, and we became so dissociated a child alter fronted (became conscious and in control).

The doctor acted within WPATH standards of care (top trans medical standards) for dissociative identity disorder and gender dysphoria and denied us hormones. Alex and the other men in the system were devastated. The child alter was overwhelmed waking up in a medical clinic, and we ran to the car in tears.

The doctor made the right call, but Alex had worked months to get to that point. He had taken all the steps only to have his efforts destroyed at the last second.

Sometimes transition isn’t a straightforward process. That’s especially true for systems. It’s okay to wait until everyone’s ready. It’s okay to be trans and never medically transition or come out to others.

My Alters Want to Transition, What Do I Do?

If alters in your system want to transition, your system has a tough call to make. See pt. 1 for some of the considerations like what degree of transition and how public your transition is.

This is where communication is essential. Use your system’s form of communication to discuss if everyone’s on board. If you’re not sure how to do this, there are a lot of options which I discuss in Pt. 1

What’s important is that every person in the system agrees with whatever decision is made.

To resolve our conflict, we had a meeting in the headspace and voted. We texted each other (I recommend either Simply Plural app or Plural Kit Bot on Discord). We also discussed it with several friends and our therapist, who could tell us what other alters were thinking.

One alter that had a challenging time was Rose. She still identifies as a woman and now lives in a trans masc body. She was worried about giving up having biological kids, being comfortable when she’s out, and losing feminine characteristics. She loves singing and had to sacrifice her voice when we medically transitioned.

Ultimately, she decided that she was willing to give up some of her qualities for the system’s good. It was altruistic and came with a sense of grief that most trans people don’t experience. It wasn’t just losing an old life; it was losing a fundamental aspect of herself.

A few unique considerations have to be in place before a system transitions. One of the largest is how do we support alters that identify with the body’s assigned gender?

You may be trading gender dysphoria for some alters for gender dysphoria for others. It’s a good idea to be well versed in the counterpart transition to your own. For example, if you’re AFAB (assigned female at birth) and transitioning to appear masculine, you should be versed in how AMAB (assigned male) individuals transition to appear feminine.

Ways that we support our female alters now that we present masc are always having feminine clothes on hand (including feminine undergarments), negotiating as much as possible before switching in and out, keeping makeup around, and allowing them to present female when they’re out. We don’t suppress the feminine traits they express and give them space to still be women.

We’ve found that keeping a fairly androgynous appearance allows for fluidity. We have long hair, mix traditionally feminine and masculine clothing, and only accentuate masculine or feminine qualities depending on who’s fronting. This was part of our system’s compromise, so everyone is comfortable.

Find your non-negotiables. What qualities about identifying as man, woman, non-binary, etc., are crucial for alters to feel comfortable? Respect non-negotiables and work around them.

You will need to compromise with your system so everyone feels supported. Otherwise, you will enhance your gender dysphoria and may be denied trans care.

And remember that one compromise you can make is doing some medical or social treatments but not all. Many people choose to go on hormones to get some of the features and then go off. Some people get surgery without ever doing other treatments, and some people socially transition but never medically transition.

If you decide as a system not to transition, there are things that your system must do to help alters that do experience gender dysphoria.

Best Supporting Trans Alters if You Don’t Transition

If your system ultimately decides not to transition, you need to plan with trans alters.

Learn in great detail how to reduce gender dysphoria. This may mean that you need to purchase gender-affirming clothing items like a chest binder or a gaff. You may need to get clothes and accessories in line with your trans alters (I always thrift items because of how diverse my wardrobe has to be). You could learn new skills like how to do makeup, voice training, or spend a lot of time people-watching.

People-watching is one of the best tips I have for trans alters. The way you carry yourself, speak, and use body language has one of the most significant impacts on how people perceive your gender (without medical procedures). Find somewhere you can sit and observe, like a mall, and notice how men and women act differently. Practice the mannerisms you see and notice any difference in how you feel.

Another gender dysphoria busting tip is to do something traditionally associated with the gender you want to be perceived as. It was incredibly validating for Alex to go to the shooting range because he was always perceived and treated as masculine.

Negotiate with trans alters before and after you plan on fronting if possible, and keep a change of clothes handy if you think that it’s possible that your trans alter may want to change when they’re out.

Connect with local trans groups. Other trans folks may not understand your specific experience of being a system and having trans alters, but they will understand what gender dysphoria is like and encourage you to present comfortably regardless of who’s out.

Like a system that decides to transition, you have to treat your individual alters dysphoria. Make sure they feel supported and like they can be as comfortable as possible when they’re out.

And if dysphoria hits a point where you are feeling suicidal or need help, please reach out to a therapist or crisis line.

Helping the System in My Life

When watching someone go through a gender crisis, it can be challenging to see them struggle with such a big decision. If you’re a partner, you may wonder how that will affect your relationship and sexuality. It gets even more complicated when that person is a system because you may be hearing opposite things when different people are fronting.

Some of the ways you can support the system are listening and giving as much information as the system is comfortable, respecting whatever the system decides individually and as a whole, and being informed on transition.

Some systems may value talking to someone and having them help relay what other alters are saying with their consent. Others may feel that’s a breach of privacy. Ask what they would prefer.

As the system in your life is deciding, they may change their mind several times. They may want specific pronouns only used sometimes or not used at all. Respect their wishes and refer to them however they’d like. If they change their mind, respect that change. Their crisis is for them to figure out, and it’s not going to be a static process. If you’re having trouble with the number of changes, seek a therapist to talk through your experience.

The final thing you can do to help the system in your life is to be informed about transition. Look up what is typical in a transition and ways to help gender dysphoria. Be informed so that the system doesn’t have to spend the emotional labor to explain transition. It will also make them feel heard and validated. You may also look into systems experience with gender, though resources are few and far between. However, knowing more about how alters work may help shed some light on some of the dynamics.

There are groups for supporters of trans individuals and groups for supporters of systems. Seek out these online spaces to learn from others in your situation.

There is No Wrong Answer.

The last thing I’d like to emphasize in this series is there are no wrong answers. Whether you make a decision and stick with that decision the rest of your life, or whether you change your gender a million times, there are no wrong answers. There’s no wrong way to transition because your gender experience is unique to you.

I hope that some of the tips I’ve given serve as a resource for systems going through gender crises. If you have any questions or want to have a conversation, please reach out. If you’re still unsure of where you stand, feel free to revisit the questions in Pt. 1.

14 genders, 1 body: How to Navigate Gender Identity as a Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) System Pt. 1

I’m not a man. Which sounds like a confusing statement. After all, I’ve had two gender-confirming surgeries, been on Testosterone for 2 years, and lived and interacted with the world as a man for over 3 years. I use he pronouns, dress masculine (most of the time), and proudly sport a middle school quality mustache.

I don’t identify with non-binary, agender, or woman either. I am all of these and none. There is no singular gender because there’s no singular me.

I think people forget that DID affects EVERY aspect of a person’s life. It’s not just changing names and appearances. It affects your self-concept and bodily autonomy.

The current theory on DID is that it is formed from severe, persistent trauma, where the child develops alters built out of things they observe to protect functionality.

There are no rules for what these constructs are. Nothing dictating whether the new alters match the gender of the body.

In fact, approximately 50% of DID systems have a trans alter (pg.110), and approx. 66-75% of AMAB (assigned male at birth) systems have a female alter. Conversely, 30% of people with Gender Dysphoria meet the criteria for a dissociative disorder. So, you’re more likely to be trans if you’re a system and more likely to be a system if you’re trans.

So, when there are 14 people (and counting?) in one body, gender gets… messy.

When I questioned my own gender, I was surprised that there are no resources for trans systems. Most people don’t experience multiple genders which makes figuring out gender identity impossible to navigate.

For example, one of the exercises is asking, “if you had a button that when you press it would change your gender, and everyone would have no memory of you as the previous gender, would you press it?” A follow-up might be, “what if there was a button you could press to change your gender whenever you want?” The answer to the first determines if someone is trans binary, the second determines if they are trans non-binary.

For a system, the question can’t be that simple. One alter may say yes, but another may say no. One alter may be binary, while another is non-binary. Nothing instructs what to do when you can get more than one answer to that question.

For an alter that is trying to figure out their own identity, trans resources can be invaluable. But if you’re trying to decide as a system if you should transition, then you’re out of luck.

Here is the advice I would have wanted to receive when I went through gender crisis as a system.

Questioning

Every member of the system needs to have a say. And every member may have to make sacrifices for the system’s good.

That’s a scary thought. Why should I have to give up my expression of myself for someone else? What happened to “be proud of who you are”?

To understand your gender as a system and as alters, you have to re-contextualize transitioning. Transition for most people feels like you either transition or don’t. But that doesn’t work for systems.

You likely have some analogy that works best for your system. For us, we identify as a family, but others classify themselves as roommates, friends, or neighbors. Regardless, you’re all living in the same “house” (body).

After thinking about my house’s appearance, I decide it should be green with kaleidoscope wallpaper. My brother, Alex, wants the house to be dark blue with a pride flag on the wall. Our Aunt Rose wants the house to look pink with a lovely white trim.

If we all try to have our way, we’re going to have to do a lot of repainting. Which isn’t realistic for us in the long run. Maybe you’re okay spending the energy to repaint every day, and that’s okay too.

The apparent solution is we have to have a family meeting. What color do we collectively paint the house? Do we get our own rooms with different colors and styles? How often do we want guests to see the rooms?

A system must communicate everyone’s wants/needs in whatever style works best for that system. Some systems keep a system log, a journal, have headspace meetings, write notes to one another, discuss their feelings through a safe person (like a therapist or friend), or communicate directly.

The important thing is that everyone gets to say what they want to happen, and there is a mutually reached decision. Otherwise, you will throw your system into chaos and dysfunction, which our system tried to do. For us, this meant greater amnesia, significant life dysfunction, and delays in transition-related treatment.

The other thing to consider is what you want to happen. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to transition. And there isn’t a “complete” transition. It’s up to each person to decide what version of transition is right for them.

Here are questions you could consider as a system:

  • Do we want a singular gender identity that we use to interact with the outside world, or would we prefer to be recognized individually?
  • Do we want collective pronouns or do we want to be referred as individual pronouns depending on who’s fronting? Do we want a mix of both?
  • If we have a singular gender identity, do we want to identify as binary or non-binary?
  • Does gender-fluid describe our experience?
  • Do we want to dress in a particular gender expression or do we let everyone choose when they’re out?
  • Do we care if people outside the body know we have multiple genders? Who do we want to disclose that to? Partner, friends, family, coworkers, classmates, etc.?
  • Are there more alters of a particular gender? How do we support alters that don’t identify with the majority?
  • Do we want to take hormone treatments? How will we support alters that may be affected negatively by those treatments?
  • If we go on hormone treatments, do we want to stay on them forever or would we prefer to go off them and achieve a more androgynous body?
  • Do we want any gender-affirming surgeries? How will we support alters that may be negatively affected by these surgeries?
  • Do we want to collectively change our name? Do we want to pursue legally changing it?
  • Will our current care providers support our decision? Will we have to seek out a specialized provider to transition?
  • How will this affect our sexuality?
  • How will we tell people around us if we decide to transition and what will we tell them?
  • Are we comfortable experimenting with different presentations? What settings are we comfortable with experimenting?
  • Are there local or online communities that may help us feel supported in our experience or gender crisis?
  • Are we in a safe context to come out? Should we wait?
  • Are we comfortable changing our mind if we realize transition isn’t what’s best for our system?
  • Do any of us plan on having kids, and are biological kids important? (Keep in mind that trans hormones and surgeries don’t necessarily affect your ability to have bio kids, but some do)
  • Do we want to change any external characteristics or are we comfortable identifying as different genders in the headspace alone?
  • How will we explain this process to younger alters or non-human alters?
  • How do we minimize gender dysphoria for any alter that doesn’t align with the body? (More on this in Pt. 2)

Results of Gender Questioning

The above questions may take a lot of time to figure out. There is no timeline for transition, and it’s okay if it takes you years.

A word of caution, do not rush this process.

I know how tempting it is to “do it anyway” when the rest of the system doesn’t agree. It’s my body as much as it is everyone else’s, and I should get to decide what’s best for me! It is physically painful to be in the wrong body and constantly reminded of it by the external world.

In a perfect world, all of us would have our own bodies. We could decide what’s best for us and us alone. But if you choose to do it anyway, you will create a power struggle. Others in the system will try to take the front back. You will increase amnesia as everyone is fighting for complete control of the body. You will dissociate more, and you will be hurting others in the system.


African American Man with eyes and mouth covered by post it notes that say "norms", "expectations", "society". Post it notes are in the background with similar words.

Eventually, you will come to a decision. I know it’s agonizing questioning your gender, and even worse when you have to factor in the complexities of several people. It can feel like it will never end and that you will never come to a decision everyone is happy with.

You will. And you’ll be so much better off once you’ve found it because then you’ll be able to live authentically as the whole system. It can be incredibly healing and may even decrease amnesia as you learn to make decisions together.

In Pt.2, I’ll discuss how to best support your system whether you decide to transition or not and how people in your life can best support you. No matter what you choose, there are resources for your system.

It’s a stressful process, but it is so worth it.

Can You Tell Who’s Faking Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)?

When I discovered I was a system, it hit me like a truck. I was destabilized by several traumatic events, thrown into extreme states of dissociation interfering with daily functioning, having the overt experience of alters switching for the first time, blacking out, and losing necessary skills. My head was a cacophony of a bunch of people that suddenly wanted a say in my* life.

(*our primary experience of the world is through the host, so this is written from the host’s perspective)

Like autistic burnout, DID seems to be caught most often when the system is so destabilized that it suddenly becomes visible. The diagnostic criteria focus on what a system that’s destabilized looks like, similar to how a lot of late-diagnosed autistic folks say their autistic traits only became visible after they hit a certain level of stress.

Add to this the view of the media, where you have systems that are dangerous, overt, and extreme, like in the movie Split.

The public and clinical view of DID is a limited one. Systems are supposed to be simultaneously overt and unaware of their alters, rare and impossible to exist, prove they’re not faking and not share their diagnosis.

The expectations of systems are ridiculous and paradoxical. It leads to underdiagnosis, underrepresentation, and wild misinformation.

I don’t experience total blackouts anymore. I don’t lose time, and the only amnesic parts are retrograde (past memories). I still have alters, but we don’t present significantly differently or switch in at random, unpredictable times. This is how I’ve experienced DID for most of my life.

So, do I still have DID then? According to the DSM-V criteria, yes.

A recent internet movement (fake-claiming) has been going after systems trying to “spot the fake system.” It’s a witch hunt that believes that if we can find just one fake system, it’s worth all the real systems that get accused.

A poll in one of my DID groups yielded interesting results. Of the 135 systems that participated, 58% had been fake-claimed and felt hurt/angry/ashamed/doubted themselves/or some combination.

Do you believe that all 78 systems that were fake-claimed were faking?

So, why do people fake-claim? There are a few justifications that are common.

1. There’s all of these teens on Tik Tok sensationalizing DID

Tik Tok is villainized by the broader internet world and disregarded as a platform for silly teens to do their silly dances. This villainization has taken on a much more sinister form regarding all mental health Tik Tokers, especially for rare disorders.

The world loves a good “switching caught on camera” video. It’s seen as a novelty, similar to a circus act, amazed that someone is suddenly a different person. Making content that appeals to a broader audience requires that you sell yourself as a novelty.

I want to emphasize that I have a covert form of DID, and presenting overtly in itself isn’t necessarily sensationalized. Many creators are forced to show the parts people want to see, which tends to be overt characteristics.

This incentivizes the sensationalization of DID. People don’t want to hear what it’s like to be dissociated, how deeply trauma affects daily functioning or the severe co-occurring symptoms like psychosis and catatonia. Most of the content I made on Tik Tok about my DID was about the less savory parts of my disorder. I only received attention from other systems, not from the general population. My videos on DID didn’t go viral because they didn’t appeal to sensational DID.

Add to that the self-curated feed. You can easily see how someone who interacts with sensational content is likely to see primarily teenagers (Tik Tok’s largest audience is 10-19, followed by 20-29) showing performative parts of their disorder to get recognized by a broader audience.

The issue is not faking DID but sensationalization. It’s further incentivized by fake-claimers interacting with this content.

I believe every system has a right to present how they want on social media. As long as misinformation isn’t being spread, it’s not hurting anyone. It’s interesting that sensationalized DID has received so much negative attention, considering that it’s just following what people on Tik Tok want to see. It’s catering to your audience, similar to how lifestyle vloggers post the happy parts of their families, exercise routines, parties, and lives. I’ve never seen anyone fake-claim a family vlogger saying, “that’s not even your family!”

Sensationalization ≠ faking. If you don’t like it, don’t interact with sensationalized content.

2. Fake systems hurt the community and need to be deplatformed

In my opinion, this is one of the most valid reasons why people fake-claim, and the one I’ve seen most often used by systems that fake-claim other systems. There’s a rational fear that sensational influencers that might be faking the disorder are harming the community image and therefore harming systems as a whole.

I always compare this to my experience in the trans community. People like Caitlyn Jenner sensationalize being trans, spread misinformation, and contribute to a negative stereotype of trans people. It’s easy to see this harms the community. But I wouldn’t say Caitlyn Jenner is faking being trans. I fully believe she is trans, despite her harmful actions. The trans community has a similar tendency to be hypervigilant against potentially “fake trans people” due to the mistreatment from the broader population. The thing is, the number of people who are in a fragile state of questioning their gender are the ones that get hurt when the community seeks out “the fakers.” It villainizes specific presentations and is usually targeted at people that are trans but present in unconventional ways.

We need to re-frame this argument. The main issue is not people faking DID, though it’s easy to feel that way when public systems spread harmful misinformation. But by pointing fingers ourselves, we are inviting non-systems to do the same to us.

The problem is misinformation, not being honest about the difficult parts of the disorder, the lack of support available for systems, and the lack of good public/medical representation.

We can call out misinformation, educate others, and advocate for support/representation without fake-claiming.

3. Look at how obvious they’re faking! They have alters from anime and talk like a baby

Cringe. It’s the fuel of internet hatred and a re-packaged form of hate for mentally ill behaviors.

Someone being cringey does not indicate they’re faking.

An unusual alter presentation doesn’t exclude someone from having DID. In the DSM-V, there are no specifications on what an alter can be other than “discontinuities of experience that can affect any aspect of an individual’s functioning.” It at no point specifies if they have to be real people (even including “ghost” as a potential personality), the demographics of the alter, or the number of alters required to be a system (beyond two).

Age regression (the experience of taking on a mental/emotional state of someone younger) is common in childhood trauma disorders. And child alters are very common.

Going back to a previous comparison, Caitlyn Jenner is cringey. That doesn’t make her not trans.

DID has a broad presentation of what it can look like. Policing cringey behavior hurts all systems, as it discourages natural expression. And there’s no evidence that someone is faking just because you don’t like how their system presents.

4. DID is rare, there’s got to be people out there faking

This one is easily disproven with a bit of math. There is controversy about the prevalence of DID due to underdiagnosis and myths. There’s also OSDD which can have alters without amnesia, making the prevalence of systems higher than estimates for DID.

But, if we’re going off what’s stated in the DSM-V (based on this study) , the prevalence is placed at 1.5%.

1.5% of the U.S. population is approx. 5 Million people. Tik Tok has roughly a billion people on the platform. Assuming Tik Tok is representative of the general population, that means approx. 15 million people on the platform have DID. Again, this doesn’t include other systems that have OSDD or are unrecognized by the medical community (due to accessibility).

That’s the number of people in Costa Rica, Ireland, and New Zealand combined.

It’s rare, but it’s not as rare as people think when talking about statistical prevalence.

Consequences of Fake Claiming

Content Warning: This section mentions suicidality and self-injury. Reader discretion is advised.

Why does stopping fake-claiming even matter?

Systems are an incredibly vulnerable part of the population that has been through severe/repeated forms of trauma. This makes fake-claiming not only problematic but dangerous.

Studies have found the prevalence of self-mutilation in diagnosed DID between 34-48%. Rates of attempted suicide are 61-72%, with a 1-2.1% completion rate. This is likely underestimating the actual completion rate due to the number of undiagnosed DID systems.

People with DID are finally starting to have a public image that doesn’t center around being homicidal monsters or only presenting in one overt way. And the backlash is astronomical. People create forums to laugh and point at DID symptoms under the guise that the person is “faking.” They’ve swarmed social media channels with hundreds to thousands of comments arguing that creators are faking, and they’ve doxxed and harassed systems with large followings.

They don’t hate fakers; they really hate people with DID. It’s bullying. An internet mob quickly becomes an abuser, and in this case, it’s abusing a population that already has significant trauma.

Fake-claiming may increase the likelihood of self-injury or suicidality, but it also instills a sense of self-doubt.

Especially for newly recognized systems, this can be a devastating blow, leading to many self-destructive behaviors in an attempt to “prove” you’re not a system. Newly recognized systems or people questioning if they have the disorder may try to ignore signs of breakdown because they believe it’s all in their head. The negative self-stigma seems incredibly prevalent in the DID community and is made worse by the recent fake-claiming trend.

You may think you’re not hurting anyone when you “expose” someone that is “obviously faking,” but you’re hurting DID systems as a whole. You’re contributing to an internet mob deadset on proving every DID system is faking. And you may be contributing to self-doubt and self-injurious actions in response to bullying.

No, you can’t tell if someone’s faking DID unless they come out and say they’re faking. And the minuscule number of malingering systems are not worth the damage caused to the millions of real systems by fake-claiming.

Let’s call out harmful community behavior without bullying someone for their existence.

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