This is an actively updated document. Last updated 03Jan2023.
This uses the terms we use. Others may prefer or use other terms. These descriptions are intentionally loose and should be taken as such as systems are highly diverse and strict categorization can be harmful. Use with discretion. We are not a medical professional. The information collected in this FAQ was done by communication with and research into the plural community since we learned we were plural in 2016. This document has been circulated at hospitals and serves a powerful resource to self advocate. If you have any further questions or topics you want added to the list, feel free to contact us at email@example.com
What is plurality?
Imagine the body like a kayak. Somehow, we have a full crew on board.
Being plural means having multiple personalities, commonly referred to as alters or headmates, in one body. A grouping of alters is called a system. A person without alters is a singlet. We are the Hourglass system. (hello!!) We are 36 (and counting) owls in a trenchcoat. In the medical world, this gets tagged as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or Other-Specified Dissociative Disorder Type 1B (OSDD-1B).
What is dissociation?
Dissociation has three main types, all of them a form of separation.
Derealization - Separation from reality,
Depersonalization - Separation from self
Dissociative Amnesia - Separation from memory.
Dissociation is a coping mechanism used by the brain to get through crisis, or just to forget the morning commute to work. Dissociation is natural and healthy. But like anything else in the brain, it can go haywire. Then you get a fun little disorder.
What is an alter?
Taz: Hi! I'm an alter. An alter is a personality. I am me. I am Taz. I am not Xaler. Xaler's over there
Taz: Our memories, thoughts, behavior, responses, abilities, preferences, ages, genders, even brain chemistry can be different. Some have more autism symptoms. Some have different voices. Some aren't human. Some are twelve. We’re all different and weird and unique. Something to note is every system is responsible for all their alters. One alter does something bad, we all take fall. That is the inherent responsibility to onesel-...ourse...sharing a flesh puppet.
Why do alters form?
There's a lot of ways alters can form. Most common is trauma, especially in childhood. whee. That origin is called traumagenic. But they can also be more naturally forming, unintentionally forming, intentionally forming, and all kinda stuff. That group of origins is called endogenic. Some systems use different terminology so please ask their preferences. Even if there were set words, every system is extremely different and has their own story.
We're all weird in our own weird way.
What is fronting and switching?
Fronting is when an alter is connected to the body in sensory or control. Right now typing is Taz, but Derex is helping with edits. Sometimes multiple alters can front at once. It's called co-fronting. It can be harmonious or staring at the floor fighting over an oreo. Sometimes we don't know who's fronting, it's hard to keep track of 36 chaotic owls. To make it harder several alters can also blend into each other. The change in who's fronting is called a switch. This can happen in a few ways.
Slow switch - Slow passing off front. Often not apparent to the alters.
Blind switch - Very quick switch, so fast that memory isn’t shared. This can cause fear, disorientation, and confusion about location and circumstance
Deliberate switch - Purposely switching. Sometimes easy, sometimes not. Convenient for when you don't want to deal with something. Inconvenient for the next alter.
Rapid switching - Alters quickly switching in succession. Usually happens before/after a breakdown.
Dissociative break - Worse than rapid switching, no one connected to body and all skimming it. More likely when sick or after severe flashback
Frontstuck - The opposite of switching. Being unable to switch out for days, weeks, months, long swaths of time. It can get really annoying and inconvenient.
Switching can be peaceful, sometimes it isn't, sometimes we can feel it coming, sometimes it hits us like a bus, sometimes we can try to fight it, sometimes we can ask for another alter to front, sometimes something triggering will throw us into front. Triggering does not mean bad, some alters have triggers that make them happy or calm, it just means something that causes a reaction.
Do you have a main personality?
Having a main personality, referred to as a host, is common. However, some don't. We are part of the group that doesn't. For us, a host is someone who leads the pack in the background or in front. They make sure memories are shared, we don't fight, we're staying healthy, etc. Instead, our host is whoever wants to and can take the wheel. It's sometimes decided as a group, sometimes someone just takes the wheel. We don't care as long as we're on the road.
Why are there different ages?
So, back at it again with that childhood trauma, yay.
Sometimes alters formed in childhood just stay that age. Sometimes alters can age slide, are ageless, or are older than everything. From what we’ve seen this is most commonly caused by, you guessed it, childhood trauma. We are very protective of our younger alters (aka 'littles' or 'middles' varying on age) because they are kids and are vulnerable. We don't let anyone meet ours until months after we get to know and trust them. We don't give out their names. When they front there is always another alter in headspace ready to jump in at a moment's notice if they need help or are in danger. We don't want to let anyone hurt them.
Age regression is separate.
Age regression is going into a younger state of mind. How young depends on each alter or person. That's right, its not tied specifically to systems. It can also be a trauma response, stress response, or a pastime. For systems it is typically trauma tied. For singlets it usually comes from having to grow up too fast and wanting to have a bit more childhood.
For all age regression people often hide it away. It's looked down upon but it's natural and okay. It is a way people heal. It also is gaining some traction as a therapeutic tool for hypnotherapy to unlock and process childhood trauma, though it still is controversial and case specific. There is also something called Internal Family Systems therapy which we will discuss in the next section.
What is the Internal Family Systems model?
So plurality is kind of like everything else in life. It isn’t just plural and singlet. It exists on a spectrum.
Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy runs off that idea. It proposes that the mind is made up of discrete subpersonalities and it is very similar to alters but in a harmonious state. It groups the subpersonalities into four categories. The self is the original, pure, untouched mind. Exiles personify pain and past trauma. Firefighters respond to acute stressors that pose an active risk, though can do so in harmful ways. Managers protect and ensure safety in the day-to-day. Really sounds like hosts, trauma holders, persecutors, and protectors, huh?
IFS is also a wonderful therapeutic method for plurals and focuses on creating a functional harmony between alters without assuming negative intent and without punishing alters. It’s like group therapy or couple’s therapy.
Can systems have systems?
Yep! Sometimes you get an alter with alters which is called a subsystem. There's alters who have alters who then also have alters and then we usually give up mapping them out. With that someone can have two separate systems. We have the hourglass system, but then also we have the plus system. We separated as we often had or have situations that required someone completely separate from us to intervene and keep us from dying, but no one helped us. So, we had to form.
What are factives and fictives?
A fictive is an alter who identifies with or is based on a character from fiction. A factive is the same but from reality. I was weirded out with the concept at first but whoops hi its Mae I live here now. We know they aren't actually those characters; we know. That's how they experience the world, interact with others, and define themselves. I'm not gonna hate on them for that.
Though it’s highly variable, we noticed a few common causes for them to form. It can be from trauma association, where the system was watching the source during a traumatic period and delved into it as a coping mechanism. The character became a source of comfort and then they manifested as an alter. There is also hyperfixation and one of the other alters messing up and saying “Hey wouldn’t it be cool if we had a fictive of—” and then a few days later the fictive printer finishes. It can be from feeling a strong connection to the character’s story and adapting that to be able to explain their own experiences and expression. There’s also intentionally trying to form them, more from idolization or comfort from the character. The methodology behind that is extremely difficult to put into words. The causes generally boil down to stress relief, self soothing, trauma processing, and association based emotional expression.
What are nonhuman alters?
Humans are really boring. Why be one when you can be literally anything else? Most of our nonhuman alters just kinda came into existence as something other than human. Some of them were like hECK YEA LETS BE A HECKIN OWL …and then they were. Nonhuman alters can also be things other than animals. CTRL, one of our fictives, is a massive pitch black downward pointing pyramid. It was definitely an interesting choice, but they are what they are.
What is a headspace?
The headspace is where alters are when they aren't fronting. We all have our own little spaces and made an entire world where we feel safe and ok. It's a place of recovery and recharge. Singlets can also form a headspace, often therapeutically. We don't have much understood about ours outside of headspace. There's a barrier where in the front alters can't remember things about headspace. We’ve had glimpses and it was beautiful. I think the barrier is there to protect it and allow alters to feel fully separated off. I want to see if we can turn that barrier into a gate so I can learn more. I love documenting this kinda stuff.
What is splitting?
To put it generally, splitting is how alters are made. Sometimes things go bad. Actually, a lot of the time. And sometimes you need to compartmentalize your brain to help keep you alive. This is how systems start. Splitting can be like mitosis. We need a new alter and one splits off from whoever is there. This does not mean they are attached to them at all, but sometimes it can. Sometimes alters form from and are attached to several different alters. How alters come into existence can massively vary, it's better to play by ear.
Did you ever not have alters?
Everyone has at least one personality, one alter. That's what a singlet is.
How did you figure out you had alters?
One day in sophomore year of high school I had a massive jolt of energy into immediately writing a comic script. Starting with massive character sheets, it was the most detailed thing I ever wrote and the first comic I wrote. It detailed out Derex, otto, Taz, Xaler, and 43. It was the oddest thing to just see it created and for another alter creating it. it took a week or two of us tying things together. Oh, wait this isn’t, what the-, ok I guess this yeah ok then. And then a while later to learn about DID and plurality.
How is your experience different with --?
A lot of it for how is your experience different with -- is simple. We just communicate healthily and it goes okay. Or we don’t and we can get new fun traumas, internal fights, weird stuff. Fun.
What is PluralKit?
Pluralkit is a bot for discord which is an amazing tool for systems to more easily communicate! It allows alters to build different profiles and then switch between those profiles as they switch alters to allow for more individuality and easier communication. Alternatively, all of the alters can talk at once in a single channel which slowly becomes a confusing hellscape of at least slightly more understandable gibberish. With that, we personally use a private discord server to do inter-system communication, keep journals and logs with the different alters attached, and message friends because it doesn't work in DMs. PluralKit's profiles are so well thought out and thorough we use it to keep track of all 36 owls with ease.
When it comes for adding it to your server, it's just adding it and you're done. No setup required for the server admins! No cost either. And you'll get to see all the systems immediately type pk;ap latch. You can click here to open the page for the bot! Or don't, do what you want, we're not your boss and we aren't gonna fill out a W-4 for you, please get off our ceiling.
One thing though, due to the way it works those profiles have a little [bot] tag at the end of people's names. It is very common that people become confused and think we have reached the singularity. They are wrong. We have reached the plurality. The backbone of this document was written long ago when people wouldn't stop asking us about the bot tag. Beep boop.
Trigger Warning: Drugs
Not Okay Questions
Aren't those just imaginary friends?
No. No they aren't. Imaginary friends are external. they are projected personas. They do not have any control of the body and there remains a sense of self. They are imagined. Alters are internal and are fractions of a self. They can have control of the body. They exist. They are real. They are not imagined.
If you try to convince us we aren't real we will return the favor.
Are Endogenics Valid?
There is a lot of dispute over if endogenic systems are valid, given it being not medically recognized. People who argue this are referred to as sysmed, coming from the term transmed. TLDR, endogenic systems are valid. The brain does really really weird stuff sometimes and can have a trauma reaction even without trauma. People can have PTSD symptoms without having gone through trauma. If people can have trauma symptoms without trauma, and splitting being a trauma reaction, it isn't a far leap to say systems can form without trauma.
The issue is there is very little research about plurality in medicine overall so there's not a solid set definition for any of this. 80% of this document is written from community interaction and speaking directly with systems along with our own experiences. There isn't any public interest or funding into research. So we did it instead, talking to hundreds of systems, joining plural communities and organizations, and hundreds of hours of research. We continue to do so for this document to be accurate. This document has circulated at hospitals as reference material. We have educated doctors one on one. We're an art student. Please, anyone in the medical field reading this, try and kick off some research into plurality. We beg of you.
Can you make them go away?
Trigger Warning: Integration, Suicide
What about with medication?
Medication can't "fix" everything. It can help with depression, anxiety, and unpleasant side effects or comorbid symptoms. But there isn't any "ew icky something i dont understand make it go away" pill.
Are you a serial killer?
(who just asks people that, seriously?)
Plural people are extremely poorly represented in media most commonly as murderers. Plurality is most commonly caused by trauma. Like every other mental illness out there, people afflicted by it are more likely to be victims than violent. I'm gonna quote ourselves real quick.
plURaL PeopLe are DANGErOus And a tHreAT to socIEtY I just had to teach a new alter what a toaster is do you seriously think we're a threat?