This is an actively updated document. Last updated 29Aug2023.
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 healthcare facilities and among medical professionals and serves as 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
What is plurality?
Imagine the body like a kayak. Somehow, we have a full crew on board.
Being plural means having more than one distinct identity in one brain. Older phrasings are "personalities" or "people" in one brain, though many systems can find these terms uncomfortable or offensive. The more common phrasing is "headmates" or "alters". In this writing, we will be using the term "alter" as that is the term we use for ourselves. A grouping of alters is called a system. Someone without alters is a singlet. We are the Hourglass system. (hello!!) We are 41 owls in a trenchcoat.
Oh! You mean like Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID)?
Ish! That's what the medical world calls it most often. However after how poorly the medical community has understood and treated those who are plural, we do not trust their assessment and do not acknoledge their titles as accurate.
With that, doctors are more likely to underdiagnose due to their perception of rarity of the condition and general misunderstanding. We have personally experienced this and it sucks. It can cause a lot of invalidation externally and internally, discourse in the system, and feeling separated or questioning the reality of one's system.
This section is to tell the distinctions of the medical titles for those who have had them attached for further understanding and should not be used to understand plurality.
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 if you get it too much, it can be a problem (whee!). It was thought for a while that plurality is a type or result of dissociation, and many systems do experience dissociation, but that viewpoint is starting to shift into plurality being independent of dissociation.
What is an alter?
Taz: Hi! I'm an alter. An alter is the term we use for one of the distinct identities in our system. I am me. I am Taz. I am not Xaler. Xaler's over there
Taz: We are both alters in the Hourglass system!
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.
Taz: We've heard people after reading this questioning if they're a system for reasons like them acting different at work or in different environments. This isn't to say newly introduced and questioning individuals aren't plural, but those usually are related to boundaries or comfort level in different environments. Acting different with different individuals in different environments and feeling different in the presence of others is a normal part of interpersonal relationships and boundaries. Kissing your boss when leaving the workplace would be weird, but it makes sense for a partner when leaving home.
Why do alters form?
There's a lot of ways alters can form. Trauma is one of them, especially in childhood when your identity is still a malleable goo. 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 40 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 alter?
Having a main alter, 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?
Sometimes alters formed in childhood just stay that age. Sometimes alters can age slide, are ageless, or are older than everything. A common source can be childhood trauma, but also can be a source or comfort or escape.
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! Singlets do it too. It can also be a trauma response, stress response, source of comfort, or a pastime.
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 and feel comfortable.
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 formed them and they kept us alive.
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.
Did you ever not have alters?
Everyone has at least one identity, 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. And if we don't communicate healthily, it goes less okay.
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 40 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
Because someone asked them.
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.
Can you make them go away?
Trigger Warning: Forced Fusion, 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?
This is a discord bot that allows members of a system to hold invidual profiles and send messages as those members. Those profiles let you fill out and store a lot of information and has been personally helpful in cataloging our system information
International Society for the Study of Trauma & Dissociation
They have a lot of resources on dissociation and the dissociative traumagenic side of plurality. They also have a great therapist searching tool we found super helpful.
The Plural Association
A wonderful community of all types of plurals with a ton of resources both created and collected throughout their site.