Last updated: 27 April, 2023
In a dissociative identity disorder (DID) system, alters may have certain roles, purposes or functions in the system. An “alter” is a unique, separate identity.
Not every DID system has all of these alter roles, and some DID alters may vary. Every DID system is different. Alters don’t necessarily need a particular role assigned, but it can help provide answers and understanding as a DID system, as well as help to open up communication and empathize with each other.
If you don’t have or know what kind of alter you are, it’s okay; DID alter roles exist to help provide understanding — not as a must-have guideline.
DID alters can change functions and roles, the same way people change jobs. Regardless of function or role, each alter is an integral part of the system — much like the cords in my kitten’s sisal rope scratching post.
All of these are subjective. Each DID system varies. There is no normal with DID, because every system is unique.
Moreover, DID alter roles and functions exist only as a way to help you understand your system. If your system works better not subscribing to particular roles, then don’t try to force it. 😌
If you see a lightning bolt emoji (⚡), this denotes a side note pertaining to our system for anyone who is interested in how these roles may function in a dissociative identity disorder system.
Disclaimer: This post was written based on my/our experience with dissociative identity disorder, what we’ve learned from/in therapy, and what we’ve learned from other systems.
If you need substantial information about DID, we love DiscussingDissociation.com, which is authored by a “DID Systems Specialist”. (Much better than commenting hateful things.)
DID alter roles and functions
There are so many dissociative identity disorder system roles that, despite our best efforts, we couldn’t list them all. Every system has their own structure, but the diversity is part of what makes DID so interesting!
So if you find you don’t meet any of the DID system roles/functions below, it’s okay. This list isn’t meant to be a checklist — just an informational list.
The core alter is typically perceived as the “original” person in medical communities, but there is no “original” alter because dissociative identity disorder forms before a child’s personality develops.
The core alter may be used interchangeably as the main alter, or the host.
Core/original alters are outdated alter roles that only add to confusion and misinformation. Dissociative identity disorder forms before a child’s identity comes together, therefore there was never any “original” to create parts from. In DID, those parts never came together.
The host alter most frequently uses the body. Systems may have multiple hosts, e.g. a primary host and secondary host. Again, every system is different.
Over time, hosts may change. Some systems mayn’t even recognize official hosts, while many medical professionals recognize the host as the legal name of the body.
In our experience, and from who we’ve connected with, primary hosts in DID systems seldom associate with the legal name of the body. We do have a line of previous hosts, most of whom are dormant.
There’s this inside joke within the dissociative identity disorder community about each alter wanting to host, but it’s okay if alters don’t want to host, too. Hosting in a body you don’t identify with or recognize can be uncomfortable and alarming, and it doesn’t make you less of a system (or an alter!) if you have no interest in fronting.⚡ Our system consists of two primary hosts, Jane and Izzy. The host who uses the body’s legal name is dormant and more of a scared, traumatized child/introject of her narcissistic guardians. The intended endgame host is Jane. We say endgame, because we do want to eventually fuse (even though the concept is terrifying!).
Protector alters protect the system, body, alters, etc.
- Emotional protectors may take emotional abuse and/or comfort other alters from the blows of emotional abuse.
- Physical protectors may engage in aggressive behavior to protect or prevent from physical abuse. They also may personally endure physical abuse.
- Sexual protectors may engage in sexual affairs, regardless of consent, to try to feel more in control of the situation. They may also be more sexual by nature, as a result of trauma; ironically, this can lead to unsafe sex and related situations.
- Verbal protectors may take verbal abuse or attempt to counter verbal attacks.
Persecutors, or misguided protectors
Often referred to persecutors, some alters seek to harm the body, system, alters, and/or destroy personal relationships and the livelihood of which the body regards.
They may believe hurting the system is what protects it best, so their goal is to control and rule the system through perpetuated abuse.
They may be reenacting trauma, reasoning that more trauma isn’t harmful and will just balance it out.
They may be fearful of good news, good experiences, and even good feelings and seek to stomp it out to avoid hurt/bad feelings.
Some protectors are introjects of abusers and may not understand that they themselves are not abusers.⚡ We prefer the term misguided protectors because, through healing, these alters are ultimately just…misguided. Our medically perceived “core” host is dormant.
Caretaker alters care for specific members of the system, like littles, pets, teens, and system groups. They may act like a parental figure to other alters, and those they care for may refer to them as “mom” or “dad” instead of their names.
Caretakers may also ensure the body is taken care of.⚡ In our system, the caretaker’s name is Kelly. She takes care of the children and non-human alters, and will cook/clean when the hosts of the system lack the energy. If the body lacks the energy, Kelly does what she can to take care of the children and non-human alters, and our head protector alter (Portia) manages the body and life admin.
Introjects are alters based off outside people — e.g. a family member or guardian who supported and/or positively influenced the dissociative child; a historical figure the dissociative child found strong, brave, and relatable; abusers. Abusive introjects bring zero comfort, self-esteem and moral compass to the dissociative system.
Abusive introjects will reenact trauma and abuse to reinforce the “lessons” of their abusers, and may not see themselves as the person they represent. They may be disgusted by their origin.
Fictional introjects are common, but do not require the entire character/persona of the fictional person they’ve originated from.
Not all introjects are abusive or fictional, or mirror the entirety of those they’re based on or originate from.⚡ We have a few introjects. One, named Effy, fused with our gatekeeper, Betz, and together they became Izzy. Collectively, we mourn the event and do not celebrate it, but we are also content with Izzy.
Memory/trauma holder alters
We mostly call the memory holder a trauma holder, because they usually hold the trauma. Each alter has their own happier memories, but some alters have less pleasant memories and hold more trauma.⚡ Jane knows of the body associated with the body, but hadn’t experienced much personal trauma before she started hosting full-time. Growing up, she experienced internal system-related trauma from our misguided protective alter holding the legal name of the body. As an adult, she has experienced external trauma. She is not a trauma holder. ⚡ In our system, one trauma holder bears additional system roles (gatekeeper, host); their name is Izzy.
Gatekeeper alters controls the “switching”, or whomever gets access to the “front”. A lot of systems will just call it “fronting”, and we are one of those.
They’re essentially a DID system supervisor, not to be confused with a captain/manager/head of the system alter role.⚡ In our system, our gatekeeper holds the keys to the Library of Memories, makes much of the system rules, and has access to most anywhere within the system they want to go. Betz had been around since the start, enduring countless abuse and did not associate with humanness. They existed — genderless, emotionless, ageless. Our trauma holder and gatekeeper merged to create Izzy, who is not genderless, emotionless or ageless.
Fragment alters didn’t fully develop or don’t have their own unique attributes. They may exist to complete certain tasks, or maintain single memories and/or emotions. Individually, they may not encompass an entire person and need other alters to complete them.⚡ Our system low-key had/has one named Liz. She fused with Jane.
Child alters include littles, middles and teens, and the ages of each vary from system to system.
- Littles are usually 0-8.
- Middles are 9-12.
- Teens are 13-18, but might extend to age 19.
Sharing too much information about child alters online is dangerous, possibly more so when the DID system’s body is an adult, because certain triggers — like names, things and scents — can result in a child alter fronting and getting into uncomfortable, inappropriate, dangerous, unsafe and/or traumatizing situations.
Littles are not to be confused with the DDLG kink and should be considered children when fronting. This doesn’t mean a trusted person within the system’s vicinity should parent the child without explicit permission from the system, but they should ensure the child alter’s safety.
Something interesting about child alters is that they may have access to an adult brain! This means they might be able to comprehend, speak and behave in a way that children often do not — including using bigger vocabulary or doing laundry — but doesn’t always mean they should do all the things (like cooking on the stove or using the oven), and definitely does not mean they are secretly adults.⚡ Our system does contain littles. We’re more likely to refer to them as “Little S” than we are their name — and no, Little S is not short for our legal first name!
Historian, or archivist, alters record memories and events. Although historians and archivists are not the same, DID systems often refer to them similarly.
If you have historians or archivists, please comment below and share about your experience!⚡ In our system, we have a historian who does the typical role of historian careers: They (singular) research, analyze and write about our past by studying books in our Library of Memories. They look at patterns and help us identify areas where the system can improve.
Symptom holder alters
A symptom holder alter holds the symptoms of all or some diagnoses.
In the event of autism and dissociative identity disorder, the mask may become its own alter instead of a mere metaphorical mask. Since DID forms because of chronic trauma, the alters will form as a coping mechanism. Autistic masking is a response to trauma, the brain realizing that it needs to hide itself in order to survive. The brain wants to survive. DID alters are coping mechanisms in DID systems.
The entire system is autistic, because autism is a neurotype. It’s literally your brain. Your brain just puts those symptoms into an alter instead of masking. There may still be a mask, it’s just different from the type of mask that other people are experiencing. Some other altars may mask, but most of your symptoms are held by an alternate identity.
Why wouldn’t these two come together? Or any other disorder with a list of symptoms? What better way to hide symptoms in a dissociative identity disorder system then through its alters?⚡ Jane is a symptom holder of autism and is basically a textbook autistic.
Other alters are autistic, and each alter is still capable of masking! It’s just more complicated than your usual mask. 🥲
Other symptom holders might hold more physical or medical things, from chronic pain to acid reflux or life-threatening allergies.
Factitious disorder by proxy
There is also factitious disorder imposed on another (FDIA), formerly known as Munchausen syndrome, wherein someone else makes or convinces you that you must be sick or have severely poor mental health.Note: This is really just something my system has been considering the concept of. Take it as it is, from our experience, if you take it at all.
It involves lots of gaslighting, and might be why some alters are Deaf/blind/mute/etc. (e.g. told “You didn’t hear/see anything” or heard “[they] can’t speak”); this manifests DID alters that take on the role of this persona that meets the abuser’s expectations.
I daresay call these “proxy alters”, but I genuinely think that term fits best. The best advice I have at identifying this — and that’s I, as in this system collectively and me, Jane — is:
- Pay attention to how you/your system behaves around certain people.
- If you feel like you’re being gaslit, you probably are. Don’t doubt yourself, because that’s the whole point of gaslighting!
- It may be subtle, like a fragment, possibly not a full-on alter, but more like a system virus? I know it’s a bad analogy, but it’s the best I’ve got.
When my system is away from toxic, gaslight-y people, the virus/filter fades. Everything stops feeling foggy. We start to feel safe again, out of fight or flight mode.
So perhaps, instead of being alters, proxy alters may be a system-wide virus under the guise of a DID alter. It’s not an alter, but a filter or shade that washes over and around the system whilst under the influence of this toxicity.
It’s almost like we regress to the days before our diagnosis. We thought that we were free of toxic people — of our abusers — until we were shown their true colors.
Other DID alter functions exist, but these are the main ones we come across in other systems and the ones that exist in our own.
If you’re a system yourself, and you feel comfortable, please share which alter roles your system has! We’d love to meet you! XD
ALSO: Would you like separate posts dedicated to each of these roles? Let us know in the comments. 😊 We have more DID content planned, but it’s random and might not be specifically what you’re needing. We have a system TikTok, but written content is our forte.
Other dissociative identity disorder content:
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