What is a caretaker alter in a DID system?

In a dissociative identity disorder (DID) system, alters may have specific roles or functions they fulfill. This is a way the brain copes with trauma. DID systems often have caretaker alters, especially if there are littles.

"caregiver alter" on top of color blob

What are caretaker alters?

Caretakers are a type of protector alters that may care for certain alters or the system in general. It’s not uncommon for DID systems to view the caretaker alters like a mother — in fact, I see a lot of systems referring to their caretakers as the “mother” of their systems.

Multiple caretakers can exist in a system. One caretaker may care for each type of alter, or caretaker alters may care for the system in shifts. Every system is going to have its own functionality and nuances, so no system is going to be exactly alike.

I think my system doesn’t recognize the body’s mother as our own, because our caretaker is our mother. We actually had two initially, but she fused into all of us several years ago. It was sad, and I find myself missing her more than I probably should. Our concept of a mother growing up was always just that — the body’s mother didn’t treat [us] like her child. It’s why we have DID.

Does the caretaker have to be a certain age?

I think not. Again, nuances.

However, perhaps an important nuance to acknowledge is that a young alter should not be a caretaker because they cannot make proper decisions and are ultimately behaving solely off trauma responses. Littles, middles, teens — these are literal children who would not be perceived as responsible in the same manner as caretakers if they were singular individuals.

Seeing this question was nerve-wracking for the Mermaid System, knowing a minor as a caretaker would be a trauma response. To us, if a young alter is acting as a caretaker, it means that something is wrong with our protectors or the body. For example, our main little will start taking care of the body when it is going through an eating disorder relapse.

Caretaker alters tend to care for the more vulnerable, weak or younger alters, so it may be unhealthy if they are extremely young.

Can a caretaker have another role?

Absolutely! Back when we had two, one of our caretakers was also a fictive based on a mother in a movie. Caretaker alters don’t have to only have one role to be valid; they can have multiple.

Can alters be like children to caretaker alters in a DID system?

Some DID alters may be like children of the caretaker alters in their system. This is difficult to explain, because the nuances do not fit into singlet standards. DID alters do not have to have a father in order to be children to the caretaker alters, and it just makes sense because the brain will decide it does.

If an existing alter splits another alter, they may view that alter as somewhat of a child, with the split viewing its origin as the mother.

Dissociative identity disorder is extremely complex and doesn’t make sense to a lot of people. Please don’t feel like your system is invalid because explaining your system’s functionality doesn’t make sense with singlet vocabulary. You and your system is valid regardless.

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Thank you for this. My girlfriend has DID and this helps me understand some things

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I don’t have DID and don’t know anyone personally who does but as someone with other mental illnesses I have always been interested in learning more. I really found your explanation very informative!

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Thank you!

It’s always great to meet (even if virtually) another person in a similar mental health boat. XD

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