Follow-up on Dissociative Identity Disorder: Writing It

Last post was on the difference between Schizophrenia and DID – you might have known it as Multiple Personality Disorder, but the name was changed for reasons I explained in said post.

I’d like to talk a little more on this disorder because there are a lot of misconceptions about it and even explaining it somewhat in that last post, I feel that there could still be challenges about writing the disorder and I’d like to address those.

First of all, as I said before, it’s a bad stereotype that one of the personalities is evil. You know who says that they have an evil alter ego personality? Usually a criminal who is trying to get off on insanity who doesn’t even have DID. DID is all about coping with trauma, and so it doesn’t usually really make a whole lot of sense for a personality to be some sort of rapist-killer-whatever because the shattering of personality is about protecting oneself – inasmuch as someone with DID has a ONEself. So if you were planning on making a villain with DID, consider that idea the way you’d consider a writing about say  Shintoism or the culture of an African tribe where the author wrote something – Shintoism includes human sacrifice to wood spirits or the African tribe has cannibalistic witch doctors – THEN did research (lolno on the Shintoism; witch doctors in Africa are not called witch doctors, it’d be better to call them medicine man or shaman, and they’re healers, not cannibals), and then justified the original uneducated writing with bizarre exceptions (Well this was an extremist cult of Shintoism! This witch doctor was an immigrant who was driven mad!). Perhaps the narrative isn’t wildly inaccurate now but it is still tasteless  to represent those items that way. Pick something else.

Second, you have to understand that even though each personality is a shard of a whole, each personality has the chance to develop into something more than just the base where it split off. We’re not playing Snow White and her seven other personalities – Grumpy will probably be something more than just a grouchy personality. Think of how you would describe an unafflicted person as “angry” – there’s a lot to that person, they have their own worldview, their own likes and dislikes, thoughts and feelings…they just tend to express themselves angrily and are easily set off. Now think of that person as though their thoughts and feelings developed off of that anger. Or fear – perhaps the personality is not only afraid, but she hates herself for being a coward. The personality is not just Scaredy the Eighth Dwarf. The personality is a shard, but a person.

Third, each personality is different and a part of what used to be a whole. A reader with experience likened the disorder to a plate that’s been broken (thank you!) – there was a plate, but once it’s shattered, it’s no longer a plate. It’s a series of ceramic shards that are each their own item and the original is utterly destroyed, non-existent. So don’t think of it as “the original” personality and all of his splits. There’s a host who tries to hold everything together, but that’s not the same thing. Each personality shares equal part of being X person, but the host will likely be out more often.

Fourth, the personalities may not know about each other. The host tends to know of the other personalities better than the other personalities do*. Interaction amongst personalities is possible but usually requires heavy therapy. Other personalities are referred to as ‘alters’ – at least, that was the phraseology used in class and textbook, there may be other phraseologies as well*. But it would be correct to say, “He’s the host personality and he has five alters” to express “there are six personalities in this body”; it would be correct to say, “I want to move to Florida but I’m not sure my alters would appreciate the humidity.”

And fifth, each personality is distinct. It is entirely possible for a woman to have a male personality, and vice versa. It’s entirely possible for the disordered to have a personality with a foreign accent (understand that I’m here considering ‘Southern’ and ‘Boston’ to be foreign to each other, even though they’re from the same country; any accent counts!) or a legitimate stutter. Each personality could (should?) have different mannerisms, different speech patterns and patterns of expression. Each one will have his or her own name, tastes. It’s possible for interesting phenomena between personalities as well, like one personality could be mute and unable to speak, despite the fact that no other personalities have trouble speaking. Personalities can be of different maturity and age.

In class, they said that the average amount of personalities someone with DID would have is about 15. I’m not certain if that’s counting those who purportedly have like 300 different personalities or not, it’s been a while since I was a student. There are cases with only 4 personalities. You should probably not do just 2.

On learning about this disorder and coming to actually have at least a semblance of understanding concerning it, I wanted to make a character with DID. I would like to share her here as an example of how I’ve incorporated my understanding of the disorder into a fictitious character in hopes that she will be useful to you in constructing, if you still wish to, your own. I also recognize she probably has flaws and may not represent the disorder accurately so she’s also here for criticism.

The personality that is primarily out and about is named Rachel, so I’m going to primarily refer to her as such. The setting of Rachel’s story is urban fantasy – it’s modern-day and most mythological creatures aren’t myth all, although because humankind has dominated the earth and doesn’t believe in these creatures, and they’d like to avoid being captured and analyzed by governments or hunted down by untrusting mobs, they’ve all hidden themselves, taken on human avatars and done their best to pretend to be human. Magic likewise is hidden and even those aware of fantastic beings tend to believe magic – in humans – is extinct.

Rachel has a total of thirteen personalities and her disorder developed when as a small child, she was kidnapped by a vampiric lord as a slave. She served him, suffering horrendous abuse, for four years; her rescue occurred when her captor decided to sacrifice her to a warlock. The ceremony was interrupted by vampire slayers who afterward took her to an orphanage in England. (Because they were already in England.) She was adopted not too long after by American parents; she is 29 when the story takes place.

Rachel is a very protected and sheltered personality – as in, not wanting to lose her strength and determination, the personality hid in the others frequently and so Rachel is headstrong and confident. She has a soft spot for children. She loathes vampires. The reason she’s out more than the host is because of her job, which has to do with the main plot of the story which I don’t really want to discuss in this post.

The host personality, the one that is most functional and knows of almost every other personality and best manages them, is Emis*. Emis is highly protective of Rachel because of how valuable Rachel is, and how untouched by the trauma Rachel is. Emis was out during menial chores and had the most time to reflect on her situation; she tends to consider things at length and is the least rash. A lot of her feels like background to the other personalities, the maid that cleans up the mess, the butler who holds everything together.

Sangua was a personality developed from frequent feedings from her vampiric captor – she does not actually have a name as she was nothing more than a food item but will answer to a bastardization of ‘sanguine’ from the word being said around her a lot. She is easily startled and rather fragile, submissive. She is brought out at the sight or smell of blood.

Eloeve is the personality related to sexuality – she’s defiant and mistrusts any man. At the same time, she longs for the security of a relationship. All of Rachel’s personalities are heterosexual except for Eloeve.

Phillip is the protector, triggered primarily by adrenaline. Phillip, gender/sex wise, is female in sex but male in gender (if that makes no sense to you, gender is socially defined; what might be masculine in one culture could be gender neutral or feminine in another, so gender can be somewhat fluid.) She jumps at the opportunity to defend, sometimes over zealously, misinterpreting harmless situations occasionally. Competitive, driven, almost delighted by violence against a bully.

Sally is the lost child, the kidnapee that is desperate, lonely, mistrusting, and yet also clingy.

Fanny’s goal is to hide. She’s the other side of the fight-or-flight instinct, the opposition to Phillip. She’s highly paranoid, certain everyone is out to get her or betray her. She’s far more child-like than Phillip and one of the least developed personalities.

Ami lacks much affect and tends to quietness. She’s the bastion for the others, the one to emerge when the others couldn’t take it anymore, the outside face for taking the brunt of intolerable attack. As such, she’s emotionally numb. The only truly expressive part of her are her eyes, reflecting the unspeakable horrors she’s experienced. She has a tick of shuddering.

Wendy is the depressed. She languishes in her sorrow and is highly suicidal. She’s completely unaware of the other personalities and plays up the part of the inconsolable victim.

Little One is the diplomatic, the ally-seeker. Consoling, empathetic, optimistic. She’s triggered by the presence of other children, far more strongly if the children are upset.

Torrey emerged late, while in the orphanage. The vampire hunters knew of the fantastic world; those within the orphanage did not. She is therefore the secret keeper. She tends to harbor most of her thoughts and feelings, and she tends to petulance. She’s perpetually a pre-teen and she speaks with a Brittish accent (I haven’t decided which one yet).

Lannis admires vampires. This is the shard that Rachel broke off because she was simultaneously guilt-ridden and disgusted that a part of her could have ever become fascinated by the monster that tormented her, with his power and immortality. Lannis is the product of innocent curiosity, exposure to the alluring hypnotism of her vampiric lord, and a hefty dose of Stockholm Syndrome. She tends to be cold and spiteful as a result of the rest of her hating herself for being the tiny part of her that admired vampires, and Lannis tends to want to sabotage anything Rachel wants to do – not in an evil alter ego sense, but in the way we all sometimes sabotage ourselves. Except when we do it it’s all a part of the same person whereas in a way this isn’t.

Justice is a far more primal personality who almost never emerges. She is quick to judge and vicious in retaliation. Hatred is the base of this shard, and she will never be satisfied until all vampires are dead.

So as you can see, it’s not The Seven Dwarves here. Some of the personalities are somewhat shallow and do appear to be based heavily in one emotion, but most of them are not and while they are heavily influenced by one aspect, it’s none too different from what a non-disordered may be like. Also you have the example of personalities clashing and my own example of the closest I would come to an evil personality with Lannis. I hope that this example of mine is helpful to you building your own character – although if you desire to do so, I’d highly recommend at least digging up the DSM and giving it a read on DID.

*Check the comments. What I wrote is based on what I learned in school, and as this is still a misunderstood disorder, even by professionals, the insight of someone who has actual experience with DID is invaluable. I leave what I wrote here because it’s still true to what I was taught although with Emis, I’ll probably revise her based on what I’ve learned via the comments; you would do well to read this post and the comments. And speaking of which, thank you so much to those who have experience with the disorder who posted! A writer’s best friend is someone who is willing to tell them they’re wrong and help them know the facts.

About Rii the Wordsmith

An aspiring author, artist, avid consumer of storytelling medium, gamer, psychologist (insomuch as one with her bachelor's is a psychologist), wife, mother, DM, Christian, a friend to many, and, most importantly, an evil overlord.
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9 Responses to Follow-up on Dissociative Identity Disorder: Writing It

  1. Sam Ruck says:

    I enjoyed your layout of the various people in the group and you have a very good grasp of this disorder in many ways.

    Can I offer a little more information?. Now, I’m not an expert so I could be wrong, but my understanding, and this WAS the case for everyone in my wife’s network, is that the host typically does NOT know about any of the other insiders until the healing process is started. And even then many hosts (including my wife) will say for years, “This can’t be true. Maybe I made this all up” blah, blah, blah. D.I.D. is all about hiding the original trauma and pretending that it never happened. The host may know she was abused as a child like my wife did, however, the host typically does not have an emotional connection to that abuse nor does she/he know the extent of it. So, the host is the one LEAST likely to know about the others, not the most likely. Those within understand the group far better than the host will in the beginning.

    My only other comment, is that typically insiders HATE the words ‘alters, parts, shards’ and anything else that dehumanize them. Yes, they are only ‘part’ of the whole, but they do NOT understand what that means since it is beyond their ability to experience anything else, and so to them, they feel like those kinds of words mean they aren’t real, or important. So when I am on wordpress and at home with my own girls, I call them by name or I refer to them as ‘insiders, littles, middles, teens’ etc. You will NOT read this in the professional literature because they are too busy being technically right, and so insiders accept the other terms just like African Americans used to accept derogatory terms in the past: because they had no other choice.

    But for the most part, your premise looks very interesting. Good luck on your work.



    • I am so glad you took the time to read the post and comment. I am only a grad student so it’s not like I’m an expert, I can only really say what I learned in class. And I think this disorder is not super well understood by a lot of professionals anyway. Example A, the use of the term “alters”.

      I suppose “alters” would still be the correct term if talking about it in a paper or perhaps to another professional, but I wasn’t certain how one with DID might feel about it. Perhaps it depends on the individual? Either way if it is upsetting to even one individual, I’d rather use a different term in general. Life’s hard enough without forcing use of a term that’s uncomfortable. I’m glad you provided “insiders”.

      Your explanation of the host makes great sense. I’ll take that into account and in revision.

      Thank you very much, once again, for taking the time to comment. The feedback of someone who has experience is precious to me. Glad to hear Rachel, overall, measures up!


      • Sam Ruck says:

        Yes, ‘alters’ is correct ‘clinically’ but repulsive to my girls and many of the ones I talk with on wordpress. They just prefer to be addressed as normal people/children.

        And yes, this disorder is very misunderstood even by the professionals. I have a very different perspective living with my wife than most of the literature I read, but maybe people like you can help change that screwed up perspective.



      • Sam Ruck says:

        Sorry, I missed it the first time. Yes, ‘insiders’ is the generic term I use on my blog anytime I refer to anyone other than the host. It is good, descriptive and non-offensive.


  2. More interesting information. Thank you!


  3. As a person with DID, I want to caution everyone NOT to write characters with DID unless they’re doing it to truly show what DID is like, and not as a plot device, story arc, or other meaningless mcguffin which further belittles the disorder. There’s more than enough stories that use DID as a plot device or writing style instead of utilizing it as a disorder. It’s disgusting
    And I’d like to contend the “insiders hate the word alter” thing. Each system is different. My insiders (almost) all use the term alter, because it’s easy. There are only a few who don’t and it’s not because they’re offended by the term. We don’t like the term “part” but each system has a different term they don’t particularly like so.
    Also, some hosts are completely aware of their insiders from the second they appear, whether it’s in a “healing environment” or not. Co-consciousness and co-awareness can be reached without therapy.

    Every DID system is wildly different, and assuming the answers for one apply to all grossly overlooks the nature of the disorder, so does making sweeping generalizations.
    If you’re a singlet writing a character with DID, I encourage you to find an “ambassador system” off whom to bounce whatever questions you have at any point in writing, and who can be allowed to read the text and tell you if anything you’re doing is misleading or offensive to those of us who have to live with this every day and are sick of the lowered quality of life that comes from all of the misrepresentation in media.


    • It would please you to know that that is part of my purpose in wanting to write this character – to try to create a representation that is accurate. However, as the story would not be about the disorder, there won’t be a heavy focus on Rachel, either. I put her in because my fascination makes me want to try to do it right.

      I greatly appreciate your input as to the ‘alters’. I’ll be happy to edit my post accordingly. While finding an “ambassador system” would be optimal, and writing anything especially if it’s representing a peoples requires research, DID is rare enough that it may be impossible to find someone who actually has DID to work with. Even then, as you’ve already seen, things could still be written wrong if written just off of one person’s experience. Which isn’t to say a writer shouldn’t try to find someone! If nothing else, there should be resources on the web that can be useful, and again research for writing about a peoples requires at the very least earnest research.

      I may be reading your tone wrong but I do apologize if I’ve caused you offense. It is my belief that nothing is off-limits in writing because writing should reflect reality and DID is a part of reality and I do share irritation in finding that something is written wrong because if something is not fabricated my belief is that it needs – not should be but needs to be – written correctly, accurately. Part of that is because I don’t think we could believe the fantastic if the mundane and real aren’t even correct, but part of that is because inventing bullcrap where there’s an actual fact not only makes one look uneducated but I feel it’s morally wrong if it wasn’t an honest mistake born of misunderstanding (as opposed to just laziness, lack of research, ect.)

      So thank you for your input – this story isn’t one I’m going to be writing for a while due to lack of overarching plot but when I do pull it out, I do plan on doing more research as I have my education but not much experience with people who actually have the disorder (as I’ve stated, and as you can tell).


      • I don’t have the focus to figure out exactly what Chance (probably chance he tends to do stuff like this) meant by any of that and i don’t have an opinion on writing DID if you’re not DID but wanted to mention that finding an ambassador system shouldn’t be that hard.
        every social networking or blogging site we’ve been on, even places like NaNoWriMo and music forums, have had at least 4 other DID patients on them. It’s really, really not as rare as people make it out to be; it happens in .5-5% of the population depending on whose statistics ur looking at so that’s 1 in every 200 to 10 in every 200. 1 in 20 people is a lot, but even if it’s only 1 in every 200, you should be able to find them on just about any site you look for them on online.
        when we were on tumblr, and the did community was starting to pick up there, we had a list of 240 something systems on tumblr alone, as well as 30 or so odd systems who didn’t ever blog about DID but were active in the community in other ways. at the lowest point of the DID community our directory only had about 50 entries, but it was still considerably more than needed to find just one system to be an ambassador. even nanowrimo, a site designed to help writers write, had at least 5+ systems around and commenting on the “help me write a character with DID” and “plurality group” threads. we actually set people up with no fewer than 12 ambassador-writer relationships in the month of november alone when active there.

        so yeah.
        not actually that hard if you’re actually putting the effort in.

        anyway, happy writing



        • I guess when you put it like that, it wouldn’t be so hard to find. I’m aware of the .5% figure, which sounds tiny to me, but I’ve never been good with numbers. Re-framing it in a fraction…

          Anyway thank you so much!

          Liked by 1 person

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