What Are Dissociative Identity Alters & What Do They Mean?

Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a mental health condition that was formerly known as multiple personality disorder. A person with DID has at least two distinctly different identities, but can have as many as 100. These identities are called "alters." DID usually develops from childhood abuse or other traumatic experiences.

This article discusses the most common type of alters that occur with DID.

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Types of Dissociative Identity Disorder Alters

Alters have distinctly different characteristics than the person with dissociative identity disorder. Alters can be a different age, gender, sexuality, or even a different species than the individual. Each alter can have a different voice, accent, mannerism, appearance, and skill set than other alters.

There are many types of alters, but some are more common than others. As a collection, a person's alters are called the "system."

Child And Teen Alters

Child alters are sometimes called "littles" or the "little ones." Most people with DID have more than one child alter. These alters can have traumatic memories of childhood abuse and display fear and pain, or be easy-going and fun-loving, with only positive memories.

Child alters often use child-like voices and speech, but continue to have adult skills, such as driving, paying bills, and doing their taxes.

As child alters get older, they can become teen alters. In some cases, teen alters develop during adolescence in response to trauma that occurs during the teenage years.

Internal Self-Helper Alters

The internal self-helper alter is aware of all of a person's alters. The internal self-helper observes the other alters and understands how they support each other. This alter is often able to give a therapist information about other identities.

These alters are also called "managers" or "inner self-helpers."

Introject Alters

Introject alters believe they are a different person than the individual who has dissociative identity disorder. These alters can be based on a family member, caretaker, or a past abuser. In some cases, introject alters are based on fictional or historical characters.

Introject alters are also called "copy alters." Introject alters that are based on someone who had a positive influence in the person's life can be a source of encouragement. However, introjects that are based on past abusers can cause the person to relive their traumatic experiences.

Opposite-Sex and Sexual Alters

Opposite-sex alters often occur when a person has a history of sexual abuse. A biological female who has been sexually abused might have a male opposite-sex alter who can deny that the abused ever occurred because he does not have the same anatomy. This male alter might also act like a stereotypical young boy—strong, brave, or angry.

The same can occur with a biological male who has been abused. The person's female alter might display stereotypical behavior of young girls and act fearful or frightened.

Sexual alters can also develop from sexual trauma. These alters hold the memories of sexual abuse and keep those memories away from the other alters.

Protector Alters

Protector alters attempt to protect the system (the entire group of alters), individual alters, or the person with dissociative identity disorder. Although protector alters intend to defend the individual, they often have self-destructive behaviors such as eating disorders and self-harm.

Protector alters might also endure abuse that other alters cannot endure, or fight back against it—either verbally or physically.

One specific type of protector alter is called the caretaker, or "soother". This alter focuses on taking care of younger or more vulnerable alters. A less common type of protector is a persecutor—an alter that harms itself to avoid outside harm.

Persecutor Alters

Persecutor alters are harmful to the system and other alters. Persecutor alters purposefully harm the person with DID and sabotage treatment. The persecutor also uses manipulation and aggression to attempt to control the person's behavior.

Persecutor alters might punish the person with DID for talking to a therapist about past abuse. These alters often send self-hatred messages and might try to convince the person that the abuse was deserved.

Suicidal Alters

Suidical tendencies and depression are common in people living with DID. However, a person might also have a suicidal alter. This type of alter can cause suicidal behaviors that appear to come out of nowhere.

Negotiating With Alters

The primary treatment for dissociative identity disorder is psychotherapy. Treatment includes making the alters aware of each other, and then negotiating conflicts that arise.

The goal of treatment is to fuse the individual identities (alters) back into one functioning person. This is a lengthy process that usually lasts for many years.

Treatment for DID also includes working through past traumas that led to the development of alters.

Summary

Dissociative identity disorder is a mental health condition that causes a person to have a least 2 distinctly different indentities, but often many more. These identities are called "alters." Common identities include the child, teen, internal self-helper, introject, opposite-sex, sexual, protector, prosecutor, and suicidal alters. Psychotherapy is used to treat DID, with the goal of fusing alters back into one functioning person.

A Word From Verywell

Dissociative identity disorder is a complex condition that is diagnosed by a mental health professional. If you suspect that you might have more than one personality (alters), talk to your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How many alters can a person with DID have?

    Some people with DID have as many as 100 or more alters.

  • How are alters created?

    Alters typically develop as a way to cope with traumatic experiences and memories.

  • How do you know if you have alters?

    Symptoms of alters can include memory loss, gaps in time, and feeling out of touch with reality,

  • Can DID alters talk to each other?

    Alters are able to communicate with each other. However, they are not always aware of each other's existence.

  • How should you speak to the alter of someone with DID?

    It's best to remain calm when communicating with a person who has DID. Reacting emotionally can add even more stress to a difficult situation.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Dissociative Identity Disorder Research. Alters.

  3. Traumadissociation.com. Alters in dissociative identity disorder (MPD) and DDNOS.

  4. Dissociative Indentity Disorder Research. Alter functions/jobs.

  5. National Alliance on Mental Illness. DID fact sheet.

  6. PsychCentral. Can you recover from dissociative identity disorder?

  7. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Dissociative identity disorder.