Multiplicity: What and How?
What is multiplicity?
Having more than one person, and/or fragments of people, in the same body. It can include Dissociative Identity Disorder (US/DSM-IV diagnosis), Multiple Personality Disorder (ISD diagnosis, former DSM diagnosis), possession, naturally occurring multiplicity from birth, and other varieties. It can be a healthy state or not - and whether it's healthy or not is not necessarily related to whether the multiplicity is a result of trauma. Headmates may have full access to each other's memories, or they may not.
How does it happen?
The official line in clinical psychology is that it is a misperception, resulting when a very young person is traumatized. The person isolates different parts of zir personality and each of these parts comes to perceive itself as a separate individual. Thus, there is an original core person, called the core or host, and one or more fragments, called alters. Multiples who do not fit this model of multiplicity generally consider those terms insulting, and some don't have a core or host at all - they were always multiple.
Our favorite hypothesis, in-system, is that the brain is not wired specifically to create a single consciousness alone, a single consciousness with fragments or variations that are dependent upon the core consciousness (called a median system), or more than one consciousness. The brain is modular, and mashes the interpretations of each module into a unified perception. The brain is analog, operating along many shades of meaning, rather than digital, interpreting in absolute yes-or-no terms. The analog operation of cognition, giving different weight to particular factors in interpretation depending on the situation, seems to lend itself to the possibility that it could support multiple consciousnesses, naturally.
Of course, depression and schizophrenia are natural too, and they're definitely not healthy. We believe that multiplicity can be healthy because it does not necessarily impair individual functioning. In fact, it can enhance functioning by allowing system members to specialize in handling different types of work. In trauma-based multiplicity, the original self splits into more than one to allow part of itself to escape the trauma or to allow part of itself to absorb the impact of the trauma. We would say that's inherently unhealthy, but if the system later works through the trauma, system members can work together in a healthy way without having to be re-integrated into a single person.
We believe that consciousness is a continuum, from single to multiple. Multiplicity can run in families, so some brains seem pre-disposed toward multiple consciousnesses. We fall back into single consciousness during severe depression, and we believed for a long time that we were one person. Integration of multiple consciousnesses frequently fails in the long term, though, and we can't say whether someone without a family history of multiplicity would be able to convert to a stable, long-term system. (Most healthy multiples hide, so it would be hard to prove the lack of family history, too!)
What should others call someone in a multiple system?
"People" is safest. "Headmates" is also generally acceptable, when talking to one system member about another. It's best to avoid calling members of a system "alters," "personalities," "souls," or anything else that implies they're less than a full person, unless someone in the system does that when talking with you.
Don't think "personality" or "soul" seems offensive? It's generally believed that each person has only one, but it could also imply that the speaker finds it easier to believe that one person could have more than one of them, than that one body could have more than one person in it. In general this goes for "consciousness" too, but I use it in this post to discuss self-awareness as seated in brain function. I hope no one finds this uncomfortable.
How do you know, and how is it some systems claim they were always multiple but didn't know for years or even decades?
Full multiplicity is the presence of more than one independent state of consciousness with its own personality. System members have different likes and dislikes, disagree with each other at times, and so forth. Median systems are less independent, with a single focal person and perhaps variations on that person, or perhaps others who can't function without the focal person.
We did not realize our multiplicity until our body was in the 20's because of denial. American culture assumes that there is one person per body, and that's what we grew up hearing. In societies where multiplicity is considered the norm, there are many multiples. Val began the process by attempting to create a thought-form more obedient than her, to take over for her when she was at work and in other situations she didn't want to deal with. In actuality, she just woke Beka up as an obviously separate entity. Others surfaced over time, and she came to believe that she was median...until severe depression stopped her from functioning on a day-to-day basis, and a mob of headmates restrained her from controlling the body. She then realized that they were capable of doing everything she could, and that she was no more necessary than any of them.
By that time, we also had three walk-ins (system members who originated outside the body and entered it after birth), including myself, but they'd all opted to lurk. (We aren't sure whether I was even capable of controlling such an unfamiliar system until its depression was treated.) Shortly before we were hospitalized for the depression, Eva began to surface as a blend between herself and whoever was controlling the body ("fronting") at the time. During the hospitalization, she separated fully and explained that she had been created to accept some of the trauma that the original inhabitants of the body faced while growing up. So, while some of the natives don't seem to have any traumatic origin, we know that at least part of the system is trauma-based.
By observing ourselves, we can now see the shift between one person and another. Sometimes it happens without our awareness, because of outside stimuli. We find it fully credible that this brain has always supported multiple consciousnesses, but that we were unaware of it.
Some of the terms used to describe multiples' experiences and day-to-day functioning aren't exactly household words. What do they mean?
Fronting: being in control of the body and aware of the body's actions as one's own
Front: the person fronting, or the "location"/feeling of being in that role
Co-Fronting: more than one person sharing the front
Co-Conscious: more than one person being aware of what's going on, but not necessarily all fronting
Shotgun: our system's term for someone who is co-conscious but not fronting
Middle or Middleground: our system's term for the "location"/feeling of being in shotgun position
Middling: another term we coined for being in the middle
Back: "where" system members are when they're not conscious at all
Switching: one frontrunner leaving and another coming in - considered by some systems to be insulting
Blurring or Fuzzing: a feeling of not being self-aware, possibly mixed up with other system members' thoughts and traits...usually unpleasant
Blending: two or more system members feeling that they are mixed up with each other's thoughts and traits...often unpleasant, but sometimes comforting depending on who's in the blend
Where can I learn more and/or get support?
<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://www.kinhost.org">http://www.kinhost.org</a><!-- m --> is specifically for multiple 'kin and their headmates. Not complete, but good information.
<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://community.livejournal.com/multiplicity/profile/">http://community.livejournal.com/multiplicity/profile/</a><!-- m --> - the community has been overwhelmed with drama and we can no longer recommend it, but the profile also has several good links and I see no need to reinvent the wheel.
<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://more-than-one.dreamwidth.org/">http://more-than-one.dreamwidth.org/</a><!-- m --> - a much smaller but more civil community on an LJ-like site (which unfortunately requires either invite codes or buying paid time to start an account - try <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://dw-codesharing.dreamwidth.org/profile">http://dw-codesharing.dreamwidth.org/profile</a><!-- m --> for a code if you need one)
<!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://community.livejournal.com/fragmentedminds/profile">http://community.livejournal.com/fragme ... ds/profile</a><!-- m --> - a general community for both multiplicity-positive and pro-integration folks.
Unfortunately, we can't recommend a good pro-integration-leaning community as we haven't been in one. We do not recommend LJ's "didsupport" community; its founder behaved very poorly on "multiplicity" while she was there and has not shown any signs of improving.
This post was prompted by a question about how others knew they were multiple, so I hope other systems will share their experiences in replies if they feel comfortable. While I do not mind this post being made an article, I ask the mods to please keep the replies viewable to board members only, so that others feel more secure in sharing.
"All knowledge is worth having." -Phedre no Delaunay
"Everything has a price." -Jaenelle Angelline
"I think if you try, that's being your best." -Echo