These are several common types of alters (different identities) in dissociative identity disorder (DID). Systems (a collection of alters/the collective sharing one body) may frequently present with these types of alters. It’s not an exhaustive list, but this does inform what alters must be understood before you can begin to work with clients with dissociative identity disorder. All of these alters and more are covered in my Understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder training here.
These are alters that identify as children or teenagers. To them, their real age is younger than the body’s age. Some recognize the body is older, some don’t. Treating them similarly to working with an actual physical child or teen is important during any therapeutic practice. It’s also worth noting they may feel distressed by being in a body that is older than they identify as and dealing with that dysphoria is a clinical consideration that must be taken into account.
Protector alters are all about keeping the system safe. They might be willing to physically defend the system, take the brunt of any painful experiences, or even hold difficult emotions. Protector alters can be emotional, like holding onto painful emotional experiences or having hyper-empathy. They can also be physically protective and prone to fighting back against perceived or actual harm. (Although it’s worth noting that people with dissociative identity disorder are more likely to be victims of violence than to perpetrate it.)
Introjects are alters that are based off a real or fictional person. Sometimes, they form because the person/character is seen as strong by the system, so having a “copy” of them as an alter increases the sense of safety and protection. It’s not uncommon for alters to be based off the system’s abuser(s) too. These are often “persecutors,” a relatively common type of alter who causes harm to the system.
For various reasons, alters can believe themselves to be something other than human. It’s a totally normal experience and it’s different from a delusion in most cases, as the alter realizes it is their identity and that the body is human. In some cases, a non-human identity can offer a sense of safety. If one alter identifies as an angel, they might be able to protect the other alters (or create an illusion of protection from harm).
To learn more about rare and common types of alters:
Join my Understanding Dissociative Identity Disorder training. This 4-hour program is meant for mental health professionals, students, and clinicians. DID affects over 1% of the population [source], making it an essential topic to be informed on. Click here to learn more and sign up for a training session!
Please note: The basis of this blog is community reports and observation since 2017. Unfortunately, in such an under-studied field, details on specific types of alters are lacking in formal research.