Gatekeeper Alters

The definition of dissociative identity disorder (DID) is that people living with it have alternative selves, or alters, that are parts of themselves caught in trauma-time. These alters have differing tastes, thoughts, and emotions and fulfill many roles.


One such role of alters is the gatekeeper, of which there may be one or many. This article will focus on gatekeeper alters, with formation and functions.


What are Alters and Their Functions?




There is much debate amongst the DID, and psychological communities as to what alters are and how they came to be. That being said, please don’t kill the messenger as I attempt to describe the answer to the questions of what alters are and their functions.


An alter is a dissociated self-state often associated with dissociative identity disorder. A set of alters is known as a system or by some other synonym. Each alter has their own perception of who they are and sometimes view themselves as separate from the whole.


It is believed that alters form when a child is brutally and repeatedly subjected to abuse and/or neglect, such as severe sexual/physical abuse or torture. Some alters form because the child is forced to witness or partake in ritual abuse or the abuse of other children. Some cases of DID have been reported as having formed because of a child experiencing war either in violent communities or when their country is at war.


Alters have their own perceptions of the world around them and will interact with their environment from the perspective of who they believe they are, even if that vision conflicts with that of the host. Often, alters have their own desires, needs, and opinions. Alters can also experience emotional or physical difficulties that the host or the rest of the system does not have.


What are the Types of Alters?



While being one person, the alters in a DID system perform different functions according to how and why they were formed, plus what is needed at the time.


Alters change from one to the other via switching when one alter who has been in the background is triggered to come forward and take over the body. For instance, a person living with DID experiences meeting another person who is critical of them and makes them angry. Instead of that person handling the situation as the core self, they may subconsciously call forward an alter who can handle the anger better.


Alters take over the person’s body or behavior in many ways and can function independently and are sometimes confused with alter egos, but those are present in people without DID (singletons).


There are believed to be at least eight different functions that alters fulfill in a dissociative system, although there may be more such as those that are not human. We shall explore seven of them before we focus on gatekeeper alters.


The Core. This part of a dissociative system is also known as the original child, the one who was born to inhabit the body. The core is the part that all the other parts were formed to protect from harm that was done to them by people who should have been watching out for their welfare.


The Host. The host is the alter who is recognized as using the body the most. The host is often in charge of fronting and is a conscious part of the mind and responsible for most qualities of daily life. Hosts are vital to the system as they perform critical tasks such as working or going to school. Hosts often find it scary and difficult to acknowledge the existence of the others in the system, even though they have sometimes felt their presence throughout their lives.


The Protector. These alters protect the body and the others in the system and may try to prevent further abuses of the body. Some protectors are verbal and can lash back at those they perceive as trying to hurt them. Sometimes protector alters harm the body rather than allowing someone else to hurt it.


The Persecutor. Persecutors are alters that harm the body and consequently the other alters in a DID system. They may sabotage the system from healing or even work with abusers. Persecutors often hold a lot of self-hatred and believe that harming themselves is the only way to control and teach them how to behave to prevent further harm from outside sources.


The Introject. These alters are created to be like an outside person and might also believe they are that individual. Usually, the people the alter is using as a template is a friend, family member, or caregiver who has given the alter good messages about themselves. However, there are also negative introjects who are abusive and reenact trauma as a component of the internal flashback. Introjects can also be based on historical or fictional characters they found in childhood to be strong and courageous, perhaps fantasizing that their heroes would rescue them some day.


The Internal Self-Helper. These alters are those who hold enormous amounts of data about the system, the trauma endured as a child, and other internal components of the person. Sometimes internal self-helpers are the first alter to form. Within the theory of structural dissociation, these alters are viewed as observers and sometimes function as either the core or the gatekeeper.


Fragments. Fragments are alters that are not differentiated or developed. Fragments are believed to hold one memory or thought and are disconnected from the other alters. Sometimes they are preverbal representations of the original child and are incapable of fronting.


Alters may play one or many of the functions mentioned above.


The Gatekeeper Alter



The eighth type of alter is the gatekeeper; an alter that controls switching to the front and access to the person’s inner world. Gatekeepers control access to specific memories or protected alters and can, in some cases, prevent unwanted switching. These alters aid in preventing traumatic memories from escaping from the alters who control them, thus throwing up amnesiac walls to protect the whole system.


It is easy to see how gatekeeper alters are a trial for therapists because they control the person with DID and have many names:


  • Controllers
  • Observers
  • Guards
  • File keepers
  • Librarians


Gatekeepers interfere in therapy by refusing to allow other alters to come forward to speak to the therapist, thus slowing the healing process. While alters speaking directly to the therapist is necessary it is highly controversial.


Gatekeepers are the most common in RA systems and are often non-human entities who can hold back feelings and memories of what happened to preserve the sanity and life of the survivor.



Gatekeepers are not the enemy, no matter how it may appear. They are part of the DID system that keeps the others safe so that the person can function. Without them, the system would be chaotic and incapable of healing.


The gatekeeper alter holds the keys to the library of memories, makes the system rules and knows everyone. Often gatekeepers are emotionless, ageless, and the keeper of all traumatic experiences.


Learning to Live With a Gatekeeper Alter



Like with any alter, learning to live with them is a challenge. However, getting along with a gatekeeper alter can be difficult because they have assumed so much power in the system.


To get along with a gatekeeper, one must first recognize just how important they have been to your well-being. Without a gatekeeper, the memories they hold would flood back without any form or prohibitions. Sometimes these memories are so destructive they can cause suicidal ideations and actions.


Strive toward unification of all the alters to get them going in the same direction, including the gatekeeper. Reaching fusion may take years, but it will never happen if you do not learn to appreciate the gatekeeper in your system.


Give credit where credit is due, and try to remember that the gatekeeper, like the other alters in your system, saving you and are all parts of a whole person, you.


“Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you – all of the expectations, all of the beliefs – and becoming who you are.” – Rachel Naomi Remen


“Healing is embracing what is most feared; healing is opening what has been closed, softening what has hardened into obstruction, healing is learning to trust life.” – Jeanne Achterberg




Dell, P. F., & O’Neil, J. A. (2009). Dissociative multiplicity and psychoanalysis. In Dissociation and the dissociative disorders: DSM-V and beyond (p. 301). New York: Routledge.


Howell, E. F. (2011). Understanding and treating dissociative identity disorder: A relational approach. Routledge.














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