Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is a relatively rare and enigmatic condition caused by extreme and repeated childhood trauma. Those who live with DID face an overwhelming sense of being more than one person, although they are really one person whose personality did not merge correctly.
This article will focus specifically on alter creation and polyfragmented DID.
How are Alters Created
The question of how alters are created is controversial as there are many theories. Some professionals swear that DID is caused by over-zealous mental health professionals who unwittingly cause alters to form via transference and counter-transference.
Some professionals believe that alter formation comes when gullible and easily manipulated people watch videos on social media and fall in love with the ‘specialness of it all.’ These people, it is theorized, crave attention, and some don’t want to ‘heal’ because they are in love with being ill.
In yet another theory, the theory of structural dissociation of the personality proposes that “patients with complex trauma-related disorders are characterized by a division of their personality into different prototypical parts, each with its own psychobiological underpinnings.” (Steele, Van Der Hart & Nijenhuis, 2005)
This author believes that the theory closest to the truth is the structural dissociation theory.
Alters are created to handle the repeated episodes of childhood abuse leaving the ‘host’ alter free to function as normally as possible under the circumstance in which the child lives (Galton, & Sachs, 2008).
While some people can recall and describe the trauma they endured in childhood that caused a particular alter, many do not. This thought is particularly true for those who are polyfragmented.
Polyfragmented Dissociative Identity Disorder
Once known as complex multiple personality disorder, polyfragmented dissociative identity disorder (PDID) more accurately describes what multiples experience (Kluft & Fine, 1993).
A person living with dissociative identity disorder who has more than 100 alters is said by some practitioners to be polyfragmented. However, other mental health professionals define polyfragmentation as someone with dozens of alters. Whatever the definition, there are many alters and undefined parts called fragments, and the person is sometimes greatly affected in their work and relational worlds (Chu, 2011).
Like with other forms of DID, several of the alters in a polyfragmented system have names, but others do not. This is typical of someone with dissociative identity disorder. These parts are arranged differently, with some having different functions. The alters may form a hierarchy, with some fronting while others work quietly in the background (Miller, 2011).
Interestingly, when there are many alters and fragments in a polyfragmented system, there are less obvious signs of switching.
Polyfragmented DID is produced by severe and long-lasting trauma such as ritual abuse, satanic abuse, abuse performed by a cult, or being caught in a pedophile ring. This maltreatment causes a large number of fragments and alters.
A person with large numbers of fragments and less active alters can heal at least some of them fairly quickly. This is because many of them will have similar roles and functions; this allows them to fuse (permanently integrate) relatively quickly.
Some people with PDID have alters that have the same function and can fuse more quickly than those with DID because they share the same painful memories of traumatic events. That is not to say that all people with PDID can achieve fusion easily; it depends on whether they share the same information.
Usually, some form of psychotherapy is used to face the enormous pain and sorrow involved in polyfragmented dissociative identity disorder. There are treatments other than psychotherapy, but they are met with limited success.
Measuring the extent of fragmentation is not easy as all DID systems are radically different. One study states that the amount of time spent in therapy is not directly a measurement of the amount of fragmentation. The same also found that the women reported that the amount of communication between the alters ranged from 4% to 91% depending on their time in therapy, with an average of 15 years spent healing (Barlow & Chu, 2014).
One thing is abundantly clear, no matter how one heals from the effects of PDID on their lives, the goal of healing is not to remove alters or to fuse them into a single identity. The goal is to bring all the alters into an agreement where one person fronts and the others, who have now been relieved of their pain, work quietly in the background.
Multiples who agree to be co-conscious and co-aware move in the same direction. The alters do not die; they do not disappear; they remain because they are all parts of the same person.
Ending Our Time Together
Finding out one is not only living with dissociative identity disorder but that you are polyfragmented is tough. After taking an inventory of my alters, I remember how it felt to reach 127 and know there are many more alters and dozens of fragments.
I was blown away, heartbroken by the cause of my polyfragmentation, and more than a little afraid. I wasn’t sure I would ever heal, and it has taken me 30 years to reach the point where I am now, at peace. My alters have gone nowhere; they are still and always will be a part of who I am.
Sometimes, telling people they are one person instead of many people is controversial at best because of the overwhelming sense that their alters are separate from each other.
I understand; I get it. I felt that way too. However, once I understood and accepted who my alters were, I felt relieved because I finally understood what had been a lifelong mystery.
I hope this article has helped to explain polyfragmented dissociative identity disorder. You can always email me for more information at email@example.com
“Don’t brood. Get on with living and loving. You don’t have forever.” Leo Buscaglia
“We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Barlow, M. R., & Chu, J. A. (2014). Measuring fragmentation in dissociative identity disorder: The integration measure and relationship to switching and time in therapy. European journal of psychotraumatology, 5(1), 22250. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24396569/
Steele, K., Van Der Hart, O., & Nijenhuis, E. R. (2005). Phase-oriented treatment of structural dissociation in complex traumatization: Overcoming trauma-related phobias. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 6(3), 11-53. Retrieved 8/5/2022 from: