Ramblings of an Ex-Multiple

Plurality 101


What is plurality?

The total beginner's definition

A lot of people think that they're something more than their body. Maybe it's spiritual, maybe it's not, but many people think that there's something that makes them who they are.

Most people have just one of that something. It's normal to have one person per body, so that's what the world expects. But does this always have to be the case? After all, just about everything else about living is varied. Every person is different and sees the world differently. Maybe some bodies have more than one person inside them.

It turns out that some bodies do have more than one person inside them! This is called plurality. Plurality can happen for lots of different reasons, and no one's pinned down exactly why it happens. There are lots of good guesses and thoughts about it, though.

If you know someone who's plural, it's best to ask them how you should handle it. They've probably thought about what they want, and it's always good to talk about boundaries and expectations.

The slightly more involved definition

Simply put, plurality is the state of having more than one individual in a body. The entire group of entities sharing a body is usually called a system.

It would be nice if everyone could easily be sorted into "system" or "not system", but it's not always that easy. To some degree, it's normal to have parts of self. Parts mean that people can disagree with themselves. They can talk to themselves and act in different ways. They might have an "inner child" or a "work self". They might even be bothered by their own behavior after acting on strong emotions. There can be a lot of variation in one person's behaviors and beliefs. Despite all this variation, they're still one person.

There's a lot of variation in plural experiences too. Plurality is a spectrum, and for some people, it can be very hard to tell if they're plural. For example, some systems share an identity as one person but consider their experiences to be unusual enough to make them plural. Other systems don't share a self at all. They have their own identities and behave completely independently of each other. Everything about a system's internal experiences can vary.

A very wide variety of internal structures and experiences can all be viewed as plural by those having them.

Add in that conditions like BPD, schizophrenia, and C-PTSD can mimic plural experiences and it can be very difficult to know when someone's experiences should be called plural. One useful marker is that plurality goes beyond normal parts of self. A system does not completely fit into being one person. This isn't a perfect definition of plurality, as trauma can separate someone's parts more than the norm without causing plural experiences, but it usually does the job. After all, it's not normal to have parts that take full control of your body!

Untraumatized people's parts are very close together. A traumatized person's parts are a little farther apart, but still connected. The parts of someone with DID are disconnected from each other.

What are DID and OSDD?

While some systems don't see their plurality as a problem, many face additional challenges in life because of their plurality. These systems can be diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) or Otherwise Specified Dissociative Disorder (OSDD).

DID can be diagnosed when a system is highly separated to the point of causing problems. When a system is very separated, memories don't transfer between different parts. This can mean losing large chunks of time. People with DID may also be unable to remember years of their childhood or otherwise have memory difficulties in addition to dissociative symptoms.

Sometimes, DID is the closest diagnosis, but the criteria aren't all met. OSDD is a catch-all diagnosis for people who don't fully meet the criteria for a dissociative disorder. One way OSDD can be diagnosed if a system has problems with daily life but does not meet the criteria for a DID diagnosis. The plural community usually calls this OSDD-1.

OSDD systems might not have amnesia, not trade control of their body, or not be distinct enough for a DID diagnosis. It's a much broader diagnosis than DID and covers many different experiences.

In some places, Partial DID (P-DID) is a third option. It can be diagnosed if the system meets DID criteria but does not trade control of the body. In those cases, P-DID is diagnosed instead of OSDD.

Can systems be non-disordered?

They can, but I'd hazard a guess that it's rare. More experiences are disordered than most people in the plural community think.

Most systems have to put effort into sharing their life. Arguments and disagreements happen from time to time even in the most compatible group of people, and systems are no exception. Even if a system gets along perfectly, there are plenty of other challenges that come with being plural. System members may want time in control, and that may mean planning switches in advance. Unexpected switches can wreak havoc on plans. In systems that can't switch, background chatter might take up focus or time that needs to go elsewhere. Parts might project their feelings onto whoever's in control, causing that person to feel emotions in situations that don't warrant them. Inconsistent beliefs and behaviors can become a problem in social situations. Systems that don't share all skills and memories may run into situations that they're unable to handle without switching, and they may not be able to force a switch to take care of it. Stressful situations may be very difficult to navigate without dissociating. Existing as plural means dissociating, and that can very easily become a problem when one relies on it as their main coping mechanism. On top of it all, identity confusion is par for the course, and many systems struggle to know who they are at any given time.

Dealing with all of this takes time and energy. Non-systems never deal with these problems, and systems are at a relative disadvantage as a result. That said, I have met a handful of systems that genuinely seemed to be non-disordered. They've mitigated these problems so thoroughly that they no longer encounter them in daily life. It's uncommon but possible.


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