Understanding What Alters Look Like When Living with DID

October 20, 2020 Krystle Vermes

"What do your alters look like?" is but one question I receive from people who do not live with dissociative identity disorder (DID). It's because one of the most fascinating parts of DID to people who don’t live with it is the concept of alters. Under the internal family system (IFS) theory, we all have parts of our personality that make us tick. While we may have one part that wants to eat a slice of cake, we might have another part that tells us to skip the empty calories. This isn’t so far from what people with DID experience, but on a more extreme basis. People living with DID may have dozens of parts to juggle regularly, which may make it slightly more challenging compared to the average person.

But one of the more common questions I’m asked by those who are interested in my condition is, “What do your alters look like?” Sometimes, this question is followed by, “Are all of your alters human?”

What Do Alters Look Like?

Interestingly, my alters don’t always look like much at all and do not appear to me front and center in my mind, even when they desperately need something. Usually, I envision them off to the side, sometimes scared off by other alters who are also demanding attention.

As a particular alter craves more attention, I’ve found that it’ll grow in size. It may eventually tower over me, becoming overwhelming until I can have a focused conversation with it in a therapy session. But even in these instances, a towering alter may just present itself as a large blob until I get to know it better, understand its needs and wants, and can link it to a certain time period in my life.

Once I get to know an alter, it may morph into its actual identity, whether it be myself as a small child or a teenager. In my personal experience, most of my alters become representative of the time period of my trauma.

Understanding My Journey with Alters

My journey with alters is a long one. It isn’t as simple as hearing several voices in my head, or seeing alters in front of me who aren’t really there. It took years of specialized IFS therapy for me to get to a place where I was even remotely comfortable confronting what I was “hearing” in my mind, which turned out to be my very own parts.

It wasn’t until then that I could gain a grasp on my DID and how to handle it on a day-to-day basis. Today, I still work with a therapist who specializes in IFS to help me manage the internal conversations I have with all of my parts. Without this coaching on a weekly basis, I wouldn’t get the practice I need to facilitate functional discussions amongst my alters.

Every experience is different for an individual managing DID, but I truly believe that with professional assistance, it’s possible to gain control over the ins and outs of the condition.

APA Reference
Vermes, K. (2020, October 20). Understanding What Alters Look Like When Living with DID, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Krystle Vermes

Krystle Vermes is a Boston-based freelance writer and editor who is dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of mental health. Connect with Krystle on LinkedIn and her website.

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