One Body, Many Souls - An Introduction to Plurality
Who are you? This is a question I’m sure many people have wondered about, and the question can be very difficult to answer for some. What if you didn’t feel like you were the only one inside your mind? What if you were sharing your life in your body with someone or something else? This is the reality for many, and that experience is called Plurality!
So what is it? Plurality (also known as multiplicity) is the state of having multiple minds or consciousnesses sharing a body. Together, these individuals make up a plural system, or multiple system, often just referred to as a system. There are many terms someone can use to refer to an individual consciousness in a system, but the most commonly used ones are headmate, system mate/member, and alter. Some systems may be uncomfortable using terms such as alters or parts, so make sure to ask the system which ones they prefer.
Systems are very diverse in size and nature, with system sizes ranging from 2 to well over 100. Some systems are easily co-conscious and as a result have better memory sharing and continuity, while others may have more strongly divided memory and often lose time and access to certain skills when another headmate starts fronting.
Headmates can be very diverse, having their own names, ages, gender identity, sexuality, beliefs, physical appearance, species, emotions, and more. Some headmates can be very similar to each other, while others can be drastically different. Some headmates may feel more connected and blurred/melded together or feel related to or part of others, while others may feel completely separate and distinct.
Regardless, the majority of members in systems prefer to be treated as individuals just like any other singlet. Headmates are generally not flat characters or aspects of someone, but people with their own motivations, ideas, wants, needs, worldviews, opinions, histories, and relationships who just happen to share their heads and lives. Members of systems, no matter how individual or interconnected, are like any group of people thrown together in that they may belong to a group, but that doesn't mean they're the same as or necessarily similar to each other.
You may be wondering, what causes plurality? There’s no apparent universal cause of plurality, just like there is no one way to be plural. From a psychological standpoint, the diagnosis of DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) or OSDD (Otherwise Specified Dissociative Disorder) is considered to be plurality and this applies to a subset of plural groups, but many plurals do not see themselves as disordered, nor do they fit the diagnostic criteria for these disorders, which according to the DSM-5 requires impaired functioning in daily life, which some plurals don’t experience.
The clinical explanation for the cause of DID/OSDD is trauma, but this is not the only reason plurals exist. There are many plurals without trauma, there are also plenty of plurals that have experienced trauma that did not cause their plurality. Outside of clinical psychology, some plurals may see their plurality as a spiritual phenomenon, some may have been plural since birth, there are even some who were not originally plural, but became plural when their mental creations come to life, accidentally or intentionally. There are also plural systems that do not know their origin, who have mixed origins or do not see their system’s origin as important at all.
There can be plenty of differences in how systems function between the various plural origin types. For example, systems formed from trauma tend to struggle with more issues with memory and PTSD symptoms, while some non-trauma plurals don't struggle with those symptoms. Those who see their plurality as something spiritual may also have differences from other systems, for example, the difference between gateway systems and closed systems.
Gateway systems are systems that have members come and go and often, but not always, perceive their headspaces as being connected to other places, such as universes or other dimensions. Closed systems on the other hand see themselves as discovering members who were already there as opposed to having people walk in from another location. Between these opposites are an infinite variety of groups with both kinds of members or systems that shift types over time.
There are MANY more things I can get into as examples of how diverse plural experiences are, but if I was to write about it all it would be too much! Many sites have information on plurality and details on the terms systems may use to describe their experiences. Some sites that have more information are:
- https://sites.google.com/view/plural-jumpstart/home?authuser=0 - Plurality Resources Jump Start is a good collection of more plural resources.
- https://pluralpedia.org - A wiki site for plural terms that’s always being updated.
Learning to understand and accept your plural friends & family helps bring JOY and harmony to all, so thank you for taking the time to read and learn! Together we can create a kind and understanding world, together we can create UNITOPIA! UNIBLESS!
~ Term Glossary ~
- Alter - The clinical term for a headmate part of a system.
- Closed system - A system that discovers their new members who were already there instead of them instead of having headmates walk in from somewhere else.
- Co-conscious - When two or more people are conscious at the same time. You're usually able to communicate with each other like this.
- DID - Dissociative Identity Disorder, or DID, is a dissociative disorder characterized by multiple separate personality states, amnesia between alters/headmates, and dissociation that impairs the functioning of daily life. This has been considered the clinically “official” diagnosis of plurality.
- Front - When an individual controls the collective's shared physical body, also called “fronting”.
- Gateway system - Gateway systems can be defined in different ways. However, they are most typically defined as systems where headmates have their own physical or spiritual bodies in another world/dimension/universe (including the inner world) and/or systems that have a gateway/connection to another world/dimension/universe, that headmates can enter and exit through
- Headmate - A non-clinical term for someone in a system. Other non-clinical terms include sysmate, system mate, system member, plural, and possibly more that I don’t know of.
- Headspace - A headspace (also known as inner-world or wonderland) is a place that members of a system can visit or inhabit, where they can talk to other headmates. Not every system has one, but many do. It is also not unique to systems. Singlets may have a headspace as well.
- Memory Sharing - A system function whereby headmates can share their memories with others in the same system. This may happen automatically or may require deliberate action by headmates. Not all systems have memory sharing and those that do may have it to varying degrees.
- Multiplicity/Plurality - The state of being plural or multiple; the name of having multiple people in one body.
- OSDD - Other Specified Dissociative Disorder is a psychological diagnosis that is given when an individual who is experiencing distress due to their dissociative symptoms does not meet the criteria for DID. This diagnosis was known as dissociative disorder not otherwise specified (DDNOS) before the DSM-5.
- Singlet - A non-system. One person with one body. Also known as a singleton.