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Common Terms Regarding Dissociative Disorders

Disclaimer: You’ll read several terms here that some people will not use. For example, many “system roles” are listed, but some systems decide not to use roles at all. Please don’t assume that because you read about caretakers, it means that every system must have one. There may also be controversial terms listed that some will not believe in. Everything included in this list is simply there, so you’ll recognize the terms if and when you hear them come up.

This is a living document. Do you disagree with a definition or know a term that isn’t listed?  Leave a comment at the bottom of this page.

Age Slider

An alter whose mental, emotional, and/or memory age changes.

“Sometimes she does age regress and is more childlike, but sometimes she’s definitely an adult, so she’s one of our system’s age sliders.”

Age Sliding

The experience of your mental, emotional, or memory age changing.

See also: Age Slider.


A term for one identity within a system (someone with DID or OSDD). Alter stands for alternate identity and is most commonly used in professional and psychological settings.

“I think I met one of the other alters in your system the other day.”

See also: Headmate, Part(s)

Apparently Normal Part (ANP)

An alter who presents covertly and easily “passes” as the host.  Nothing about this alter’s mannerisms would clue you in from the outside that it was a different person or that they were part of a system.  These rational, grounded alters handle aspects of everyday life for the system.

“Yeah it makes sense you didn’t realize it wasn’t me fronting yesterday at work. Sarah’s an ANP so she masks really easily.”


When one alter starts feeling the feelings or remembering the memories of another alter.  Often this information is incomplete and confusing.

“Today’s been bizarre. I’ve just had a lot of intense emotional bleedthrough. I’m personally feeling emotionally fine but I’m also feeling someone else’s grief.”


When two or more alters are sharing the front and have a hard time telling where one identity stops and the other begins.  Like a minor, temporary fusion.  Alters can be so close together while they are blending that they’re almost someone new entirely.

See also:  Blendy, Blurry


Term used by systems to describe when they have two or more alters blending together.

“Honestly I don’t even know who I am right now we’re so blendy.”

See also: Blending, Blurry


 Term used by systems when they are blending or otherwise unsure of who is who.

See also: Blending, Blendy


An alter whose main role is to care for others within the system, oftentimes the younger alters.

“He had a flashback yesterday but our caretaker helped him through it.”

Co-Conscious (Co-Con)

When two alters are both fronting – to varying degrees – at the same time (This could be an even split or could be one fronting and the other just observing).

“Yeah it’s Ben but I know what you’re talking about because Mark is co-con with me.”


A period in the system’s life when two alters share the responsibility of being host.

“I was struggling to handle it alone so now Sarah is co-hosting with me.”


A system who is structured to stay hidden. Most systems are covert. These systems will tend to have more ANPs and mask more often, and be more comfortable with masking. Additionally more alters – while they may not identify with the body – will likely not feel as uncomfortable in the body as they may in an overt system. These of course are generalizations for the sake of definition.

“Of course you didn’t know I have DID. I didn’t either until recently. My system is really covert.”


The concept of the first one who was born into the body. The theory of structural dissociation is the current leading theory on how DID/OSDD works and states that a core/original doesn’t exist, but some still identify with this term.

“Tim is the core of our system.”


A feeling of disconnectedness from ones self and/or surroundings.

“I’m pretty sure I could blink and the day would pass I am so dissociated.”

Emotional Part (EP)

An alter who is often stuck in a certain mental or emotional time and state, usually due to traumatic memories.

“Maria is an EP, so just know if you meet her that she might not present the same or have the same needs as the ANPs you’ve met so far in our system.”


One of the two types of introjects. Factives come from real life sources, whether alive today or not. A factive could be an introject of an abuser, a friend, a teacher, a historical figure, a celebrity, etc.

“In my system I have a factive of my first grade teacher. Our alter isn’t really the same, she just has the same name, but our teacher protected us so we developed an alter inspired by her I guess.”


The other type of introject, as compared to factives. Fictives come from fictional sources and can be any type of fictional character.

“Our system has a fictive of Winnie the Pooh. We used to always watch it to try to distract ourselves and it was our safe space as a kid.  Now Pooh is a caretaker.”


An intense memory that feels like you’re re-experiencing the event in the present time. Flashbacks can come along with physical sensory memories as well as mental distress.

“It’s a good idea to have grounding tools and plans for how to get through a flashback if you’re someone who experiences them.”


An alter who is not necessarily a “fully rounded person”.  Perhaps they’re stuck in only one memory, or they only have only one feeling they experience. They will often handle a single emotion, memory, or task.

“He chose the name Sleep and he literally only fronts when we need to sleep so I think he’s a fragment.”


Being conscious and in control of the body and its actions.

“Mark is fronting right now”

Functional Multiplicity

One of the potential goals in the healing process. Functional Multiplicity is the goal of learning to work together and to coexist in harmony in a functional and healthy way. This often includes bringing down daily amnesiac barriers and raising communication between alters.

“We’re working towards functional multiplicity in therapy.”


IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This is often misidentified as integration.

Fusion is when two alters merge to become one new alter. The new alter is not either of the ones who came before and is their own new person, but carries some of the memories and traits of the alters who fused to make the new alter.

Fusion is another potential goal in the healing process, and used to be considered the only goal. Final fusion is the goal of  fusing down to only one identity in order to “get rid of” the disorder. The issue being that the disorder is much more than just the alters and that the brain still knows how to split.  Even after a full fusion, if more trauma happened someone could still split again.

Fusion is still a very valid goal in therapy and healing, but it should be recognized that it is not the only path and that there are other potentials for systems to choose to pursue, such as functional multiplicity.

“Our system recently had a fusion so we’re working on communication with the new alter.”


An alter who has some level of control as to who fronts when and/or who has access to what memories.

“Catherine is our gatekeeper so I’ll leave her a note to see if she might know who remembers that.”


An alternative term for the word alter.  Used by some systems to describe the fellow identities that live in their headspace.

“I tried to stay serious, but my headmate Sharon kept cracking jokes in the background.”

See also: Alter, Part(s)


Another name for a systems internal world.

See also: Internal World


The alter that spends the most time out in the body and who runs the day to day life.

Important reminder: The host is just another role in the system. The host is an alter. Different alters might be the host at different times in the body’s life. The host is not “the real one” any more than any other alter is.

“Seth has been our host for the past three years and it’s been going really smoothly.”


Referring to anything or anyone that is happening or existing primarily inside of the system’s mind.

“She’s a more internal alter – she doesn’t front much but she helps care for others on the inside.”

Inner World

An imagined world inside the system’s head where alters may be able to interact.

“I was able to have a conversation with Seth in the inner world the other day – it’s helping us to build system communication.”


IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: This is often misidentified as fusion.

Integration is the breaking down of amnesiac barriers and the building of communication between alters. While this can lead towards fusions, it itself is not a fusion.

“Our system has been integrating and it’s helping us a lot with day to day functionality now that the daily amnesia is lowering significantly.”


There are two types of introjects in DID systems – Factives and Fictives (see definitions above). Introjects are alters who formed with some degree of inspiration or characteristics taken from someone in the system’s life.

Alters form in the mind of a child in moments of high stress and trauma. A child’s brain might not always “think up someone new”. It might instead think, “if I was my gym coach I could get through this because they’re strong and they could get through anything”. That child then develops an alter who is an introject of their gym coach. The new alter may have many similarities to the source, or very few, but they’re an introject because there was an outside source the brain pulled from. This can also come from animals, media, mythology, television, history, family, and more.

“She’s an introject but she doesn’t tell people about her source as it’s a pretty personal thing to her.”


A child alter generally under the age of 10. Some littles are emotionally and mentally very young, some only emotionally, some only mentally. All littles are different and it’s important to recognize that they’re not all the same just because they fall under the same category.

Some systems feel very strongly about not wanting the term “little” to be used, as its a term with a different meaning in the BDSM community that has sexual connotations.  If someone requests that you don’t use the term, “child alter” or “kiddo” may be a good replacement.  You can always ask.

“He’s six years old so he’s the older of our system’s two littles.”


A mask refers to the front that someone puts up of being normal. This is a term used in the mental health community in general in reference to pretending to not have a mental illness.

In the case of DID/OSDD, the mask refers to alters acting as the host of the system, or the person the outside world knows the body as.

“Sharon was fronting yesterday but she was masking so you probably didn’t notice.”


A preteen alter, generally between the ages of 10-13.

“She’s twelve – she’s our system’s only middle.”

Nonhuman Alter

Referring to any alter who is anything other than human.

Alters can be anything, as they come from the mind, and the only purpose in their creation is to withstand something that the child didn’t believe they could survive. For example, perhaps a child is drowning. As they’re in those last moments, desperately wondering what could possibly survive this because clearly they cannot, they think that a fish could breathe water. If only they were a fish they would be able to survive. They might split a fish alter. Of course this does not grant them the power to breathe underwater, but the brain did what it believed could help in a moment of desperation for a child. If the child was able to survive, they may now have a fish alter, because alters don’t go away once the child is no longer in danger. This is just one example of how a nonhuman alter could be created. Nonhuman alters can also be half human/half animal, mythological creatures, inanimate objects, and more.

“We have two non-human alters in our system.”


Similar to fronting, being out refers to the action of being conscious and in control of the body.

“I was out for most of the day yesterday and was able to get a bunch of work done.”


A system whose alters are more starkly different/present more obviously different from one another. Very few systems are overt. These systems will often have fewer ANPs and generally won’t mask quite as often as their covert counter-types.


An alternative term for the word alter.  Used by some systems to describe other identities.

“One of my other parts played video games all night, so I’m tired today.”

See also: Alter, Headmate


Alters who tend to hold some of the darker memories of trauma and who try to help the system through controversial methods like identifying with abusers, trying to hurt themselves, etc. Essentially persecutor alters tend to be very hurt people who are trying to help using destructive methods.

“We used to be afraid of our persecutors but we’re learning to work with them.”


This is a term that has had many definitions over time. You’ll likely see conflicting things from different sources. Some will use arbitrary numbers to describe this term, such as “a system with 50+ alters” or “a system with over 100 alters”. Others will say poly-fragmentation is “a system with sub-systems”. The current definition that seems to be settling, however, is “a system that splits and fuses often/easily”.

“Our system has a lot of changes pretty regularly so I think we might be poly-fragmented.”


Programming generally refers to ritual or organized abuse where people or alters may be brainwashed to recognize certain things (patterns, phrases, etc.) and respond in specific ways.

“One of her alters was programmed and would return to her abuser when she got a certain command.”


An alter who’s role within the system is to protect. There are many types of protectors (physical, sexual, emotional, etc.). It’s also important to remember that every alter protects the system in their own way.

“He’s one of our main protectors.”


Referring to alters’ internal jobs within the system, generally coming from a point of safety and why each alter was originally formed. If an alter was formed due to the need of physical defense they might have a system role of physical protector. Not all systems use or believe in system roles.

“She just recently found out what her system role is.”


A term for someone without DID/OSDD.

“I only have one other system friend, all the rest are singlets.”


The act of developing a new alter. This happens at a time of trauma, stress, or need.

“We recently had a new split. I haven’t heard anything from them yet but my friend apparently had a conversation with them.”


A group of alters within a system who mostly or only have communication within that group and who are  fairly, if not entirely, separated from the rest of the system.

“We recently discovered we have an entire sub-system of three alters we didn’t even know about because none of us had communication with each other.”


When the alter at the front (conscious and in control of the body) changes.

“I saw you guys switch for the first time yesterday.”


The feeling an alter might get before a switch happens. This usually only happens once communication starts being built between alters and when switches begin smoothing out a bit with a transition period of co-consciousness.

“I’m feeling a little switchy, I might switch out in a minute.”


Referring to someone with DID/OSDD. Refers to the full collective of alters.

“I’m friends with the host of their system but I’m getting to know all of them now that they told me about their DID.”

Trauma Holder

Refers to an alter who is aware of trauma the body went through and who often keeps that hidden from the other alters for their safety.

“She’s a trauma holder and doesn’t do well with touch so please make sure you give her space when she’s out.”


Something that sets off trauma memories and responses. Triggers can set off flashbacks, panic/anxiety attacks, and even switches.


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