Richard Ghia-Wilberforce, 2012 (Edited in February 2021)
Understandably, people unfamiliar with multiplicity would be sceptical of it, and would wonder about the psychological state of someone who would claim to have several co-existent identities. In Western culture, the concept is invariably associated with the sort of pathological identity disturbance that is reflected in popular media accounts, such as Sybil, Three Faces of Eve and Fight Club.
In certain corners of the Internet, this scepticism results in wanton mockery of anyone who claims to experience any form of multiplicity that does not strictly adhere to the classic trauma-based DID paradigm. The problem with this is that many different situations are turned into ‘He’s got video-game characters in his head’, or ‘she’s clearly role-playing’. Although some people do offer somewhat dubious arguments that are unlikely to convince sceptics, this does not apply to the totality of plural systems – such behaviour is not representative of the entire community. This is most frustrating; we need intelligent discussion about identity and its formation, not puerile insult-slinging that passes for argument.
Some detractors conflate their discomfort and shock at the strangest aspects of plural systems with the simpler idea that consciousness in a particular brain can be divided, and these cognitive divisions may operate independently and perceive themselves as individual people. This division can occur through psychological events that cause someone great trauma, or it can arise naturally; there is no conclusive proof that such an event has to happen in a particular way. Any consideration of the concept of plurality is avoided, in favour of ‘They’re saying they have Homestuck trolls and the entire cast of The Avengers or whatever popular media franchise is in fashion at the moment in their head. Cannot take them seriously’. I’ll focus on the idea of several consciousnesses arising from the same brain, rather than debating the validity of fictive identities. (I have no opposition to such identities; however, I find that debates over fictivity and fictionkin are a distraction from discussions about the validity of plurality in and of itself.)
Currently, there is comparatively little research on the formation of consciousness in scientific fields, compared to other forms of brain research. Those who claim baldly that several consciousnesses cannot legitimately arise are begging the question: they have used a pre-existing assumption to draw a conclusion without first establishing the validity of the assumption. Although a healthy scepticism of new ideas is an admirable trait—I confess I’m a sceptic myself, and need to evaluate new ideas thoroughly before I adopt them—this scepticism often devolves into mockery and wilful ignorance. Acknowledging plurality is not akin to glorifying anorexia or neo-Nazis; it is an explanation for how some perceive the world and make sense of it.
It is vastly more convenient—and simpler—for us to explain our internal variations and points of view as belonging to separate people. Cognition is highly complex, and it may just so happen that in some brains, consciousness may emerge as being more separate than unified. Even in people who do not identify as plural, such contradictions can exist; perhaps with plural systems, such differences are more pronounced, and they emerge over time to become several different conscious entities. Perhaps it is caused by stress; perhaps it is caused by other factors; perhaps it simply is what it is. All the same, it’s a phenomenon that deserves a closer look, not dismissal based on a handful of immature people on the Internet.
It need not always be maladaptive, either; some systems, including those that emerge from trauma, have found that co-operation has suited them well. Some detractors argue that self-identifying plural systems who question or reject the DID label for themselves are purposely choosing to identify with a maladaptive identity or are appropriating something that can be maladaptive. But non-DID systems don’t claim to have the same origins, and they certainly don’t claim to have DID. There’s no appropriation involved.
People are free to believe whatever they wish, of course; they are not obliged to agree with me, but they should at the very least demonstrate a modicum of decency and avoid harassment, cyberbullying and other antisocial behaviour.