Richard Ghia-Wilberforce, 2012

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’. While some people do offer somewhat dubious arguments that are unlikely to convince sceptics, this does not apply to the totality of plural systems, and such behaviour is not representative of the entire community. This frustrates me, as I’d like to see an intelligent discussion about identity and its formation, rather than the puerile insult-throwing that passes for ‘argument’.

The attitude displayed by some detractors seems to conflate their discomfort and shock at the more ‘outrageous’ 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/the entire cast of The Avengers/whatever popular media franchise is en vogue at the moment in their head. Cannot take them seriously’. For the purposes of this argument, I’ll avoid the discussion of ‘fictivity’, and leave it to people who are better at describing it than I am, and will focus on the idea of several consciousnesses arising from the same brain. ‘Fictionkin’ and ‘fictives’ are a distraction here. (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. People who baldly claim that several consciousnesses cannot legitimately arise are behaving as though there is conclusive evidence when no such evidence exists. While a healthy scepticism of new ideas is an admirable trait—I confess I’m a sceptic myself, and need to evaluate new ideas quite thoroughly before I adopt them as part of my own world-view—this scepticism often devolves into mockery and wilful ignorance. This is not akin to people glorifying something that is actively harmful, like self-starvation or neo-Nazism; it is people trying to explain the way they perceive the world and make sense of it.

And for some, it is vastly more convenient—and simpler—to explain their 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. But it’s an interesting phenomenon that deserves a closer look, not dismissal based on a few immature members of a community organized via the Internet. (Caveat lector: I’m not claiming that people’s identities themselves are immature, but some of the behaviour I’ve seen certainly has been.)

It need not always be maladaptive, either; some systems, including those which emerged from trauma, have found that co-operation has suited them well. One of the arguments that detractors use is 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. However, systems who disidentify with DID do not claim to have the same origins, and do not, in fact, claim to have DID. In fact, most non-DID systems will disclaim quite heavily that they don’t conform to the classic trauma-origin construct.

It’s simply frustrating to see people conflate multiple phenomena and toss the entire thing out because of it. People are free to believe what they like, of course; they’re not obliged to agree with me, but they should at least have enough decorum to avoid people, rather than going out of their way to engage in cyber-bullying and other destructive behaviour.