Richard Ghia-Wilberforce, 2007
As most readers of this site will know, the medical model for multiplicity (defined here as the state of having more than one conscious entity within a body) states that it is a form of dissociation adopted by people who have experienced severe abuse. In essence, it is viewed as a mixture of a coping strategy, which normally involves ‘alters’ splitting from the ‘host personality’ during trauma, and a delusion that the ‘host’ personality has constructed in order to survive the trauma. This model does not see members of a multiple system as full individuals in their own right; rather, it views them as fragments, ego states or alters to be integrated into a single personality.
Whilst this model may suit dissociative systems for whom the classical DID model is appropriate, it does not apply to the different mental states that exist on the multiple spectrum. Nondissociative multiple systems should not have their experience described using that model because it presupposes some things that may or may not be true. It posits that there must always only be one mind within a body; everything else is a pathology or a disorder and must be corrected. Secondly, it assumes that all multiplicity is a reaction to trauma, whether the multiple systems in question have experienced severe trauma or not. Thirdly, it constructs a corporeal notion of being, which may not be applicable for members of certain sorts of multiple systems.
The dissociation model and most of its resultant therapeutic methods indicate that it is malign and unnatural for more than one mind to inhabit a single body. This idea does not appear to be based upon scientific knowledge of how the brain works: in fact, consciousness as a whole is not entirely understood by neuroscience, so it is presumptuous to assume that there absolutely must be one conscious person within a body when there is evidence to the contrary. The idea of allowing only one conscious entity to truly exist within a body is more of a Western cultural construct rather than a scientific reality. In essence, personhood is represented by Descartes’ statement: ‘Cogito, ergo sum’, or ‘I think, therefore I am’, in that it involves separate consciousness, autonomous agency, sets of reactions and independent thought. The philosophical definition of personhood is not based upon how many bodies are being inhabited. There is nothing unnatural or pathological about such an idea at all, especially if the thinking entities within the body can co-operate and treat each other with respect, instead of struggling for dominance.
It is also fallacious to assume that all multiplicity is inherently a dissociative method (with ‘splitting’) for the birth person to avoid trauma, or memories of trauma.
Although there are forms of multiplicity that do result in a birth person’s dissociation, not every form of it is like this. Multiplicity is simply the presence of more than one conscious agent within a body, and this definition does not require that splitting or dissociation be present. It is possible that some systems to have been born multiple, and it is also possible for there to have been an original person present, but with others joining the system later. An early example of this is Mary Reynolds’ case, in which a woman had a multiple system without any iatrogenic artefacts or known abuse history.
People within multiple systems can also be aware of what happens whether they are in conscious control of the body (‘fronting’) or not, or can be capable of receiving information from other frontrunners about events that occurred whilst they were at rest. Such systems are called ‘co-conscious’ systems. Not every multiple system experiences ‘lost time’, blackouts or other forms of dissociation from the outside world. The author’s system, to give an example, does not; it is co-conscious. This is not to say that trauma-split dissociation does not exist, but that it is not the only method by which multiplicity arises.
The dissociation model makes a rather clear definition of personhood, regardless of individuals’ identities: it postulates that the only ‘real’ person within a group is the one who identifies with the body and its background. It is not based upon the ‘birth entity’s’ conscious agency at all: the ‘birth person’ may or may not be an actual person at all, but that has no bearing on the dissociation model. Although such details are important when dealing with society at large, they can be independent of who an individual within a system really is. The body’s appearance and history may be important for social or legal purposes, but it need not have any bearing on the system members’ being as individuals.
Members of multiple systems report having members whose gender is different to the body’s assigned sex and having names that are far more apt for them than the one that the biological parents may have given the body. Such notions are denied vehemently by the arbiters of the dissociation model: any such variations from the body are pathological delusions to be exterminated in favour of the ‘host’ body and identity, whether such a person exists or not. This philosophy also ignores the idea that people need not identify with how their physical body appears in order to be real in any sort of sense. To these people, body takes precedence over mind, although it is in the mind in which the self – or selves – is located. It is in the brain, not in the skin or other organs, in which identity or identities are formed, so it is not particularly necessary for outward appearances to determine a person’s identity.
There are many people who are not multiple who do not identify with their physical body or family, whether they are transgender, estranged from their biological families or transhumanists who believe that their bodies do not match their minds within. Although society may not be as tolerant towards them as they are towards those who identify with their parents’ Platonic ideals of who they are, it is far more tolerant towards them than it is multiple systems who diverge from said ideals. There are organizations devoted to helping nonplurals who experience asynchrony with their bodies, and much of this treatment is focussed on allowing them to appear the way they would like, rather than forcing them to fit into a ‘birth person’ mould. This is in stark contrast to plural collectives who may be experiencing the same feelings. It is unjust to say that it is understandable for nonplurals to have such feelings, but that it is a delusion for plural groups.
Plurality comprises multifarious experiences, and the idea that all plurality is a manifestation of dissociative coping mechanisms does a disservice to non-dissociative plural collectives. It invalidates the existence of several autonomous persons within a brain (as opposed to ‘alters’ and ‘fragments’), assumes that one must accept one’s birth configuration and denies that any non-trauma-related multiplicity exists. It is a pernicious philosophy, and steps must be taken to educate others that there are alternative, more accurate models for multiplicities of various origins and structures.
Addendum (28 July 2009) Therapists subscribing to the medical model have modified their stance over the past few years, and they are beginning to understand that plural collectives can indeed be treated as separate individuals, rather than ‘alters’ or ‘parts’. –M.D.
(edit by RGW, 31 Mar 2012, for pronoun use)
(edit by RGW, 21 Jan 2013, for wording)