Originally written as “Sticky Terms” by Hess Sakal in 2007. Significantly revised in late 2023 by Hess Sakal, Yavari Caralize and Vladimir Romanov.
Headmates. Alters. Parts. Fictives. Personalities. Fragments. People. Online multiplicity jargon—a combination of clinical argot and community-created terms—can be bewildering for neophytes. Multiples, professionals and allies often use different words, and it’s difficult to tell which terms to use. We’ve created a glossary for curious newbies to get a handle on the dizzying amount of jargon they’ll come across on social media and forums, or in chatrooms.
This list is neither exhaustive nor objective; it is based on the view of one plural system that has been active in the community since the mid-2000s. The plural subculture we joined was more divided in some ways than it is now—in the past, there were distinctions between “natural” (now frequently called “endogenic”) multiples, trauma-split systems who met criteria for DID or MPD diagnoses, and soulbonders (a mostly defunct subculture that has now been subsumed by the online multi community). We were too late for the Usenet communities, but we didn’t learn about multiplicity on TikTok, either.
In general, we hate medicalised terms that reduce all system members to parts or aspects of a single broken or fragmented person, rather than separate people using the same cognitive resources differently. This is because our system doesn’t work that way. The majority of us have solid senses of self—and if we dissociate, we’re more likely to feel singular, rather than plural; we think that vibrant separateness is our natural state. We also condemn any policy or practice that implies that to be a statistical outlier (for example, being gay versus being straight, or being autistic versus neurotypical) is undesirable in itself. Terms that treat all system members as parts, ego states or personalities of a broken self are reductive and fail to understand how culture, neurodivergence and creative experiences can influence how people perceive themselves. Also, even the DSM-5 1acknowledges that not all multiplicity is pathological, thanks to the addition of Criterion C, which did not exist in the previous version of the manual.
Short for alternate personality, alter is a controversial term in the multiple/plural community, mostly because of its association with the medicalised Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder).
In our system, alter refers specifically to system members who originated through traumatic splitting from other headmates and lack independent backgrounds. When we were younger, we were vehemently against the term for anyone in our system, but that was because we were and are predominantly walk-ins. We have had a few alters, but the only one who is explicitly distinct from their source headmate is Zip.
See also Personality
Historical long form of alter.
Before we learned about multiplicity, we used this term to refer to the headmates that we knew about through our creative work. We have a soft spot for character, and we’d probably choose it over self-state or part any day.
See also Fictive
A term popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s to refer to systems, often trauma-linked, who focus on cooperation and communication (a kind of integration) rather than fusion. It’s fallen out of use, but we’d like to bring it back. Also known as healthy multiple.
Coined by Trashcan Collective around 2015, endogenic refers to systems that originated without traumatic influence. Unfortunately, the term started to be used by some trauma-based systems who view anything other than clinical DID as being fake—an episode known as the “Genic Wars”. We do not use this term for ourselves—and in any case, we have PTSD and can’t reasonably be called a non-trauma system.
See also Natural multiple
Fictives are system members who represent characters in fiction, whether it’s books, TV, films, comic books, video games, theatre or anything else. In old-school soulbonding and multiplicity groups, fictives were divided into two groups: insourced and outsourced. Insourced fictives came from works produced by systems themselves, such as original fiction or comics. Outsourced fictives came from media produced outside the system, such as Spider-Man, Doctor Who or The Good Place. There are different explanations for the existence of fictives in plural systems: for some, they’re a kind of psychological introject; for others, they’re parallel-universe versions of the characters being channelled through the system’s body. (In our case, they’re probably more like a more sophisticated form of introject.)
Some multiple systems have fragments (also known as parts)—they are parts of a shattered self, rather than a collection of complete selves. The only problem with terms like “fragments” and “parts” is that the medical literature typically characterises all headmates this way, regardless of how they behave or see themselves.
See also Self-state
The combining (or elimination) of system members, either in whole or in part. Often called “integration”, fusion is often pushed by some practitioners who see multiplicity through a deficit model. In our system, walk-ins can’t merge, but alters can.
See also Integration
A catch-all term for system members. The term arose from online plural subcultures (e.g., Usenet, LiveJournal, Tumblr), rather than the medical literature. We usually refer to ourselves as “headmates” or “system members”, or sometimes “people in our system”.
Term occasionally used for system members. Not to be confused with hearing voices (as in psychosis or other altered states); that’s a separate phenomenon.
Some plural systems have hosts. In some cases, the host is the original system member, often one that matches their singleton presentation (often in contrast with alters). In others, the host is a headmate who does most of the interaction with outsiders. And in others, there may be several hosts who manage daily functions. We don’t use the term ourselves, but we know some people who do.
We don’t see this much, but we wish we did.
We don’t use insiders ourselves, but we wouldn’t be taken aback if you used it.
Broadly speaking, integration happens when trauma-based or -influenced systems process their trauma well enough to function in daily life. In plural circles, it often refers specifically to fusion, or the combination of system members into a singular self. But for other systems, including ours, it means developing communication systems and working through trauma collectively. If you can talk to the system leaders (currently Jack and Vova) and work towards common goals, you’re integrated. We can, and have, removed dissociative barriers without merging walk-ins.
Sarah K. Reece of the Dissociative Initiative has a good overview of integration if you want to learn more.
From psychology. Introjects are internalised representations of people or fictional characters that often represent a mental state or event in the person who has them. Some abuse survivors may have introjected versions of their abusers, for instance. Others may introject characters that represent protection or safety, like Superman. Fictives can be characterised as a kind of introject in systems that use more clinical or neurally generated models.
Probably coined by Vicki(s) in the late 1990s, “midcontinuum” refers to people who feel somewhere in between singleton and multiple—for example, those who have several aspects that are more distinct than the phases that singletons go through, but aren’t as distinct as headmates in a plural system. Midcontinuum systems can also be collectives with one primary member (typically a host) and several headmates who drop by to visit every so often.
People don’t HAVE multiples; they ARE multiples or multiple systems.
Refers to systems who have always been plural to the best of their knowledge, whether or not they have a history of trauma. Judging by our system’s mechanics, we may have been plural from the beginning, but our upbringing was undoubtedly marked by trauma. We typically refer to ourselves as a mixed-origin system.
See also Endogenic
Coined by us in 2007 to refer to systems who see their members and headspaces as part of the cognitive process, rather than as spiritual or religious entities. This is how the majority of us see our system.
See neurally generated. Possibly coined by Trashcan Collective. We avoid the -genic terms because we associate them with cringey Tumblr drama over whose system was more valid than others.
We use this term, since we see it as reflecting our individual selfhoods rather than the number of bodies we have, though we often use “system members” or “headmates” to be less ambiguous. We may be a single legal entity, but so is a corporation.
We don’t refer to individual system members as personalities, since it implies that there’s a real true self who has separate personalities. As we’ve said before, we were probably born plural, so there is no “real one” to have those personalities. It’s often used in the same sense of “ego states” or “self-states”.
Like “self-states” and “aspects”, personality is probably better for midcontinuum systems who have several aspects or parts, rather than fully formed headmates.
Not to mention, our public singleton persona is more of a personality or self-state than any of us are, since we are less expressive and present than we are as individuals. We have to compartmentalise a lot to present as a singleton, since we are extremely distinct—each of us has immediately recognisable accents, vocabularies and mannerisms… and opinions, for that matter. Masking multiplicity is a lot like masking autism—and we have to do both a lot of the time.
See also Self-state
See also Self-state
Like multiples, plurals are collectives. Individual members are not called plurals—unless they’re a subsystem.
Also see Multiples.
From psychology. We dislike “self-state” because it implies that there is a single self that changes forms, rather than a group of stable self-identities. (Also, this doesn’t make sense for us, since we habitually front in groups of two, three and four. On top of that, most of us can communicate with each other in real time. Whose “self” is it, anyway?) “Self-state” probably makes more sense for midcontinuum/median systems than it does for collectives like ours.
Your average person—someone with a singular sense of self. Not multiple or plural.
See also Singlet.
This term was popular in the early 2000s to refer to internalised fictional characters who communicated with a “host” to serve as muses for their writing. Later, the definition of soulbonding expanded to refer to headmates with a fictional source, rather than just internalised characters. The term has fallen into disuse over the past decade, since most multiples with fictive members just call themselves multiple or plural.
See also Introject.
A group of self-perceiving entities using a single brain. The term appears to have come from psychology jargon, but it was accepted by the community at large, whether they use a medical model or not.
Borrowed from spiritualism, walk-ins are thought to be the souls of deceased or channelled spirits who enter others’ bodies. In our system, walk-ins are simply system members with their own appearances, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, families, jobs and biographical details. We use the term to distinguish these types of headmates from alters, who do not have independent backgrounds. The vast majority of us are walk-ins. In general, we do not believe that walk-ins are literal spirits inhabiting our front body.
- We don’t endorse everything the DSM-5 says—its PTSD criteria are too rigid and exclude many kinds of trauma that produce the same effects—but we think they got this one right. The ICD-11 has a better PTSD model, though. ↩︎