Dissociative vs. alternative identities
mailbag #1, 2.11.2024
I received a really illuminating comment about my last Substack post, “Friends in your head disorder.” I wanted to share it with you all here. I love the idea of doing a regular “mailbag” feature, so I’ll make an effort to share these types of comments more often.
My favorite description for understanding how this happens is also Turkle’s, who described our identities as being distributed across different computer windows. Today, it still holds up. Who I am on my Twitter alts is not who I am on my Twitter main is not who I am on Instagram is not who I am on TikTok.
I feel like you're conflating alternative identities and dissociative identities.
Sure, your Twitter identity is separate from your Instagram identity which is separate from your TikTok identity. They each exist on a different platform; different spaces with different rules and social norms. Of course your behavior is going to differ between them. You're simply adjusting behavior based on your location, which is normal. On its own, that's not really a sign of plurality or a description of plurality.
Dissociative identities are the actual stuff of plurality.
With dissociative identities, it's not just you behaving differently depending on where you are, it's someone other than you doing the behaving.
As an example, imagine if from time to time, your consciousness switched which person it is; which identity it has. Behavior, personality traits and so on change to match the replacement identity. Your own capacity for thought and action is utilized in the context of whichever identity you currently have. These identities are dissociative identities because they are not fully integrated with you; they behave as independent parts that can be switched out. That would make you plural. Even if there is not necessarily a complete other person in your head at the same time, there are still other dissociative identities that can turn your consciousness into one of many people, and that is enough.
As another example, imagine if your brain contained multiple consciousnesses. Each one has their own independent experience of life, being their own person, having their own identity, their own personality, their own memory. Their own independent capacity for thought, and for action. Your brain would then be polyconscious, and certainly plural. Not only are the identities not integrated with you, they are entirely separate from you, and act completely independently of you. There are complete other people in your head at the same time, and that is unquestionably plural.
Finally, imagine if you have multiple accounts/personas online, and when using one, you choose to act a certain way or play a certain character depending on which account/persona you're posting as. This is not necessarily plurality, and isn't a particularly good description of plurality. These identities are all integrated with you, and not dissociative.
I will note that even my comment is a simplification, because mono/poly-consciousness doesn't necessarily dictate the usage of possessive/non-possessive switches. However the examples still illustrate what I want to convey, which is that the main indicator of plurality is the presence of dissociative identities, not merely multiple identities. One person can have multiple identities without being plural; just look at anyone with a fursona. It only becomes plurality if these identities are dissociative identities.
Oh, and by this point you may have realized where "dissociative identity" disorder got that name :)
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