[This article describes the ways in which new alters form inside a dissociative system. This does not cover how the initial alters are formed in a dissociative disorder, nor does it go into detail on how abusers intentionally form alters. This is once a system has already started to create alters and get organized into a functional system.]
There are several ways in which new alters (alters, fragments, or parts) can be created inside. The most common way alters are formed is when an alter (called the “Original Alter” or “OA”; this does not mean the Core) is placed in an extremely stressful or traumatic event, or an emergency situation, in which they do not know how to successfully cope or function. Dissociative systems aim to survive these types of situations in a functional manner, meaning they usually strive to perform the functions they believe are being demanded of them in a way that causes the least amount of danger to themselves or others. They believe, usually rightfully so, that failure to perform in a functional and successful manner (ie. meet their abuser’s demands and comply with orders while causing the least amount of disruption/chaos) will lead to more frequent, more severe, and even more life-threatening forms of bodily damage. When they have a long-term, or life-dependent, relationship with their abuser (such as parents, authority figures, programmers, and handlers), they are also trying to protect and maintain their relationship, because it is necessary for survival. This is especially true when the survivor is a minor, and their basic needs are dependent upon the adults in their life. Once this pattern is formed, it is hard to break, even once they are able to meet their own needs in adulthood.
There are four major areas of their relationship they believe they have to protect for their own survival:
- The stability of the relationship (avoiding conflict/anger, being seen as a disappointment/failure)
- The security of the relationship (avoiding emotional detachment/abandonment, neglect/withholding of basic needs, and social/emotional isolation)
- The future of the relationship (avoiding punishment/retaliation, complete abandonment/rejection, and severing of the relationship)
- The affect the relationship has on others/other relationships (avoiding the abuse, neglect, punishment, or life-threatening torture of other people, friends, family members, pets, etc.)
The OA may not be able to switch, the system may not be able to find anyone else who can perform better, or there may not be enough time to find a replacement to switch with. The OA perceives something about the situation to be extremely challenging, toxic, or damaging to their sense of self, their sense of sanity, their core identity/beliefs/anchor point, and/or their perceived ability to successfully survive the situation, and therefore believes that escape is the only functional option (that is, they make the decision to try to escape by splitting/breaking). Or the OA may break unintentionally while the situation is happening because they have run out of energy/stamina, pain tolerance, pain sharing/dispersement options, dissociative skills, or other mental skills needed to stay present and functional (at which point someone else in the system may make the decision to create a new alter for them).
The OA or the system may try to cause loss of consciousness (called “dropping,” which is an internally caused fainting or passing out) to prevent the OA from breaking when switching is not an option. However, dropping may not be an option in these situations. For example, because the body chemically can not drop, such as when too much adrenaline/other stimulant is present; it is not allowed, such as when abusers have already proven that dropping will be severely punished so the system learns to avoid dropping; or it is not safe because the body must maintain consciousness to stay alive, such as when driving a vehicle.
When the only way to functionally survive these situations is to allow a new alter to surface, the new alter can be: forced into the situation to replace the OA, can assist the OA in handling the situation by being in the situation at the same time, or can hold the memories of the event separate from the OA (through the use of amnesic barriers). New alters can be created by the OA or the someone in the system in several ways, including: breaking the OA, breaking someone else, creating one from scratch (from the Core Energy), or using a pre-existing alter/fragment who has not yet had an identity or anchor point established (sometimes called “blank slates” or “base programmed” alters). In non-intentional alter formation (i.e., not intentional design and programming work) new alters usually end up being created outside of the OA, and most commonly are created from the OA breaking/splitting. When the OA breaks inside of themselves, and retains those parts, a subsystem is formed. (These are described below and will be described in more detail in a future post.)