ALT! Who Goes There? Part Three by Extropia DaSilva


At this point, some mistaken assumptions need to be addressed. It is not the case (though many I speak to seem to think it is) that your mind is either unified or you have MPD. Disassociation, remember, is a spectrum and there are many states existing between the two extremes of being strongly unified and strongly fragmented. Also, the distinguishing feature of MPD is the fact that the personalities do not share a common memory. It has nothing to do with the nature or behaviour of their ‘alters’. Some people seem to think that if you claim to be roleplaying a character whose personality may differ from your RL personality, you must have MPD. This is obviously not the case, because while actors are aware of the existence of both personalities, the complete compartmentalization of memories responsible for MPD leaves its sufferers unaware of the existence of ‘alter’ personalities.

While not everyone experiences a compartmentalization type disorder, we have all experienced a kind of depersonalization. Very young children do not have the ability to think in symbolic terms, and because of this they are unable to imagine things existing in the past or future. From the subjective point-of-view of the infant, the ‘I’ of now is all there is, quite unconnected to the ‘me’s’ of yesterday or tomorrow. You will recall from part two that what enables the infant to tie the ‘me’s’ of the moment into a single, continuous thread is the ability to see itself from the outside. But, because the infant obviously lacks the wealth of memories older children have, the network of self is generally far patchier. Sometimes they fail to recognize their personality as their own. Such personalities are seen by the child as external, autonomous entities. Or, to give them their more common name: Imaginary companions.

You might think that it is only small children who have imaginary companions. However, a study conducted by a team lead by Marjorie Taylor shows this is not the case. In a study of fifty fiction writers, it was found that forty six had invented characters who subsequently resisted their creator’s attempts to control the narrative. They even came to inhabit the writer’s home. The authors who described more frequent and detailed accounts of their creations seeming to ‘break free’ had more success in getting their work published.

Douglas Hoffstadter once asked, “what was the nature of the ‘Holden Caulfield’ symbol in J. D. Salinger’s brain… that structure was all there ever was to Holden Caulfield… but Holden Caulfield seems like so much of a person, with a true core, a true soul, a true personal gemma… You couldn’t ask for a richer representation, a richer mirroring of one person inside another person, than whatever constituted the Holden Caulfield symbol inside Salinger’s brain”.