Multiplicity (psychology)

Plurality or multiplicity is the psychological phenomenon in which a body can feature multiple distinct or overlapping consciousnesses, each with their own degree of individuality.[1] This phenomenon can feature in identity disturbance, dissociative identity disorder, and other specified dissociative disorders. Some individuals describe their experience of plurality as a form of neurodiversity, rather than something that demands a diagnosis.[1][2][3][promotional source?][4] There are a number of ways that the phenomenon is conceptualized and discussed among members of associated online subcultures, including dissociative disorders and spiritual and cultural practices such as tulpamancy. Among members of these subcultures, distinct consciousnesses are often termed "headmates", "alters", "parts", or "selves", with terms for a group of headmates including "system", "collective", and others.[1][5] One who does not experience plurality is typically called a "singlet".[1][2][4]

In personality research, plurality can also be referred to as a personality style defined as "an individual's relatively consistent inclinations and preferences across contexts".[6]

It has been said by journalists and experts in psychology that plurality is significantly under-researched and often misrepresented in the media.[2][3][promotional source?][5]


Throughout history, concepts of phantoms, muses, and fluid "selves" have been applied to this phenomenon.[2] This has been extended to concepts such as tulpamancy. Additionally, some individuals throughout history have stated that they had been taken over by a spirit, soul, or ghost.[2][7]

Science writer Rita Carter says that Italian psychologist Roberto Assagioli developed psychosynthesis, and hypothesized that an individual may not be consciously aware of their many personae.[7][page needed] American psychologist John G. Watkins used hypnosis to bring out different personalities.[7][page needed]

In modern timesEdit

Communities of individuals who identify as "systems" of multiple distinct personalities, often called "headmates" or "alters" or similar terms,[3][5] have emerged as recently as the 1980s.[2] Headmates often describe themselves as having different names, ages, genders, sexualities, and mental appearances from both one another and from their body.[3][5] Some may request the usage of different names or different pronouns when addressing them.[5][3] Others may want to use a shared collective name.[3] Different headmates may have different opinions, worldviews, desires, ideas, relationships, and perspectives from one another, with it being preferred by most pluralities to treat different headmates as different people.[3]

More recently, communities of systems have formed online both through independent information sites such as Astraea's Web and social media sites such as TikTok.[2][8] Though the exact terminology used varies, some common nomenclature has been coined by systems describing their experiences, including "fronting" (when a given headmate or alter assumes control of their body) "switching," (when headmates change places in the "front") and "headspace" (an "inner world" which systems describe as a mental space where headmates interact with each other).[1][2][3][8]

It is often argued both by systems and experts in psychology that plurality is a valid response to trauma[citation needed][who?], and that to refuse to socially recognize a system as multiple individuals, or attempt to treat it with the aim of having the multiple personalities present as one (a process often known in communities of systems as "integration"), often does more harm than good.[2][3][promotional source?][5] However, others[who?] dispute this, expressing skepticism towards the possibility of a "functional" system, and saying that Dissociative identity disorder (DID) and related conditions in which plurality may feature should be recognized as a disorder and treated appropriately.[2][8]

Plurality in Personality ResearchEdit

Stephen Braude and Rita Carter use a different definition of personality style, defining "personality style" as "personality" and proposing that a person may have multiple selves and not have any relatively consistent inclinations and preferences in personality. This may happen as an adaptation to a change of environment and role within a person's life and may be consciously adopted or encouraged, in a similar way to acting or role-playing.[9] For example, a woman may adopt a kind, nurturing personality when dealing with her children but change to a more aggressive, forceful personality when going to work as a high-flying executive as her responsibilities change.[7]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e Ribáry, Gergő; Lajtai, László; Demetrovics, Zsolt; Maraz, Aniko (2017-06-13). "Multiplicity: An Explorative Interview Study on Personal Experiences of People with Multiple Selves". Frontiers in Psychology. 8: 938. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00938. ISSN 1664-1078. PMC 5468408. PMID 28659840.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Telfer, Tori (2015-05-11). "Are Multiple Personalities Always a Disorder?". Vice. Retrieved 2020-06-15.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Riesman, Abraham (2019-03-29). "The Best Cartoonist You've Never Read Is Eight Different People". Vulture. Retrieved 2022-09-24.
  4. ^ a b Schechter, Elizabeth. "What we can learn about respect and identity from 'plurals'". Aeon. Retrieved 2022-09-24.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Parry, Sarah; Eve, Zarah; Myers, Gemma (2022-07-21). "Exploring the Utility and Personal Relevance of Co-Produced Multiplicity Resources with Young People". Journal of Child & Adolescent Trauma. 15 (2): 427–439. doi:10.1007/s40653-021-00377-7. ISSN 1936-1521. PMC 9120276. PMID 35600531.
  6. ^ Eriksen, Karen & Kress, Victoria E. (2005). "A Developmental, Constructivist Model for Ethical Assessment (Which Includes Diagnosis, of Course)". Beyond the DSM Story: Ethical Quandaries, Challenges, and Best Practices . Thousand Oaks, CA: Page Publications. ISBN 0-7619-3032-9
  7. ^ a b c d Carter, Rita (March 2008). Multiplicity: The New Science of Personality, Identity, and the Self. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316115384.
  8. ^ a b c Lucas, Jessica. "Inside TikTok's booming dissociative identity disorder community". Input. Retrieved 2022-09-25.
  9. ^ Stephen E. Braude (1995), First Person Plural: Multiple Personality and the Philosophy of Mind, Rowman & Littlefield, p. 86, ISBN 9780847679966

Further readingEdit

  • Ian Hacking (2000). What's Normal?: Narratives of Mental & Emotional Disorders. Kent State University Press. pp. 39–54. ISBN 9780873386531.
  • Jennifer Radden (2011). "Multiple Selves". The Oxford Handbook of the Self. Oxford Handbooks Online. pp. 547 et seq. ISBN 9780199548019.

External linksEdit