Glossary focus term: Multiplicity of selves - A compendium of concepts and definitions

by Tom Cloyd (reviewed 2019.09.03:2049)

A wide range of theorists, researchers, and clinicians speak and write of human personality analytically, which is to say that they refer to its having component parts. These parts have different names, depending on whether the subject is normal personality or dissociative identity disorder, as well as who is involved, and at what point in time they are writing. Terminological consensus has not yet emerged, other than that in the context of DID, at the present time, “alter” appears to be the most common term of choice for a part of personality. There are exceptions, however. For details, please see table below.

1. “…The mind is considered as having many distinct ‘parts’ responsible for a wide array of activities… We have multiple and varied ‘selves’ which are needed to carry out the many and diverse activities of our lives.”1

2. “…The mind is capable of clustering its modules and the content of their information within fairly distinct states of mind. Is this the case only in those who have experienced disorganized attachments or childhood trauma? The answer appears to be no. Studies in child development suggest that…the idea of a unitary continuous ‘self’ is actually an illusion our minds attempt to create.”2

3. “To put it as simply as possible, …there is no such thing as an integrated self - a ‘real you’”.3

Table of terms, contexts, and authors ^

To give a sense of historical context, authors are listed by date, and strict APA format is used in this table. All sources cited are in the References list, below.

Term (alphabetical) Context Author
“Alter” dissociative identity disorder (DID) Kluft, 1993, pp. 382-383; Watkins & Watkins, 1997, p. 263; Howell, 2011, p. 301; Kluft, 2013, p. 296
“Alter personalities” DID Ross, 1989, p. 376; Putnam, 1989, pp. 339-340; Ross, 1997, p. 445; Merriman, 2012, orig. 1996, pp. 35, 39; Ringrose, 2012, p. 125
“Alter personality states” DID Putnam, 1997, p. 409
“Dissociative parts of personality” DID Boon, et al., 2011, p. 8
“Ego states” Normal psychology & psychopathology Watkins & Watkins, 1997, p. 25ff
“Parts of personality” DID Howell, 2005, p. 208ff; van der Hart, et al., 2006, p. 4, 412
“Self-states”, “states of mind” Normal psychology & psychopathology Siegel, 2012, p. 209ff
(Avoidance of any distinct term) psychopathology APA, 2013; van der Kolk, 2014; Sadock, et al., 2014

References ^

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5 (5th ed). Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.

Boon, S., Steele, K., & Hart, O. van der. (2011). Coping with trauma-related dissociation: skills training for patients and their therapists. New York: W. W. Norton. 

Bromberg, P. M. (1998). Shadow and substance: A relational perspective on clinical process. In Standing in the spaces : essays on clinical process, trauma, and dissociation (pp. 165 - 187). Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press. 

Harter, S. (2012). The construction of the self: developmental and sociocultural foundations (2nd ed). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Howell, E. F. (2005). The dissociative mind. New York: Routledge

Howell, E. F. (2011). Understanding and treating dissociative identity disorder: a relational approach. New York: Routledge.

Kluft, R. P. (1993). Clinical approaches to the integration of personalities. In R. P. Kluft & C. G. Fine (Eds.), Clinical perspectives on multiple personality disorder (pp. 101 - 134). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Press.

Kluft, R. P. (2013). Shelter from the Storm: Processing the Traumatic Memories of DID/DDNOS Patients with The Fractionated Abreaction Technique (A Vademecum for the Treatment of DID/DDNOS) (Volume 1). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

Putnam, F. W. (1989). Diagnosis and treatment of multiple personality disorder. New York: Guilford Press.

Putnam, F. W. (1997). Dissociation in children and adolescents: A developmental perspective. New York: Guilford Press.

Ringrose, J. L. (2012). Understanding and treating dissociative identity disorder (or multiple personality disorder). London: Karnac Books.

Ross, C. A. (1989). Multiple personality disorder: Diagnosis, clinical features, and treatment. New York: Wiley.

Ross, C. A. (1997). Dissociative identity disorder: diagnosis, clinical features, and treatment of multiple personality (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.

Siegel, D. J. (2012). The developing mind : How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. New York: Guilford Press. [Note: Chapter 1 (45 pp.). is freely available at the author’s site and gives an overview of the topic:

Sadock, B. J., Sadock, V. A., & Ruiz, P. (2014). Kaplan & Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral sciences/clinical psychiatry (Eleventh edition). Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer.

Van der Hart, O., Nijenhuis, E. R. S., & Steele, K. (2006). The haunted self: structural dissociation and the treatment of chronic traumatization. New York: W.W. Norton.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Viking.

Watkins, J. G., & Watkins, H. H. (1997). Ego states: theory and therapy (1st ed). New York: W.W. Norton.

Notes ^

  1. Siegel, 2012, p. 209. ^

  2. Harter (2012), cited in Siegel (2012, p. 209). ^

  3. Bromberg, 1998, p. 166, cited in Howell, 2011, p. 143. ^


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