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Dissociative Identity Disorder: Mapping the System

If you have Dissociative Identity Disorder you’ve probably been instructed at least once to create a map of your system. A system map, I’ve been told, is essentially a recording on paper of alters’ names, ages, and roles – arranged according to where they are in relationship to each other. I’ve never successfully completed one. If that were the only definition of a system map, I likely never would.

hellonametag-300x202Mapping the Dissociative Identity Disorder System Isn’t Easy

I’ve tried making system maps several times over the years, but the enormity of the task quickly overwhelms and immobilizes me. There are several reasons for that:

  • DID systems don’t often respond well to demands for identification. Similar to the question, “Who’s talking?” a system map exposes the man behind the curtain. Because Dissociative Identity Disorder is designed to go undetected, many systems are reflexively defensive in response to outright inquiries about their makeup.
  • Putting it on paper starkly displays harsh reality. Dissociative Identity Disorder is a difficult diagnosis to accept, sometimes exceedingly so. Even now, in my sixth year of treatment, the thought of laying my entire system out in black and white is intimidating.
  • System maps imply permanence. Like pinning butterfly specimens in a display box, mapping the system can feel like defining ourselves in a linear, concrete way. And that’s contrary to the intended purpose of creating maps – getting to know your system. My friends aren’t defined by their names, ages, and jobs. Neither are my alters.

Photo by gfpeck
Photo by gfpeck

Creative Ways of Mapping the Dissociative Identity Disorder System

I can probably complete a system map if I take a less rigid approach. Pressing for information provokes fear and anxiety, but an open-ended, system-wide invitation to share whatever feels comfortable in self-expressive ways fosters safety. Some reader suggestions:

  • Make a scrapbook. Lenore created a scrapbook with pages for each system member to fill with images that represent who they are. What’s so appealing to me about this idea is that it cultivates creativity, and provides a more nuanced look at system identities than hard data alone can provide.
  • Create a video. I love castorgirl’s idea if for no other reason than it utilizes an entirely different medium. Every artistic medium has its limitations and advantages. Video allows the system to express itself in ways that aren’t possible through written word alone.
  • Compile a mix tape. I made music compilations for friends in high school. It was a fun way to communicate my feelings as well as my impressions of who we were to each other. Donna says her system did something similar by picking out songs for each other.

My psychologist often tells me that the structure and design of a Dissociative Identity Disorder system is limited only by the imagination that created it. “There are no rules,” she says. I think the same holds true when mapping the system. What matters is not ironing out the details, but expressing who you are.

20 thoughts on “Dissociative Identity Disorder: Mapping the System”

  1. As I have been in therapy for 20 years now, living with DID is rewarding and confusing. Mapping the system might sound logical to a therapist but for me it brings up more questions. Its intumidating and disturbing for me, my part to read the functions, likes, details of each one. The main person by birth is not available and hasn’t been around in many years leaving the rest of us missing big chunks of how and why. Most overlap each other. Unfortunately , I am the one out to the outside world until I am not. I don’t hold the power or control to be co conscious. And I am the one dealing with this world outside that I don’t have a clue how to navigate.

  2. This may be a late reaction,bc I don’t spend so much time on the internet, and today just wanted to find mind mapping for dissociative identity, and then I came to this site, and each and every time I’m dumbfounded at how therapy is seen as a necessity to deal with your dissociative identity; I prefer just calling it multiple, bc I feel like more pple.

    So my advice: rely on yourselves
    Know that the only one who truly can heal your many parts is you and the parts by themselves
    Aknowledge that the healing process is not always easy, but

    We are together alone
    We feel good on our vacation and volunteering right now
    When we will return home it won’t be a post traumatic hell as previous 4 months, bc now we know we just have to go and we want to live up to our goal in harmony with each other and not constant survival (fighting and overload of flashbacks constant dread and parts acting out by crying whenever we need to leave the house and even on the street…)

    Therapy is not an answer to your multiple problems, sometimes it can harm more than it cures.

    Self reliance and courage are keywords to living multiple.

    Everybody in the system plays a vital role in the well being of the whole.

    Good luck

    1. Thank you, Jane. While I am not the author of the post, I do think you made some good points. I do want to say that I believe that therapy is important, not only for proper diagnosis, but for learning how to manage DID. You are right, therapy is not an answer, but it can be a help, as long as you find the right therapist with the right training.

  3. I’ve been stuck in circles, to put it mildly, with the whole systems mapping. Yes everything always changes. As soon as I think I have some real clue as to who any one or more is, the deck gets shuffled, so to speak. I also can not stop processing. This has been going on for about year now and I’m exhausted. I have done videos (slide shows of cool abstracted selfies paired with choice music), photo album collections (selfies again, of both old and new photos, abstracted and originals), about 6 journals with writing and art, CD compilations with a total of about 57 songs or so. I have found other complications in my iTunes folder as well that I did not know had been created. I’ve tried writing without any art work. There are many paintings on canvas’s that have been created. Essentially no matter what the method the result is system overload. There have even been voice memos made, a whole series of original songs recorded. The only thing that is consistently in one place are emails to our therapist but even that is total overload. I’m at a loss and I don’t know what to do. Everyone wants to be known, seen, heard, and to live and as soon as anyone is identified (self identified or otherwise) everything changes. I have awareness but I don’t know if it’s true co-consciousness or to what degree. I just can’t stop any of it or control any of it no matter to what degree i may be aware. There is always some degree of inner talking but it’s more like a bunch of people living in an apartment complex and none of them really talk to me, not directly so much, or if they do, I am not talking to them because I don’t know how. There is a constant conflict between we are many we are one and the opposing beliefs and desires etc between the notion of one or many is a huge barrier. Please help. Also know that I was diagnosed 1 year ago and recently just left a very abusive relationship “we” had been in for the last 9 years with the father of my child. So considering there was still much abuse and lack of emotional and otherwise safety going on for so long and when the diagnosis was made, I guess it makes sense that I and we are having such a hard time. I just need help. I see my therapist twice a week still for about 1-1 1/2 hours each session. Any feedback and support or guidance is much appreciated.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I am not a therapist or a professional. I am just a person who has had DID. You will definitely want to continue in therapy. You may want to see if you can find group therapy, also. It takes a long time in therapy for things to settle down. If you were only recently diagnosed, it could be a little while before things calm down. I wish you the best of luck in your recovery!

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