Forcing an Alter Switch in Dissociative Identity Disorder

October 9, 2019 Becca Hargis

Should a loved one or a friend ever be allowed to force a switch in someone with dissociative identity disorder (DID)? What does forcing a switch mean? Let's go back to basics first.

In DID, a switch is when a person changes from one alter ego state to another, or, in very loose terms, from one personality to another. This is usually caused by a trigger that initiates or activates a switch. Triggers can be either positive or negative. A positive trigger is something non-trauma related and is pleasant enough to cause an alter to come forward and experience happy emotions, such as a special toy, cute puppies, or a favorite ice cream flavor. A positive trigger, in some instances, can be used to bring forth an alter.

Reasons Alters Switch

Alters within a system switch for a variety of reasons, but there is always a trigger, whether or not we can define what it is. Alters (headmates) can switch for all types of reasons depending on the trigger. Switching between headmates is usually involuntary, and can cause a great amount of distress with the alter.

Every DID system is unique. Some people with DID have more control over their switching than other people with DID. In a typical system, one alter generally takes over if the circumstances need it. For example, there was an occasion when I was under extreme emotional duress, and I wrote in my system's shared journal that if there was a headmate that was able to come forth and take my place, please do so. I then felt myself disappear and I remember nothing after that. A different headmate volunteered to step forward (or "front") because she had the skills and abilities to function under circumstances in which I could not.

Forcing and Triggering an Alter to Switch

I cannot speak for all DID systems, but there are times when it isn't appropriate to call, trigger, or force another alter to switch. 

  1. One example is when other people do not like the alter that is currently fronting and want to speak with someone else. Asking for and trying to force a different alter to come forward because you do not like the present alter is tantamount to being in gym class in middle school and feeling left out because no one wants to pick you for his or her team. Asking for and triggering your favorite alter to come forward can be irresponsible, inconsiderate, and rude. Alters are not created for the entertainment of others. They were created for survival, not for games.
  2. Another example of inappropriately forcing out an alter would be asking the name of the alter who is currently fronting. Each system, and really each alter, should determine whether they are comfortable with giving someone on the outside his or her name. A name identifies who we are, it has meaning and value, and some alters in a system might not be ready to be revealed. This also includes mentioning the name of an alter to bring him or her forward. 

Repercussions of Forcing an Alter Switch

Headmates will come out when there is a need for them. Switches happen when there is a trigger and a different headmate with a different role and skills is needed. If a member is not ready to come out, but you provoke him or her by using a name and triggers, it can ultimately be damaging to the headmate and the system. This casual lack of thought and consideration can lead to feelings of mistrust and betrayal. At the very least, it's abusive to the alter that was intentionally triggered.

Furthermore, it teaches the system that they have no control or voice as to what happens to their system or themselves. Feeling out of control will also lead to feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, feelings from which they already experienced from earlier traumatization.

Lastly, forcing a switch is a violation of their safety and protection.

Switching can be very unpleasant and stressful for an alter, especially if it is not done by choice. Please understand that if an alter has something to offer and is capable of coming forward, he or she will, but we are not a magic trick. We are not a freak show exhibit in a circus for the peanut-crunching crowds to view. 

Tags: alter switch

APA Reference
Hargis, B. (2019, October 9). Forcing an Alter Switch in Dissociative Identity Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Becca Hargis

Becca is a mental health advocate who is passionate about ending the stigma against mental illness. She is currently writing a book on her experiences with dissociative identity disorder. You can connect with her on her personal blog, TwitterFacebook and on Instagram.

July, 24 2021 at 9:32 pm

Hi there! I just found out that one of my friends has DID. She explained to me that she keeps up by writing in a journal every night. I don’t know much because I just found out about an hour ago but she did mention that. Hope this helps and good luck!

Jose Barker
July, 1 2020 at 2:53 pm

Some alters are down, right evil!!! They exist to dismantle any happiness the host has. During one instance of the evil alter, I asked if the "happy" alter could come out. MUCH to my surprise it did and the person calmed down, began smiling and having a great day. It only worked that one time. Do you have any input on this? How did I luck out that one time. I've only tried it a couple of other times and it didn't work.

Helping Hand
September, 23 2020 at 8:41 pm

Alters are not evil!! There are some alters with the title, “Persecutors” that try to defend the system. This can be seen negatively to those outside the system, but those alters are truly hurting. It was probably shocking for that alter to learn that they were in a system or that people outside knew they weren’t the host/another alter. From that point on, they were more prepared to defend the system because they were more aware.

Laci norman
February, 19 2021 at 1:32 am

My boyfriend cries sometimes to me and tells me his other alter tells him I don't love him and tries to mess up everything good for him. His other alter cannot stand me and he and I have a mental war going on over my baby.. it's hard man. It really is. Because when his other alter comes out and wants to hurt me, it's wit my boyfriends body. Which is very hard for me to deal with. His trigger to bring my baby forth is me singing a song from my childhood that we sang ever since we've been together..

April, 18 2021 at 12:52 am

Alters are not evil. And it's still incredibly harmful. You're not fixing the person's mood - you're forcing a shift to someone who's happy. The upset part will still come out again later, and will likely be angrier next time they front because of what you did. You're re-traumatizing them, and calling them evil is absolutely making things worse. You didn't fix anything, you didn't make it "work" by forcing a switch. Okay cool the body appears happy now, but you've just shoved all that hurt back for a bit to pop up again at a later time. You didn't "luck out" and I'm grateful you weren't able to do it again. Consent is important, we're not a toy to be jerked around so that we appear happy for you.

Tammy Rose neugebauer
February, 26 2020 at 4:50 pm

Can you tell me how to reverse a identity switch that occurred on me on pupose. I'm a little skeptical but I think I'm right

October, 25 2019 at 11:36 am

Another time we should avoid switching when possible is with our children. I know my child alters want to come out to play but when they do that around my children it can be terribly confusing for them. Also, when child alters are out playing, they are focused on their own fun (as all children are) but as an adult, I need to always be focused on my children and THEIR play.

Lorraine Erickson
October, 9 2019 at 5:22 pm

Hi Becca
You have done it once again. What’s that you ask? Answered a question about DID I didn’t even know I had. Thank you for helping me get to know you that much better. P.S. Bravo for your great ending. I don’t even eat peanuts!

October, 9 2019 at 5:44 pm

Thank you for your comments and you interest in DID. I hope you continue to find beneficial information amongst these pages.

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