Weird Alters? When alters (insiders) see themselves as someone or something they are not

“Weird” Alters?

When Alters See Themselves
As Someone or Something
They are Not

Animal Alters? Non-human Alters? Confused Identity? Insiders

By Grantley Morris

* * *

Until you better understand alters you might think it weird that it is quite common for certain alters to have convinced themselves they are someone or something other than who they really are. Our surprise should fade, however, in the light of two facts:

    1. Make-believe is a large component of children’s play and children’s stories are filled with goblins, talking animals and the like.

    2. Most alters are the product of a child’s frantic attempt to escape an intolerable reality.

When an imaginative child is desperate to escape reality the possibilities are almost endless. An alter might, for example, come to believe he/she is a robot, an alien, an animal, a good ghost or spirit, a demon, a monster, a stuffed toy, a cartoon character, a bodiless head, or someone who had been shattered to thousands of pieces. I’ve spoken to one who had the head of a human and the body of a spider. She had a sister alter, who despite being just one alter, could split into hundreds of spiders, each with its own voice and yet they would speak in an eerie unison. These spiders could scatter, or they could combine into any shape they wished, such as a ball, a sword or a human. (To make matters still more confusing, a giant spider appeared soon after she appeared and the giant spider turned out not to be an alter but a genuine demon – More.

Certain alters even believe they are dead. Some take on the identity of another living person and are convinced they are that person (these are known as introject alters). Some are convinced they are the opposite sex (complete with genitals) to who they really are.

Here are the most common reasons for alters assuming peculiar forms or identities:

    * Abusers treat their victims as less than human, which can cause some alters to consider themselves as less than human.

    * Humans have feelings and some alters could easily be in such inner pain and turmoil that they do not want to feel and so try to convince themselves they are something that is incapable of feeling.

    * Desperate for at least a moment’s respite from feeling vulnerable to further trauma, alters can gain a smidgeon of comfort from imagining themselves as having qualities that might make them less vulnerable, such as being a member of the opposite sex or someone with the power of their abuser, or a ferocious animal or a creature able to elude capture (spiders, for example, have eight legs with which to run and can hide in tiny crevices and people tend to be scared of them and so leave them alone).

When people – and especially children – are suffering horrifically and cannot change their circumstances, it is natural for them to use their imagination to retreat to a fantasy world that seems more bearable. When circumstances improve they might be so deep into their fantasy world that they do not realize it is now safe to return to reality or it has become such a habit that it is hard to break.

I have identified ten possible reasons for alters taking on the identity of a non-human:

    1. Some alters have suffered so often at the hands of people that they have concluded that all humans are cruel and/or untrustworthy and they see themselves as better than that.

    2. Abusers treat their victims as if they were not human and alters can take on this identity.

    3. In order to try to help themselves feel safer, alters often try to convince themselves that they are something or someone who is less likely to be abused. Some, for example, see animals treated better than they are and so some convince themselves that they are animals.

    4. Some tell themselves they are a vicious animal or monster that could attack or scare off abusers. The more they believe this fantasy, the safer they feel.

    5. Some alters prefer to convince themselves that they are non-human because they think this would make them less subject to human emotions and pain.

    6. Some have been in so much inner pain that they have trained themselves to feel little or no emotion and some even feel little emotional pain. One of the downsides of this is that the lack of feeling makes them feel less than human – more like unfeeling machines. For help with this, see Feeling Numb.

    7. Some alters have been in such isolation that they have rarely interacted with people and often had not even had a name – or at least one that sounds like a human name – much less have been addressed by name. Being continually and solely treated like this would be highly dehumanizing for anyone.

    8. Even some hosts have treated their own alters as if they were demons or a figment of the imagination.

    9. To admit to oneself that one is human is to raise one’s hopes of being treated with dignity and respect and perhaps even love. Most alters’ past experiences have been so tragic that they conclude this is unlikely and that it is less painful never to get one’s hopes up by letting oneself think one is human.

    10. Some alters believe they are human but do not want the limitations of a human body. In some science fiction there are beings (sometimes called Shapeshifters) who maintain their personality but can assume the physical body of any creature they wish to be. Some alters see themselves this way – humans who can assume the physical characteristics of anything they want to be. Some always prefer the same non-human body but a few, just for the fun of it, might, for example, one moment be a girl and then transmute into a cloud, then become a giant snail, then spend a few minutes as a water slide for fellow alters to play on, while all the time knowing they are human.

* * *

We can understand why people might want to resort to fantasizing about being someone or something different but how is it possible for alters to become convinced they are someone or something they obviously are not? I have identified three factors.

1. Young Children are Exceptionally Good at Make-Believe

Once the skill of creating alters is learned and it becomes a primary means of coping with distressing situations, alters can be formed later in life, but it is believed that the first alter is produced at a young age. Perhaps it is more than coincidental that it is also at a young age that people are at their best at make-believe

Moreover, as far as I recall, although many people had older alters, all the alters I’ve encountered who see themselves in a grossly distorted way were formed at a young age.

Not only do most young children enjoy make-believe, the pressure to withdraw into a world of make-believe is obviously intense for children whose circumstances in the real world are intolerable.

I’m unsure how it could be conclusively proved without morally unacceptable experimentation but it is also commonly believed that even in identical situations not every child would develop Dissociative Identity Disorder. If so, how good they are at make-believe might be a factor.

2. Self-Image is Exceedingly Resistant to Change and/or Rational Thought

What alters consider to be their physical appearance is actually a visual representation of their self-image – who they imagine themselves to be.

Even without Dissociative Identity Disorder, once people become convinced they are useless or stupid or unattractive or unlovable, and it becomes their self-image, they have a powerful tendency to keep seeing themselves this way, no matter how much evidence to the contrary they encounter. To quote from my webpage How to Change Your Self-Image:

    For each of us, our self-image seems rock-solid reality and, rather than conclude that we have got it wrong, we interpret everything else to fit our conception of reality. Should, for example, I think everyone despises me, I would interpret it as an act of spurning me if people typically go about their normal business without interrupting everything to make me the center of their attention. To my warped thinking, people’s normal shyness, fear of rejection, preoccupation with their own concerns, and so on, would “prove” I disgust them. Even if a few people actually went out of their way to say nice things about me, I would dismiss it as an act of insincerity (forcing themselves to be polite, feeling sorry for me, trying to manipulate me, etc.) or based on ignorance (not really knowing me, being poor judges of character, and so on). As a final resort, if anyone acted in a manner I found impossible to squeeze into the categories just mentioned, I would interpret it as “the exception that proves the rule” and would probably even find perverse satisfaction in restoring my equilibrium by deliberately recalling events that seem to confirm my distorted self-image.

Like any of us, once alters develop a self-image it becomes amazingly resistant to evidence disproving that view of themselves.

3. Lack of External Verification

Although relatively rare, there are people without Dissociative Identity Disorder whose self-image is so strong that it defies what the mirror plainly reveals. The plight of dangerously skinny girls who see themselves as fat (anorexia) and people who think they look grotesque (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) are examples. A grossly distorted conception of one’s physical appearance is much more common and more extreme in people with Dissociative Identity Disorder, however, because most alters who manifest this are inside alters. They rarely, if ever, look in a real mirror.

And because they share the same brain, fellow alters see the alter as that alter sees himself/herself, which can further reinforce the false view of themselves.

* * *


Hosts, friends and therapists are likely to presume that alters who see themselves in a grossly distorted way would be eager to be healed of this misconception, but they rarely are. First they must come to believe that it is safe and desirable to see themselves as they really are and that it is now safe to feel. You need to be kind to them and boost their self-esteem.

Here is a tiny example:

Shelly had wanted to be a monkey for two reasons. She felt safer (thus lessening her anxiety) by believing she had the speed and agility of a monkey who could elude any sadistic person who tried to catch her. She also believed she had a better chance of winning her father’s love and approval (and also avoiding his wrath and abusive punishment) by being a monkey. She reached this conclusion by noting that her father liked monkeys and that he called her sister, whom he loved more than Shelly, his “little monkey.”

Shelly eventually came to see herself as human and enjoyed it, although for a while she would revert to seeing herself as a monkey if anything frightened her.

Another woman’s alter called herself Confetti. She was formed by a method often used in Sadistic Ritual Abuse in which the victim is placed on a specially designed table and furiously spun around and around. The experience was so horrific that she believed she flew off from the rest of her body as countless pieces and was now scattered all over the place and floated in the wind like confetti. The advantage she saw in this is that confetti is not human and so cannot feel. She sensed that there was intense inner pain within her and that being human would mean she would have to feel all that pain. She began talking to me and some other people in on-line group therapy, however, and through this she was gradually beginning to think that she might be human.

Shelly wrote to Confetti via the on-line group:

    I just wanted to say how excited I am that you are discovering your personhood! Being a person is really special and I keep clapping for joy to hear you accepting a little more every time! God made you so special. He made you to be like Jesus! Jesus is the most fantastic human ever! That means you were made to be fantastic! Jesus is the happiest person ever! That means you were made to be happy! Jesus is the most important person ever! That means you are an important person too!

    Monkeys weren’t made to be like Jesus but every person was. That’s why I like being a girl person. Being a girl person means I am an important, fantastic, happy person! That’s better than being a monkey any day! Every time I read about you learning something more I can tell that you are an important, fantastic and happy person too! Grantley says to talk to Jesus. That is a great idea! If you don’t want to do that maybe you can just watch Jesus. If you watch him you might learn how awesome it is to be human.

Shelly’s host commented:

    This is what I hear as Shelly walks off: “Jesus is stronger than anything! That means I am too! Jesus is super smart! That means I am too! I am pretty awesome!” Apparently, Shelly has been talking to Jesus! Lol! He really does make everything better! She is just an excited 6 year old girl.

Confetti wrote:

    Pieces [of me] – just one or two or three or four – are starting to come together. It’s kind of weird ‘cuz confetti isn’t supposed to clump together, you know? It feels funny. Today I started to see like half a body almost, but it looked like a ghost with confetti floating in it.

    Then everything floated away again. I don’t know what’s happening.

Shelly replied:

    There was one time when I wanted to be a person and some of my fur would fall out – big clumps of it. Then I’d want to be a monkey and fur would grow back. It would happen a lot. I think you are getting so close that your body started showing up. That was why there was a ghost with confetti in it. You’re getting closer and closer!

* * *

Related Links

Feeling Emotionally Numb: Scared to Feel

Are Alters Real People?

Alters who Think They’re the Opposite Sex

Introject Alters

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Not to be sold. © Copyright, Grantley Morris, 2014, 2015, 2016. For much more by the same author, see   No part of these writings may be copied without citing this entire paragraph.

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