When I discovered I was a system, it hit me like a truck. I was destabilized by several traumatic events, thrown into extreme states of dissociation interfering with daily functioning, having the overt experience of alters switching for the first time, blacking out, and losing necessary skills. My head was a cacophony of a bunch of people that suddenly wanted a say in my* life.
(*our primary experience of the world is through the host, so this is written from the host’s perspective)
Like autistic burnout, DID seems to be caught most often when the system is so destabilized that it suddenly becomes visible. The diagnostic criteria focus on what a system that’s destabilized looks like, similar to how a lot of late-diagnosed autistic folks say their autistic traits only became visible after they hit a certain level of stress.
Add to this the view of the media, where you have systems that are dangerous, overt, and extreme, like in the movie Split.
The public and clinical view of DID is a limited one. Systems are supposed to be simultaneously overt and unaware of their alters, rare and impossible to exist, prove they’re not faking and not share their diagnosis.
The expectations of systems are ridiculous and paradoxical. It leads to underdiagnosis, underrepresentation, and wild misinformation.
I don’t experience total blackouts anymore. I don’t lose time, and the only amnesic parts are retrograde (past memories). I still have alters, but we don’t present significantly differently or switch in at random, unpredictable times. This is how I’ve experienced DID for most of my life.
So, do I still have DID then? According to the DSM-5 criteria, yes.
A recent internet movement (fake-claiming) has been going after systems trying to “spot the fake system.” It’s a witch hunt that believes that if we can find just one fake system, it’s worth all the real systems that get accused.
A poll in one of my DID groups yielded interesting results. Of the 135 systems that participated, 58% had been fake-claimed and felt hurt/angry/ashamed/doubted themselves/or some combination.
Do you believe that all 78 systems that were fake-claimed were faking?
So, why do people fake-claim? There are a few justifications that are common.
1. There’s all of these teens on Tik Tok sensationalizing DID
Tik Tok is villainized by the broader internet world and disregarded as a platform for silly teens to do their silly dances. This villainization has taken on a much more sinister form regarding all mental health Tik Tokers, especially for rare disorders.
The world loves a good “switching caught on camera” video. It’s seen as a novelty, similar to a circus act, amazed that someone is suddenly a different person. Making content that appeals to a broader audience requires that you sell yourself as a novelty.
I want to emphasize that I have a covert form of DID, and presenting overtly in itself isn’t necessarily sensationalized. Many creators are forced to show the parts people want to see, which tends to be overt characteristics.
This incentivizes the sensationalization of DID. People don’t want to hear what it’s like to be dissociated, how deeply trauma affects daily functioning or the severe co-occurring symptoms like psychosis and catatonia. Most of the content I made on Tik Tok about my DID was about the less savory parts of my disorder. I only received attention from other systems, not from the general population. My videos on DID didn’t go viral because they didn’t appeal to sensational DID.
Add to that the self-curated feed. You can easily see how someone who interacts with sensational content is likely to see primarily teenagers (Tik Tok’s largest audience is 10-19, followed by 20-29) showing performative parts of their disorder to get recognized by a broader audience.
The issue is not faking DID but sensationalization. It’s further incentivized by fake-claimers interacting with this content.
I believe every system has a right to present how they want on social media. As long as misinformation isn’t being spread, it’s not hurting anyone. It’s interesting that sensationalized DID has received so much negative attention, considering that it’s just following what people on Tik Tok want to see. It’s catering to your audience, similar to how lifestyle vloggers post the happy parts of their families, exercise routines, parties, and lives. I’ve never seen anyone fake-claim a family vlogger saying, “that’s not even your family!”
Sensationalization ≠ faking. If you don’t like it, don’t interact with sensationalized content.
2. Fake systems hurt the community and need to be de-platformed
In my opinion, this is one of the most valid reasons why people fake-claim, and the one I’ve seen most often used by systems that fake-claim other systems. There’s a rational fear that sensational influencers that might be faking the disorder are harming the community image and therefore harming systems as a whole.
I always compare this to my experience in the trans community. People like Caitlyn Jenner sensationalize being trans, spread misinformation, and contribute to a negative stereotype of trans people. It’s easy to see this harms the community. But I wouldn’t say Caitlyn Jenner is faking being trans. I fully believe she is trans, despite her harmful actions. The trans community has a similar tendency to be hypervigilant against potentially “fake trans people” due to the mistreatment from the broader population. The thing is, the number of people who are in a fragile state of questioning their gender are the ones that get hurt when the community seeks out “the fakers.” It villainizes specific presentations and is usually targeted at people that are trans but present in unconventional ways.
We need to re-frame this argument. The main issue is not people faking DID, though it’s easy to feel that way when public systems spread harmful misinformation. But by pointing fingers ourselves, we are inviting non-systems to do the same to us.
The problem is misinformation, not being honest about the difficult parts of the disorder, the lack of support available for systems, and the lack of good public/medical representation.
We can call out misinformation, educate others, and advocate for support/representation without fake-claiming.
3. Look at how obvious they’re faking! They have alters from anime and talk like a baby
Cringe. It’s the fuel of internet hatred and a re-packaged form of hate for mentally ill behaviors.
Someone being cringey does not indicate they’re faking.
An unusual alter presentation doesn’t exclude someone from having DID. In the DSM-V, there are no specifications on what an alter can be other than “discontinuities of experience that can affect any aspect of an individual’s functioning.” It at no point specifies if they have to be real people (even including “ghost” as a potential personality), the demographics of the alter, or the number of alters required to be a system (beyond two).
Age regression (the experience of taking on a mental/emotional state of someone younger) is common in childhood trauma disorders. And child alters are very common.
Going back to a previous comparison, Caitlyn Jenner is cringey. That doesn’t make her not trans.
DID has a broad presentation of what it can look like. Policing cringey behavior hurts all systems, as it discourages natural expression. And there’s no evidence that someone is faking just because you don’t like how their system presents.
4. DID is rare, there’s got to be people out there faking
This one is easily disproven with a bit of math. There is controversy about the prevalence of DID due to underdiagnosis and myths. There’s also OSDD which can have alters without amnesia, making the prevalence of systems higher than estimates for DID.
But, if we’re going off what’s stated in the DSM-V (based on this study) , the prevalence is placed at 1.5%.
1.5% of the U.S. population is approx. 5 Million people. Tik Tok has roughly a billion people on the platform. Assuming Tik Tok is representative of the general population, that means approx. 15 million people on the platform have DID. Again, this doesn’t include other systems that have OSDD or are unrecognized by the medical community (due to accessibility).
That’s the number of people in Costa Rica, Ireland, and New Zealand combined.
It’s rare, but it’s not as rare as people think when talking about statistical prevalence.
Consequences of Fake Claiming
Content Warning: This section mentions suicidality and self-injury. Reader discretion is advised.
Why does stopping fake-claiming even matter?
Systems are an incredibly vulnerable part of the population that has been through severe/repeated forms of trauma. This makes fake-claiming not only problematic but dangerous.
Studies have found the prevalence of self-mutilation in diagnosed DID between 34-48%. Rates of attempted suicide are 61-72%, with a 1-2.1% completion rate. This is likely underestimating the actual completion rate due to the number of undiagnosed DID systems.
People with DID are finally starting to have a public image that doesn’t center around being homicidal monsters or only presenting in one overt way. And the backlash is astronomical. People create forums to laugh and point at DID symptoms under the guise that the person is “faking.” They’ve swarmed social media channels with hundreds to thousands of comments arguing that creators are faking, and they’ve doxxed and harassed systems with large followings.
They don’t hate fakers; they really hate people with DID. It’s bullying. An internet mob quickly becomes an abuser, and in this case, it’s abusing a population that already has significant trauma.
Fake-claiming may increase the likelihood of self-injury or suicidality, but it also instills a sense of self-doubt.
Especially for newly recognized systems, this can be a devastating blow, leading to many self-destructive behaviors in an attempt to “prove” you’re not a system. Newly recognized systems or people questioning if they have the disorder may try to ignore signs of breakdown because they believe it’s all in their head. The negative self-stigma seems incredibly prevalent in the DID community and is made worse by the recent fake-claiming trend.
You may think you’re not hurting anyone when you “expose” someone that is “obviously faking,” but you’re hurting DID systems as a whole. You’re contributing to an internet mob deadset on proving every DID system is faking. And you may be contributing to self-doubt and self-injurious actions in response to bullying.
No, you can’t tell if someone’s faking DID unless they come out and say they’re faking. And the minuscule number of malingering systems are not worth the damage caused to the millions of real systems by fake-claiming.
Let’s call out harmful community behavior without bullying someone for their existence.