Dissociative Identity Disorder: Mapping the System

November 4, 2010 Holly Gray

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.

[caption id="attachment_802" align="aligncenter" width="350" caption="Photo by gfpeck"]Photo by gfpeck[/caption]

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.

APA Reference
Gray, H. (2010, November 4). Dissociative Identity Disorder: Mapping the System, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Holly Gray

November, 2 2019 at 3:28 am

I am so confused with doing this. will allow me to know what alters do inside if they do anything. I hear music in my head when its quiet. I hear voices. I have asked questions about who alters are but I was yelled at and another time I heard a growl. It felt like I was not suppose to be asking so I stopped. I tried therapy off and on but it never helped. Alters shut it down by not trusting the therapist until I quit. I just want to know if there is a world inside that I am blocked from. Does anyone know what the benefit is or did you discover a world inside? I feel so alone. I do not talk to anyone about my diagnosis out of fear. if you discovered something helpful -may you share?

Ever green
August, 14 2021 at 7:34 pm

I have DID also and I am also in school for psychology. I'm meeting new alters all the time. There are times when they are silent and times when they are loud. Sometimes us with DID don't realize that we have seen the inner would/headspace. Sometimes it helps to not push. They might not be ready to open up yet. However, let them know they are loved for what they went through. That also may help them. Don't call them evil or violent. You would not like them doing that to you. Also, let them know you are there for them and be there when they are ready. However, don't push them . It might push them away farther. Get them things to do. Have plenty of different things for all ages. Most systems have some children alters or at least one. It's common to have alters who are stuck as a child. Another thing get a book that you all can communicate in, but make it optional.

March, 14 2022 at 8:59 pm

What do you communicate in your book, why you are here?

September, 19 2023 at 9:43 pm

Sorry no solutions here. I’m having a similar problem. I found someone I trust but I keep getting blocked. I can’t say anything I just keep hearing yelling everyone talking over each other and just being mean. I don’t know how to be heard. I was so excited to go to a therapy session yesterday, but it was so hard to hear what she was saying. Every time I was trying to talk to her I just couldn’t. I lost some time and I realized I was home in my garage just sitting in my car crying and I looked at the time and it was only 10:31. My appointment was from 10 o’clock to 11 o’clock. Apparently I just got up and left.

September, 20 2019 at 8:57 am

I have 18 alters, and only one of which will not let me identify it. I am suspecting that she is at the core of my trauma. Recently, my version of mapping was to put each one's name/identity on a spiral bound card. I use it to check in with each one as I write to them in my journal. It also provides a place for me to write new things that I learn about them. And to keep track of them! The one who was trying to manage my life was a ten-year-old, I recently discovered, and she was getting very frustrated. There were grown up things that she didn't know how to do. I gave her permission to take some time off and be a child, and asked the others to help out with what she had been managing for us. Chaos has ensued. I am very frustrated with all of them.

October, 1 2020 at 12:48 am

You said you put each walter's name down... But, how do you even know their names? How do you get to that part?

October, 11 2020 at 1:36 pm

You say who am I. Who are you. Usually who am I might get a name faintly in the back of your head like a whisper. And it doesn't feel real, you have to hold it it's hard. The names fade and when someone else is fronting who has an amnesia block with the alter who heard the name then we can't remember. It doesn't always work. Remember that they are scared too they are whole people and might not trust you or the world. Plus the hearing takes a lot of practice. I've been hearing everyone my whole life and now that I'm aware of what's going on it's still very difficult to actively hear them. I try to remember different things I've liked in the past that are polar opposites like punk music and little kids shows lol. I can feel people more when I'm doing the activity they like or watching a movie with someone they think is cute. There are a lot of us I can feel and someone told me. It's really scary we are new, but there is hope for us and all of you. It's really hard though for all of us try YouTube. That really helped me watching other people talk about their struggles with DID and how they deal.

Xence (pronounced ZZ- en - ss)
December, 30 2020 at 4:11 am

You think we can't talk to our alters, don't you? You just gotta focus enough. I know everyone's ages and roles. I even can start to kinda picture what they look like, but I've DID since I was 5, (Diagnosed). It might just be something. You might though have stubborn alters, let me tell you that I didn't find out my alters ages or even names until this year happened. Just focus a bit on them and you'll get their names!

September, 9 2019 at 1:06 pm

I've had good luck so far (undx'd but working on getting the correct one in therapy) with doing a map on art software that came on my phone. I can alter things at will without leaving eraser marks on the page, I can use colors and different "pens" as much as i want without worrying about if it changes because it can be changed without doing a whole new map.
My original map didn't really address the relationships between alters, just wrote them all out. Then, it started to occur to me why I think a few formed, and writing that down too has been helpful. I also write down their roles- which are sometimes really unexpected! My two known angry parts aren't persecutors, they're protectors. My young teen part that I split from about six years ago is the persecutor, because she harms the body and will trigger herself and us on purpose.
I doubt this helps anyone, but if it does, I'm glad.

September, 9 2019 at 2:54 pm

Thank you, Alex, for your comment and being part of our online community. What you wrote will be very helpful to our readers who are trying to map their systems. Thank you. Take care.

March, 27 2019 at 9:58 pm

I stumbled on this having read about mapping is a book. All replys here are so very helpful. I have so many parts it's hard to keep up. I've tried many different things trying to find a way through. If only there was a map to get from point A to point B, point C etc.etc.

December, 2 2017 at 8:28 am

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.

September, 28 2015 at 3:49 am

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

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Crystalie Matulewicz
October, 2 2015 at 3:22 pm

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.

February, 27 2015 at 4:56 am

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.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Sherry Polley
February, 27 2015 at 11:30 am

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!

Jeff & Friends
June, 30 2012 at 2:54 am

"Two & 1/2 Men": that's my 'hosting' system; the former 'child' host, the teenage 'host', and the adult - each one is different, each has it's own "sub-set" of alters - some can 'control' or access parts that others can't - it makes it complex. And it is a dynamic system as it was built to be dynamic - responding to both inner and outer environments. Nothing (or 'anyone') stands 'alone'. Inter-dependencies reign. The majority rules.
We've tried 'mapping' - but the map changes; "we" change - and "we've" gotten okay with that. Finally gave into embracing my DID selves and others - which has worked better than hating or trying to bury them so deep we can not hear them any longer (which has also led to a better memory recall as a 'nice' side effect!).
It's a difficult journey, but one which "we've" decided to take 'together', assuming we can not only get 'everyone' onboard, but identifying all who are 'there.

November, 16 2010 at 2:16 am

it's funny, I find mapping to be reassuring somehow... I think it might be because I have a pretty big system (I think around 40 parts known, a similar number not-yet-met) and it helps me keep track of everybody.
we also have a leadership team, that meets regularly.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
November, 16 2010 at 11:35 am

Hi Indigo,
"it’s funny, I find mapping to be reassuring somehow… I think it might be because I have a pretty big system"
Interesting! You see, part of the reason mapping produces so much anxiety for me is that my system is particularly large. I become overwhelmed just by the numbers.

November, 10 2010 at 10:51 am

Holly- After reading this post the one thing that really comes to mind that I feel a need to mention is that even if a system map is just data it is not set in stone data. Every time I have mapped my system it has changed.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
November, 13 2010 at 7:05 pm

Hi Dana,
"Every time I have mapped my system it has changed."
Me too, I think that's why I like the more fluid system maps.
It's good to see you here. :)

November, 10 2010 at 2:38 am

Holly is there a place on this site to suggest good therapists in your area? I know the people here are from all over, but you never know who could be from the same area & could be helpful in recommending someone.
I have read here how some go through several therapists before they find one who knows how to help someone w/ DID. I'm on my first & DID is her specialty. She is completely awesome & I would love to tell everyone about her, especially seeing the need for good, knowledgeable therapists.
Just a thought...

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
November, 13 2010 at 7:03 pm

Lenore -
There are some support groups for dissociative disorders here on HealthyPlace:
I always recommend the ISSTD first as a resource for finding someone to treat dissociative disorders. If your therapist is a member of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISSTD), she can opt-in to their online Find-A-Therapist feature which allows users to search by geographic location.
I hope that helps.

November, 9 2010 at 8:57 am

Hi Kathleen,
I hate to hear that you are walking this with out anyone to walk with you. I know what that is like. If you would like to just have someone to talk to who could also use someone to talk to, here is my email

kathleen Young
November, 8 2010 at 3:10 pm

How do you know when it's over? Am I just ignoring everything now that I have made a lot of progress? I just want all of this to be over it is so crazy!
I don't have good communication between alters so, am not sure what is going on... No therapist for the last few years mine retired... Just not sure what to say or the state of things to someone else that is pertinent for now.
Something that is not resolved but not wanting to go back over anything I have finalized... Any suggestions? I have no family or friends and never had any help with this...from regular people! Thanks for hearing me, kathleen

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
November, 9 2010 at 2:30 pm

Hi kathleen,
I've heard of spontaneous integration but my guess is you'd know if that's what had occurred. What seems to be more common is a period of dormancy, where internal communication subsides altogether and the person may not even lose time for a long period, sometimes years. I imagine there are many reasons why this could happen but I can tell you from my own experience that when we did not have help - i.e. a therapist with experience treating DID - I had almost no internal communication at all. Now, I still lost time and had all the symptoms of DID, but when I tried to initiate communication it was like talking to a brick wall. Once we were able to get help from a therapist skilled and experienced at treating DID, that changed dramatically.
Given all of that, my suggestion would be to look for a new therapist, preferably one with experience successfully treating Dissociative Identity Disorder. I know that's so much easier said than done. If nothing else, talk to others with DID (if you're comfortable) and continue learning about it, looking at it from different perspectives.

November, 6 2010 at 11:52 am

With my new therapist I have been using figures in a sandbox to map my system. The box is really just a plastic tub of rice and I can choose from a large and varied collection of toy animals, people, characters, plants, etc. to symbolize a part of my system.

November, 4 2010 at 10:28 am

I've found that sticky notes work wonderfully for creating a fluid, re-arrangable collection of information and associations when each part is placed on a single sticky note and replaced or repositioned on a large page or a whiteboard. I found that with this method I could rearrange the sticky note "parts" and visualize their places and associations as they made sense in the history and heirachy they have made for themselves, and as it began to feel right. I hope this helps others.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Holly Gray
November, 9 2010 at 6:51 am

Hi Lu,
You mentioned your sticky note idea before and I loved it. I'm bummed that I forgot about it ... had I remembered I would have written about it in this post. I really like the fluidity of it, as you mention. That's one thing I hate about the traditional, write-everyone's-names-and-ages down approach; it feels so permanent. And I feel like my system is a living, breathing thing that moves and changes, expands and contracts, like any living thing.
I need to find a huge white board and give your idea a try.
Thanks for reading and commenting, Lu.

November, 4 2010 at 9:37 am

I had a therapist a number of years ago who asked me to "map" my parts and I did so at home and brought it to him the next time I saw him and he said, "That is wrong." That was the last time I ever tried it. Thanks idiot. How do YOU know how my parts are organized?
Now I have a new therapist who wants all my parts to sit around a table and they tried it once and were terrified to do so. Where do therapists get these ideas? We did it a few months ago and now she wants to do it again next time we meet. I am not sure I/we will be able to do it then either but I gave her some suggestions of what would make it safer for us.

November, 4 2010 at 9:08 am

The first picture I found when I stared the scrap book project was out of a newspaper. It was a woman standing in front of a shelf full of blue jeans. She looked discouraged. All the jeans looked the same, like no matter what pair she picked, the outcome was the same. I knew that this is something that someone inside struggles with.
"No matter I do or choose, the outcome is always the same. I can't change it."
It was the first time I connected (in a positive way) with someone inside.
Names are something that I have a hard time with, so I just called her "No Choices" because that is what she represented to me. When we put her page together & decorated it, she became more real and less scary to me. It was a major change in my view of this whole thing. Instead of seeing this as a bunch of crazy people inside that I just want to get rid of. My were eyes opened to someone that is hurting and feels hopeless. I had compassion for her and not the normal anger I usually feel.
Driving to work not long ago I saw her face & heard the word "Hope" & I knew she now had a real name.

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