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How can you tell when a multiple switches?

This article is a . Needs some editing, additional ideas, resources or organization.


We've (The Crisses) seen switches take place with "tells" for some systems (we've known a lot of systems in-person). We're cataloging some of our own impressions, things we've seen, and the things we look for.

If you have the pleasure of watching a plural switch, you can really come to appreciate a wide variety of how body language and other unconscious mannerisms can express a person's individuality.

Being Truly Observant

Most of the time, we aren't trained to be very observant of subtleties of personal expression. As a child with a DID father and a BPD mother, we had to learn to spot tells and switches of plural system members (or of identity-states in BPD) in order to switch our own fronts in our system and compensate for challenges in our home environment. This made us extraordinarily sensitive to noting posture, gait, micro-facial expressions, differences in vocal tones, etc. We could spot "who our father was" when they came home from work from halfway down a long New York City block — we knew right away whether it was going to be a good night, or we were already in trouble just for playing outside with our more lenient mother's permission.

If you want to train yourself to spot switches, become a people-watcher. Sit in a mall or other place with plenty of body-people, and do a study of what unconscious habits and mannerisms make external individuals different. Keep an eye out for self-expression, muscle use, posture, facial expressions, range of motion, gait (how they walk), speed of movement, etc. Compare how people who are together will express themselves differently, as well as people who are not together. Could you tell the individuals apart if they were only silhouettes? What if you swapped the mannerisms, activity level, range of motion between a child and an elderly person?

Make sure to tune in not to just individual changes — say the difference in gait between two teenagers — make sure you look for groupings or sets of differences. Example: if you are observing are 2 teenagers having a conversation — watch how they sit/posture, gesticulations, laughter, their smiles and range of facial expressions, vocal tone and range of word choices and placeholders. You should start to get a larger picture of how they're different and how they're alike. Maybe they both slouch into the cushions of a couch, but one is totally relaxed and just talking, while the other is animated, cursing, gesticulating wildly, and their knee is bouncing the whole time.

Once you learn how to adopt a perspective or paradigm lens of looking for these differences, it should become easier to spot the differences between the members of a plural or multiple system. It may seem to be very subtle. After all, it's the same body. However the external traits of the person utilizing their body can make for some fairly notable differences in these observable factors that would typically slide under the radar for most people.

Socially-Acceptable Switching

With an estimated 1-3% of the general population being DID (before even considering other types of plurality), a plural switching is potentially so commonplace it could be mistaken for moods, modes, or role-based behaviors. Where some plurals think they're being flagrant, often singulars completely miss the tells and differences.

A fairly wide range of personal expression is considered normal in society and attributed not to different internal people, but to differences of emotional expression or energy level. This may frustrate plural system members seeking recognition, yet it also helps plurals mask and pass in our society.

Covert Switching and Masking

The overwhelming majority of plurals are considered to be "covert" or passing as singular systems and it's only when there are drastic differences such as accent issues, language issues, or littles behaving overtly like children that we are generally considered overt or "flagrant" (this is derogatory) presentations.

Of course any of these changes can happen to a degree in singular folks, but they usually happen with a change in topics, roles, social situation, substance use, or over a long period of time. Examples are being alert after a cup of coffee and drowsy & inattentive after a heavy lunch, or someone who curses often who doesn't curse around their mother, or a pick up in pace and gesticulation when talking about something they're wildly passionate about.

Compare this issue with having a singletsona New: a mask or persona that the system uses to appear singular. It helps them average out their tells and behaviors or modulate their voice so that their changes are within the range of what is considered normal for singular folk. It's very similar to an autistic mask: it's a defense mechanism to help the plural system avoid scrutiny or socially negative attention.

This Isn't Diagnosis!

So for prudence's sake, don't use these ideas to "diagnose" people. This is a tool set to try to help people deal with those they already know to be plural or multiple. Don't assume seeing changes in people must mean they are plural — this isn't for diagnosis — this is to help partners and plurals to spot the switches (even their own switches!!) in a plural system. If a known-plural is calmly talking to you about something, then suddenly shifts position, leans forward, starts gesticulating, sitting on the edge of their seat ramrod straight, smiling and speaking in a high-pitched voice — maybe that's not just a change in topic or mood. Something else may be going on there.

As mentioned above, to get better at spotting these shifts, pay more attention to anyone and the wide range of variety in how people express themselves in real life: how differently people walk, talk, move, think, speak, act — and that all becomes possible in a one-body plural system. Once you start looking for these differences between people's self-expression in general, the easier it is to spot them when with someone with DID.

Signs of Switching

There are sometimes "Tells" or signs of when a system switches. These tells may go away over time as a group becomes more co-conscious, or may only happen when certain residents take front. Switching and dissociation are 2 different issues that often overlap or happen at the same time for systems with dissociative amnesia, however as their system becomes more co-conscious or experienced at switching, they will dissociate less when switching.

Dissociative Lag, Sleepiness, Slump
Some switches are actively marked with dissociative sleepies (subjectively speaking suddenly getting sleepy for no apparent reason due to triggers or often due to talking about subjects that are challenging or getting too close to information that must be protected — and so suddenly someone wide awake is falling asleep right in front of you), freezing/zoning out, or dissociative seizures. You will be able to tell if a person with these issues switches pretty readily. Sometimes a plural entity can deliberately switch by using meditation, trance, self-hypnosis and may close their eyes and concentrate. This is not an easy act, and after several switches in all of these "more difficult switch" situations, the plural may have a headache and have brain transmitter fatigue from what is essentially activating various configurations of brain activity.
Rapid blinking/eye movements
Almost like open-eye REM —— they're "thinking inside" or interacting in their internal landscape, and sometimes a switch can occur during that time. Eyes may look up and to the side, may become a little heavy-lidded as a conversation goes on inside. They appear to be lost in thought, then they're looking at you again and (more) fully present and cognizant in the external world.

Signs of Different Fronts

Any individual in a system will have their own range of behaviors and mannerisms and emotionality. When looking for signs of someone switching, don't just look for one change. Look for groupings of changes that are generally consistent.

Just because X leans forward and raises their voice does not mean a switch took place. There's usually going to be more than just a few subtle changes to indicate that someone has switched. There's no exact number of changes of the below observations that must be met. It's not a checklist with "points" etc. Once you know the types of indicators to look for, however, you may spot patterns and sets of different "tells" that indicate specific individuals are fronting. It's like playing a game of "Spot the differences" so you can tell who is out at the moment.

Physical Tells

Complete shift in posture/ergonomics
How they carry themself completely changes, so they can even seem to grow or shrink several inches.... so someone who naturally has a lower self esteem and bad posture — slumped shoulders, curved back, no core strength to hold themselves upright — switches to someone more badass and they are upright, more core strength, more centered, shoulders back instead of forward, etc. And it's unconscious, not forced... it is like they unfold over a minute or so. (when we do this sometimes it comes with stretching because as we're shifting our body feels uncomfortable and we need to stretch muscles we're about to use lol)
Unconscious facial tension/muscles
Facial muscles can shift and change some facial details slightly. Like our boyfriend has a bump on his head from a childhood accident, but when 1 person fronts, a vein stands out right over the bump, making it more obvious.... they have no conscious control over that.... but I know instantly who it is by the set of the jaw, the throbbing vein in their forehead, and other micro-tension facial tells.
Differences in habitual facial expressions
While not the same thing as unconscious tension and changes in facial tone, the habitual set and range of expressions and expressiveness can also change on a per-alter basis. So while they may not have "almost a different face" altogether, you can tell by types of smiles, eyebrows (furrowed in concern, raised in wonder, etc.) — basically the articulation of conscious facial muscles but done unconsciously with regard to expression level, range and unconscious choices of self-expression.
For ideas on facial tics/expressions and training yourself to spot them, please see the TV show Lie to Me where Tim Roth plays a consultant/investigator who specializes in reading facial expressions. This is based on Emotions Revealed, a book by consultant Paul Ekman on reading facial expressions, and Ekman's experiences (in a very fictionalized way).
Physical comfort/discomfort
Once a switch takes place, they may now be too hot, too cold, need to change something about what's touching their body (Erin needs to put our hair up, she hates the feeling of hair on her face and neck), such as jewelry or a scratchy sweater. This doesn't usually become a full wardrobe change like is sometimes portrayed on TV or a movie, but it can be a sign of a switch if something they were perfectly comfortable with a moment ago is now no longer comfortable. Especially if it comes with complaints like, "Argh, I hate bracelets!"
Walking Gait
Hip swing, fluidity, limping or favoring, speed, arm-swing, etc. can all change between persons in a plural system. We've seen some alters walk on their toes when others walk heel-to-toe, walking core-balanced with hips tucked under them, vs. backache-inducing non-core where each step is almost falling forward rather than propelling themselves forward.
Other Mannerisms
How they flip their hair or push it out of their face, knuckle cracking, nervous tics (leg bouncing, finger tapping, chewing, stimming).
Body Language
Some people have repetitive hand shapes and gesticulate to emphasize when they speak. Some use gestures while communicating to mimic what they're describing, or paint a canvas in front of them with a story. Facial expressions can add to or emphasize questions, surprise, sarcasm, humor, etc. This is an important additional context when communicating and using text or voice can lose a great deal of this subtle layer of language.
How does that person behave within their personal space? How big is their personal space? Do they touch people? Huggy or stand-offish? When someone comes closer, do they shrink? Do they "fill" their personal space with big gestures and wide movements, or are they pulling in on themselves, narrowing their energy and keeping their "space" small, like they're not comfortable in the physical world? Do they love or hate exercise or sports? Roughhousing?
Different speech
This includes changes in word choice, volume level, pitch, speed, accents. It's not always major. One ex-girlfriend had a more pronounced accent from her childhood Russian origins at times. Her pitch would drop. Her tongue would roll differently around words. This went along with posture etc. changes. You might hear more childish language even if the voice doesn't completely sound like a child's voice (they may be trying to "mask" a switch!). Look for changes in the speed of speech, word-choices (how many "big" words, changes in place-holder noises or words ("Uhm" vs. "like" vs. "…So…" vs. "…Right?"). Also vehemence such as more casual cursing, or are they more formal and proper?

Intellectual/Attitude/Mode changes

Changes in Knowledge
Skills, awareness of current events, hobbies and interests, can vary between alters. Different alters can have different knowledge in general or specific. For example, one may have poor etiquette skills while another is very conscientious regarding cultural norms.
Changes in Cognition
Alert, inattentive, curious, know-it-all, do-it-yourselfer, etc.
Changes in Preferences
Eating lifestyle, music, movie or book genres, hobbies, etc.
Moral Compass
Ethics, morals, beliefs, religion can all shift. This may be subtle or not, depending on what venue you're in, what you're talking about and so on. But if one is Ok with something shady, and another is so NOT ok with it — probably different people. Or one believes in one god or pantheon, and another does not, or is agnostic.
Body image
One can be perfectly happy with their weight or size or gender etc. another is really UNhappy with it.
Sexual or Romantic Attraction
All people within a plural system can be differently-attracted including aromantic &/or asexual. So there may be changes in flirtation, what constitutes "eye-candy" for individuals, whom they pursue for relationships, and topics of conversation around attraction, whether they're completely disinterested in sexual or romantic involvements, etc.


While each individual has their own range of emotions that they express per their own individuality, they also — much like singlets — have a typical manner and perhaps "set-point" in their emotionality that can vary from individual in the system to individual. Let's say their "natural" emotional mood or temperament. Kind of like a particular album of a particular music group — there's a range, style and composition of emotional quality or musical tone about the recordings in question. Put on a different album, even by the same band, and it's generally obvious something is different. Thus switching from a band's first classic rock album to their last recordings you definitely know something is different.

A simple emotional shift with cause is not a sufficient tell. When the "set" or grouping and "style" of emotional expression changes drastically, it's likely to be another person.

That grumpy person may not be "X when they are upset" — it could be "C on a normal day". Thinking that individuals in a system are always stuck at one particular emotion can lead to some strange assumptions about reasonable emotional shifts. "Did you switch?" "No; my hamster died — I'm just upset."

Therapists, TV and movies often get this wrong and conflate an individual's mood changes with a switch to an "emotional part." Of course it MAY be true, but it also isn't usually true. Thus thinking X switched because they seem upset is a mistake, where asking C what's wrong might make C more upset than usual because nothing was wrong; that's just how they are.

In terms of emotionality, what might be a better "tell" is the quality of a person's expression of different emotions. A normally happy-go-lucky person can be disappointed — but that disappointment probably wouldn't make them so bitter that they're vindictive. It doesn't change their ethical compass to something wildly inappropriate to their individual nature. Just like any other person in their own body who would normally be happy-go-lucky might be disappointed but not vindictive.

Example of an Emotional Switch Situation

You might see that if A is disappointed about something, their protector D may switch to front (as A goes deep inside to nurse their disappointment) and D might seem angry or agitated. This may lead to a conclusion that when the group "gets disappointed" that their protector expresses the group's disappointment as anger.

What's probably going on is that D has fronted to protect A or to allow A the space to internally process their vulnerable or uncomfortable emotion. Basically A gave themselves a time out. D may not be angry at all; they just normally act and behave and have tells that appear angry to you. Unless, in this case, you are the source of the disappointment. In which case, yeah D might be angry at you because whatever happened hurt someone they protect and care for, and they're not too happy with you at the moment. In all likelihood, they are going to be focused on making sure that the situation gets handled so that A doesn't feel vulnerable or upset any more — like any good friend or mediator.

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Another amazing show to see one body playing several people is Orphan Black, About clones.Tatiana Malany It’s so amazing that you can tell who the person is even if it is one clone dressed up and pretended to be another clone.

Comment by Ks on February 10, 2020, at 10:25 AM

Ks, thank you for the great comment. We saw What Happened to Monday (Netflix) — it was really good, dystopian society where one actress played 7 characters in a WhoDunIt mystery. They had to all "mask" to pretend to be each other but would still have differences on the street and especially when amongst themselves. Posture, etc. That's the nuance people need to look for in plurals.

Comment by XES on February 16, 2020, at 07:46 AM

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