Photos of My Alters: What It Looks Like When My Dissociative Identities Front

A compilation of six photos showing the same light skinned body with glasses and long brown hair, but each face has a drastically different expression and showing different styles of hair, clothes, and makeup.

Many of you know by now that in the summer of 2020, I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. But have you ever wondered what it would look like to see photos of my alters? 


CN: discussion of the experience of dissociative identity disorder and dissociation; brief mention of abuse and fraught life circumstances


One day, I was searching through some old papers and photos, when I found some of my school pictures from middle and high school. As I flipped through them, my eyes landed on my 8th-grade school picture. A face beaming from the inside out with a big smile that I recognized surprised me. “Hello, Faye!” I said out loud.

As with many things DID-related, I can’t fully explain how I knew just by looking at this photo that my alter Faye must have been the one fronting at the time the photo was taken. I can tell you that many of our frequent fronters are terrible at smiling on cue in a way that looks genuine, and Faye magically has this skill where so many of us do not. But truly, knowing which alter I’m looking at in a photo is an inner sense of knowing that only I can confirm based on what feels true.

But this photo introduced an interesting concept to me: How many system members could I recognize just by looking at a picture of them? Would other people be able to notice the differences in the way we held our faces?

A number of months later, I experienced another breakthrough on this front. When searching for an old file on my computer, I accidentally stumbled on a folder of photos I didn’t recognize. I realized it was the folder that photos taken by the PhotoBooth app were saved to by default. As I started opening the photos, it quickly became clear I had discovered something really special.

In it were selfies taken by alters that rarely fronted, showing themselves authentically in a way they never did when other people were around. Their faces were strikingly different from my own. Apparently, the Photobooth app had provided them a unique opportunity to document and express themselves, while feeling safe in the knowledge that the photo would be saved to a hidden folder somewhere, that I was unlikely to notice.

Inspired, I went through and identified everyone in the photos, and then did a deep dive into the photos that made it to social media to find representations of other alters that I could see clearly. This blog post is a compilation of some of those photos. (They are ordered by the date the photo was taken from earliest to most recent.)

Amelia

A light skinned woman of about 17 years old with long brown hair and glasses, wearing a bright blue shirt, grinning at the camera but hiding the majority of her face behind her hands, as if they were a pair of wings on her forehead. Age of Alter: 18
Gender: Female
Year Photo was Taken: 2006

Amelia turns up in quite a lot of our photos. Created for the purpose of diffusing difficult situations by being silly and goofy, she was very comfortable posing for the camera over the years.

Margaret

A light skinned woman with glasses and brown hair done up in a bun grins playfully at the camera.Age of Alter: 17
Gender: Female
Year Photo was Taken: 2007

Margaret is one of the handful of folks who identifies with the appearance of the body so it was also pretty easy to find photos of her! She is particularly likely to appear in photos with the boyfriend we had in late high school.

Hazel

Age of Alter: Body age
Gender: Female
Year Photo was Taken: 2009

In 2009 our system faced a prolonged series of life difficulties and we became in need of a second host, which resulted in Hazel. Because she was a host, she was unaware that she was an alter and often referred to herself as “new Kella.” After our diagnosis, we asked her if she had her own name, and only then did she realize that she was separate.  (Photo Credit: Yona Appletree)

Oberon

A light skinned person with long brown hair with pieces braided into ribbons, and glitter on their face. They are staring intensely at the camera. Age of Alter: ?
Gender: Male
Year Photo was Taken: 2011

Now THIS is where the pictures get interesting. Oberon, who is a magical, non-human being, and the gatekeeper for our system, almost never fronts. He doesn’t identify with many of the belongings or activities available in the external world and his personality is strikingly different from most of our frequent fronters, so his presence is very noticeable. Though we don’t remember the exact circumstances behind this photo, we believe it was after a performance of The Tempest in which we played the magical creature, Ariel. We expect the leftover magic-based hair and makeup inspired Oberon to capture this photo of himself.

Sam

A light skinned person with long straight brown hair, glasses, and a black shirt. They are staring blankly with a slight sadness to their face, body stiff toward the camera. Age of Alter: 13
Gender: Male
Year Photo was Taken: 2011
 
I was really surprised to find this photo because Sam has frequently focused on hiding his true expression and tended to pride himself on doing a good job of pretending to be Kella. I think perhaps this was during a time when we were trying a new set of makeup products and wanted to document what we looked like each day. Despite clearly being uncomfortable on camera, Sam dutifully followed our established routine.
 

Wendy

A light skinned woman in her early twenties with long curly brown hair pinned back on both sides with butterfly clips, wearing glasses, and smiling sweetly. Age of Alter: 28
Gender: Female
Year Photo was Taken: 2012I LOVE this photo so much. For years, Wendy operated almost exclusively to benefit the well-being of other people. She was our mediator in all interpersonal conflicts but she rarely spent time tending to her own emotional needs. This photo was clearly something she did just for her. It’s so sweet seeing her indulge that way and to see her clearly wanting to document a moment in which she felt pretty.
 

Liz

A light skinned person with long, wavy brown hair and glasses, wearing a red T-shirt and black sweatshirt, smiling awkwardly at the cameraAge of Alter: Body age
Gender: Female
Year Photo was Taken: 2013
 
For a long time, Liz was notorious for not drawing attention to herself. The first time we became aware of her, she spent the entire day fronting, signed a single message to a friend with her name, and didn’t speak to anyone in the system. For a long time, she was very reluctant to acknowledge her presence at all because she wanted to be seen as “the default.” And I think this photo is a pretty good representation of her going “Yup, just plain old ordinary me, nothing different to see here!”
 

Kella

Age of Alter: Body AgeA light skinned woman with long brown hair and classes, wearing a red blouse, jeans, and a hedgehog necklace. She is leaning with her elbows on her knees, smiling gently at the camera.
Gender: Female
Year Photo was Taken: 2013
 
You can’t have an experiment without a control. Of course, we had to show you what it actually looks like when it’s Kella fronting! Kella, of course, is our host and the name you’re most likely to associate with our work. We used this photo as a profile picture for years because it’s one of the few photos of Kella smiling where the smile looks genuine, despite it being a posed photo.
 

June

A light skinned woman with long brown hair with pink streaks in it, glasses, wearing a black sweatshirt covered in snowflakes. She has a big smile and is looking at the camera happily. Age of Alter: 24
Gender: Nonbinary
Year Photo was Taken: 2014
 
June is so cute in this photo!!! There are few times in our lives where we’ve done anything vaguely interesting with our hair but this photo is from our pink-streaks hair era. June’s gender presentation has changed a lot since this photo but they look really happy here.
 

Luke

A light skinned person with long brown hair with pale streaks in it, wearing a blue shirt with a red button up shirt over top. The person's face is red and puffy as if they've been crying recently and they are staring stone faced at the camera. Age of Alter: 20
Gender: Male
Year Photo was Taken: 2014

This photo was another surprise and more of a glimpse into our personal life. Working with Luke has been a huge focus of our trauma work recently as Luke learns why the rules he followed for our abusive ex are no longer needed to stay safe. Because I couldn’t remember the circumstances of this photo, I looked around on Facebook memories to see if I could figure out what was going on. This was from around when I injured my arm, had to take two weeks off work and have friends come over to do chores for me. I remember feeling like we were a burden and worthless because of how little we were capable of doing and that in particular, that brought up memories of the abuse we experienced. That may be behind this photo. I’m just surprised he wanted to capture it.

Holly

A light skinned woman with her long brown hair pulled back in a pony tail, wearing glasses, wearing a light amount of pretty makeup and a peach colored shirt. Age of Alter: Body age
Gender: Female
Year Photo was Taken: 2017

You might notice that there’s a gap of three years between when the photo of Luke was taken and when this photo was taken. There were way fewer photos of us during the time our chronic pain was the worst. I think almost all of the photos from that time were either Kella or Amy (shown below) fronting because we were relying really heavily on dissociation to cope with the pain and stay productive. Holly was created in 2017 and because of her connections to our tango event, which we usually dressed up for, it’s not hard to find pictures of her looking pretty for the camera.

Amy

A light skinned woman with medium length brown hair pulled into a pony tail, glasses, a black gauze blouse, and light makeup. She has a faint smile as she looks at the camera. Age of Alter: Body age
Gender: Female
Year Photo was Taken: 2017

Because Amy was fronting frequently during this time when we were regularly doing makeup and taking selfies, there are plenty of photos of Amy, but this one particularly captures her style (her undying love of black clothing) and her mild, introverted energy. This picture was also taken at a time when our hair was short enough to be close to the length Amy envisions for herself.

Molly

A light skinned young woman whose face looks younger than her body. Her hair is brown and messy and pulled back, she's wearing glasses and a pink ribbed sweater. Her face looks sad and serious and she's leaning her head against the back of a black couch. Age of Alter: 14
Gender: Female
Year Photo was Taken: 2018

Molly was created during a difficult time in which she had to handle far more life responsibilities than was appropriate for her. I didn’t think we were going to be able to find a photo of Molly since Molly was always so incredibly focused on productivity and had no time for fun. I’m surprised she took this photo but grateful that she did. I know a number of times we’ve tossed around the idea of taking candid selfies every day regardless of our emotional state and I’m wondering if this might’ve been one of those times.

Casey

A light skinned person taking a photo in the reflection of an upright mirror. They have brown hair pulled back, glasses, and are wearing a sleeveless button up top with khaki pants and sneakers.Age of Alter: 22
Gender: Masc Nonbinary
Year Photo was Taken: 2021

Last one! Early in our system exploration, we started really experimenting with clothes to try to honor the identities of system members who previously had never had their preferences centered. Because Casey’s style is so distinctly different from the rest of us, once we knew what his style was, we found it pretty easy to make that happen. We’ve always noticed that when we look at photos of ourselves, we often see how our authenticity is trying to get out but just never quite does. This is honestly one of the most comfortable, grounded photos I’ve seen of us.

Also, as a fun fact: I distinctly remember that on the day Casey took this photo, he was getting some stuff done around the house and Noah noticed that our body was moving pretty differently from usual and we were dressed differently too. He asked, “Who are you, today?” as he often did in the early days after our diagnosis. Casey stuck his hand out confidently to shake and said “I’m Casey,” in a deep voice. Noah accepted the handshake, laughed, and said, “I thought so.”


We originally shared these photos, and a few more, on our Facebook, to our friends only. It was a nerve-wracking prospect to post a bunch of photos of the same body and say “Hey, there’s a different identity in each of these photos.” Would anyone else be able to tell, or was this just internal knowledge for our own benefit?

We were deeply validated when we received a bunch of comments from friends saying that they could definitely see the many different personalities shining through loud and clear in the photos we had posted. And to be honest, it brought us joy to look at this collection of photos as a means to see our internal family all in one place.


Plural Pride Merch

Reminder that we have Plural Pride merch in our Etsy store! We wanted to honor how important our relationships with our other system members are and frame their existence as a strength, not a weakness. The phrase “Together We Survived” was inspired by plural pride merch that The Entropy System used to sell, but no longer does. Be sure to send some support their way and check out their youtube channel

An abstract line drawing of a circle of people with joined arms surrounding the hand written words Together We Survived in white on a black T-shirt. It is worn by a woman with heavily tattooed arms, sunglasses, piercings, and blue braided extensions
The Together We Survived design demoed on stickers in five colors: Black and white, dark blue and white, light and dark blue, pink and white, and rainbow with a blue center. They are each about three inches in diameter and placed on a silver laptop.
A person holding a hard cover journal with a drawing of a glowing circle of people with joined arms, in a rainbow of colors with matching sparkles flowing out of each, surrounding the words Together We Survived, on a background of dark blue.
An abstract line drawing of a circle of people with joined arms surrounding the hand written words Together We Survived in dark blue on a periwinkle circle. It is on a navy T-shirt worn by a happy, plus size, middle aged woman sitting with her dog.

Additional Resources on DID, OSDD, & Plurality

If you’d like to learn more about the world of DID and plurality, we have a bunch of other articles talking about our experiences, as well as some recommended external resources to share with you. 

Articles We’ve Written

External Resources

 
 
About the writer: Kella Hanna-Wayne is the creator, editor, and main writer for Yopp. She specializes in educational writing about civil rights, disability, chronic illness, abuse, and Dissociative Identity Disorder. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, The BeZine, and Splain You a Thing and in 2022, she released a self-published book of poetry, “Pet: the Journey from Abuse to Recovery“. You can find her @KellaHannaWayne on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Medium.

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