Shell Alters

* You can find more information on the following holidays at:
Lammas https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/category/lamas/
and https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/07/23/august-ritual-dates/
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 1 https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/the-feast-of-the-beast/
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 2 https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/feast-of-the-beast-part-ii/
Fall Equinox https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/the-fall-equinox/
Halloween {personal) https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/halloween/ (background) https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/samhainhalloween/
Thanksgiving https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/thanksgiving/\
Yule/Winter Solstice https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/yulewinter-solstice/
Candlemas https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/candlemas/
Valentine’s Day https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/valentines-day/
Spring Equinox https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/the-spring-equinox/
Easter: personal. (for background, see Spring Equinox) https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/easter-blues/
Walpurgisnacht/May Eve: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/walpurgisnacht/
Beltane: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/beltane/
Mothers’ Day: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/mothers-day/
Fathers’ Day: https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2020/06/20/ritual-abuse-and-fathers-day/
Summer Solstice (corrected text) https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/well-this-is-embarrassing/

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I remember when I first learned about shell alters. It was so long ago that I had read all the books on ritual abuse that had ever been published. Imagine! I had just gotten a computer and had joined a couple of Usenet groups. My inbox received maybe two emails a week. 

I met a survivor, way back then, once upon a time. We found each other in ASAR (Alt Sexual Abuse Recovery), one of the groups I belonged to, and then managed to meet in person. We clicked immediately and started talking about how our minds worked and whether we were multiple or not. Neither one of us seemed to switch the whole time we were together.

She had figured out how her system worked. There was a front person, and other inner people used that person to talk through. It was sort of like borrowing somebody’s clothes; the front person’s personality and mannerisms were borrowed and passed around. This meant that switching wasn’t obvious – alters flowed into each other seamlessly.

I don’t know where she heard the term, or whether she thought it up independently, but she talked about her “shell alter.” By that, she meant that the front person was transparent and served as a shell to hold and display what other alters were thinking or feeling.

 I visualized a sea shell, but that doesn’t work. It is more like a shell that a lobster, one day, can shed. There is a real live lobster inside it, and the shell serves only to contained and protect it. 

No, that doesn’t work, either, because it’s one lobster, many shells, whereas, with this form of multiplicity, there is one shell, many lobsters. Maybe a snail shell used by many different hermit crabs in succession? I can’t find a good metaphor, but I think I know what I mean, and I hope you can figure it out. 

In Googling “shell alters” I came across this definition: (http://traumadissociation.com/alters)

“A shell alter is an Apparently Normal Part (host alter/front person) which handles daily life and is designed to hide the existence of other alters from the outside world. Shell alters do not exist in DID, they only exist in one form of DDNOS (now renamed to Other Specified Dissociative Disorder). The apparently normal part (ANP) is a shell through whom the inside parts/alters act. The inside parts can come near the surface, temporarily blending with the ANP. The inner parts are not regarded as separate, distinct states although amnesia may exist between them. If DDNOS is caused by ritual abuse and mind control, the shell alter is not supposed to know about the others.”

From this definition, it seems that if a person’s mind is organized with a shell alter, they will not know this and will think that they are a singleton. It is only when the programming begins to break down that they learn about the shell alter and those who come forward to interact with the world.

Many questions come to mind. Why doesn’t this system qualify as DID? Why can’t the alters be separate, distinct states, with their own names, ages, histories, etc.? And can there be more than one shell in the same system? Google was of no help. 

I see no reason why there can’t be more than one shell alter. First, programmers like to make backups in case something happens to the original. Why shouldn’t they create more than one shell? Second, being “out” or “fronting” for twenty-four hours, day after day, is tiring. Handling all the challenges that the world constantly throws at people, being available to dozens and dozens of inner people, some in conflict with each other, sounds exhausting to me. To survive, you’d think even the strongest shell alter would need a break.

I know that some complex systems have layers of alters arranged in different ways. It is quite possible that one or more of these layers have a shell alter, while other layers are designed in such a way that they do not need a shell.

I’ll offer myself as an example. I was used to test how easy it was to implant a system and how easy it was for the handler to use it once it was formed. I was sort of a lab to test prototypes.

The main way I interact with the world is through fragments that group together for a purpose and then go their separate ways. Other systems, which do not depend on fragments, were also placed in my mind.

One was a whole village with men, women, and children. There were groups of soldiers, priests, farmers, cooks, teachers, etc. As far as I can tell, the people in the village interacted with each other, but an interface with the outside world was never created. It was as if the programmer said, “Yup, works fine, but it’s sort of boring. Let’s shut it down and go on to something more interesting.”

Another was based on mathematical figures and was, basically, just a method of storing information. No part of this system had consciousness; all it could do was accept information for storage and display that information on command.

Three very different systems. Things can get complicated.

I don’t know, once a person has figured out that they have a system that uses a shell, whether the shell starts to reveal a personality and an ability to act independently of other alters. I don’t know whether the shell, from the beginning, thought of itself as “me.” If not, was “me” ever-changing, depending on who was interacting with the world through the shell?

I don’t hear a lot of survivors talking about shell alters. I can’t remember ever reading an article about shell systems, nor did I come across any when I did my Google search. Perhaps not has been written about it, and so therapists aren’t looking for it. They may assume that there are many teen or adult alters who come to the front in succession and have learned to act in pretty much the same way.

It’s also possible that there just aren’t many shell systems. It may be more difficult to create or work with. Or it may be less apt to break down than other systems and therefore doesn’t come to the attention of the survivor, therapists, or people close to the survivor.

It will be interesting to see if anybody who reads this writes in the comment sections saying, “Yes, that’s me. That’s how my mind works.” Hopefully, they will share some of the many issues I haven’t touched on in this short article. 

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Upcoming Holidays

July
7/25 St. James’ Day/Festival of the Horned God
August
8/1 Lammas/Lughnasadh
8/3 Full moon
8/15 Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8/24 St. Bartholomew’s Day
September
9/1 Full moon
9/5 – 9/7 Feast of the Beast/Marriage of the Beast
9/7 Labor Day (United States)
9/22 Fall Equinox
9/29 Michaelmas/Feast of Archangel Michael and of all Angels

Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
7/30 Tisha B’Av (Day of Mourning)
7/29 Hitler proclaimed leader of the Nazi party
(NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices and the equinoxes.)

 

17 thoughts on “Shell Alters

  1. Hi folks
    I have noticed that this entry is being read more than almost any other. Kim Noble and the ritual calendar are the only ones that are more popular.

    Would some of you be interested in forming and joining a support group for people who identify as having shell alters? I am part of a polyfragmented group and have found it wonderfully informative and helpful. Unfortunately, it is filled, so I cannot invite you.

    If so, write here in the comments section, and we can figure out how to get going. I don’t think I have time to form one, but I can share the format we use and the process we went through. I also have other formats I can share, so you can pick and choose the features you want.

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  2. I feel that on the inside we are different. I hear so many names but it’s hard to connect them to parts inside. I call them people because parts feel like people. This is all new so bear with me. About 10 years ago the feelings started and I had a breakdown. I’m just starting to get information, flashbacks etc.. On the outside my therapist said he can’t see defining differences so he says we are OSDD1A because I pressured him to fit into the world so place. Bad idea. I don’t really feel changes or switches much as I do hear parts and we talk. I feel like i’m always present. My husband notices subtle changes. He says we are a T.V. and the channel changes is how he describes us. So since he has been me for over 30 years maybe he see’s a shell or many shells? When I was young looking back I was shy and and bullied. When I was young there was no me and still no real me and now I thinks that more and more. Maybe never I felt like “we” as far as I can remember, but now yes I do . All my life I always became who I had to and I daydreamed a lot when I was alone. Maybe that says something? I feel singletons are more of an arrow focused on a target that may change a bit? I never really had close friends being this way so maybe this makes sense. As I got older I realized things were breaking down more and I forget what I say to people, names, faces..no real timeline of life……. Sorry I’m late to the party:). Hope this helps:).

    – Carolyn

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    1. Dear Carolyn:

      I found things became somewhat clearer each year after I remembered. It’s really puzzling though because I am not a clear-cut case of DID. I think reality is more complicated than the DSM.

      If you can talk with your parts, I bet there is somebody who has answers to these questions of yours. I don’t think it would hurt to ask about anything you are curious about. Just give them permission not to talk about it if they aren’t ready to.

      Just thinkng…a shell does the same job as an alter whose job it is to navigate the outside world, studying, working, relating to others. It’s just that other alters have a different way of coming out – they blend with the “apparently normal” alter rather than hijack the body. TKE look at this and see what you think. https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/alters-who-morph/

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      1. Thank you Jean. I will take your advice keep talking to my parts. I did read your post about Alters who Morph. It’s very interesting and brings up a lot of good points. What you said about the DSM and life was a relief. Also in the link you sent you talked about fitting into the box too “for lack of a better word”. Looking back the reason I wish I never asked for a diagnosis was because I new I may doubt myself and it would pull me away from healing however I went against my better judgement. Instead of healing from abuse. I was of comparing myself to people in the media and it was a real set back for along time. I feel regardless of age people don’t know where to go and anyone can be influenced.

        Getting back on topic I too wish there was more information a studies done on Shell Alters. Maybe more people will come forward.

        Carolyn

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        1. A lot of my T’s were reluctant to diagnose because they didn’t want to have pre-existing conditions on the record. I did collect chronic depression and anxiety disorder along the way. DDNOS was easy to accept, but I was outraged when I was treated like a borderline. I guess I trusted myself more than you did because I already had diagnosed myself and the confirmation came from pple I trusted.

          Anyway, it looks like you are back on track. If you treat yourself, all parts of you with respect and acceptance you can;t go wrong!

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  3. I relate to so much of your article and the replies, except I do lose some time. So I wonder if this is only found in DDNOS or OSDD, or whether it might be a DID thing as well?
    Fran

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    1. There is absolutely no reason why you can’t have alters and fragments, as far as I can see. But they wouldn’t know how to classify such a system. Maybe borderline – on the border of DID, DDNOS. and OSDD? LOL

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  4. Hi. This is also how my system works. The shell can also be called a mask. The part is created by forcing you to wear a mask and making it painful for you to take off unless a programmer or handler does it. The mask is the part that functions in daily life and each part can come behind the mask and talk through the mask but cannot takeoff the mask. It is very similar to shell programming. This is something that is instilled in you when you’re a child so you always know to have the mask for sale on when the handlers aren’t around.

    Safiyah et al. https://www.JourneyingThroughHealing.com Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    1. Wow! I can imagine how triggering masks worn as protection against the COVID virus must be!

      Yes, it sounds very much like shell programming. I keep coming back to questions that I wish I could answer for myself. Maybe you have something to teach me.

      Where is your sense of self located? Who or where is “me”?

      How is the decision made as to which alters get to talk through and interact with the outside world?

      I visited your blog and liked it – I will have to come back and read more. Thank you for listing this blog as a resource.

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  5. I have learned that Alison Miller writes about shell alters in both her books, “Becoming Yourself” and “Healing the Unimaginable.” It’s not a whole chapter, but they are mentioned in several places.

    Click on “look inside” the book. A search box will appear. Search for “shell” – it’s easier to spot the references than if you search for “shell alters.”

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  6. Don’t worry. I can answer those questions briefly without getting into too much detail.

    There is an aside though, which I’ll put first. My case is not a typical DID case. I sufferered a catastrophic breakdown in 1991. The memories resurfaced, starting in 2014, and a healing phase commenced. Trauma memories showed that the breakdown process was initiated by a major trauma event in 1990. Since I have awareness of having gone through both breakages and structural dissociation, I am positive that they are different things. Breakages are not considered part of DID and people who have broken are often classed as schizophrenic, which means broken. Thus I have had a foot in both camps.

    “Looking back, before the memories came, did you feel like “me”? A person, with a mind and body?”
    Before the breakdown I considered myself to be a normal person with minor problems. In the lead up to the breakdown I felt like a ghost. Before the recall of memories I was a person who lived with a high level of suffering and difficulty but did not know why.

    “Did this change when you discovered the other alters? Do each of those alters feel themselves to be “me”? Does it feel more like “we” these days?”
    It was strange to see myself in the memories. Me but not me. I was the predominant person who did everything. The others had lived certain events a long time ago and were different to me. The alters were anachronistic and weren’t interested in today’s life. There was an attempt at teamwork but there wasn’t much sense of we.
    I have mostly integrated now, which is another story, and there is still more work to do.

    “Do you think that there are others who have served as shells, or could serve as shells if needed?”
    I think all the alters were front alters at one time. Their memories were from the times when they were experiencing life in the body. Twice the alters from the past took the body which was quite disconcerting.

    “If all the others had been archived – I assume this is the same as what I called “being shut down” – who filled the shell when they were no longer there?”
    When they were archived they had no effect on the consciousness or daily life at all. No emotions, no symptoms. I had no clue that they even existed. Maybe a good analogy is they were in cold storage in a warehouse.
    I had the sensation that elements of consciousness were downloaded from storage. This produced a period of stress and being unsettled prior to the release of a trauma memory. This happened repeatedly.

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  7. Yes. That was me. I called myself a shell but never heard anyone else ever use that word. Your explanation fits all that my life was like when I still had active parts. Dr. Braun and gang at Rush in Chicago diagnosed me as DD/NOS but I was told it stood for dissociative disorder not otherwise specified.

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    1. This is getting interesting! Both you and my friend used the term shell but hadn’t heard anybody else using it. Am I the first person you have heard use it, in all these years?

      I wonder why therapists haven’t picked up on it. Anybody know a therapist who also uses the term?

      Janet, what were your parts like when they were active?

      And what happened to them when they stopped being active?

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  8. Yes this describes me down to a tee. I am the shell alter and fit into the DID-NOS category. In fact the other alters even called me the shell! (Alison Miller was of the opinion that most survivors are in the DID-NOS category – I guess this equates to unconscious or asymptomatic DID which Spingmeier and Wheeler called totally undetectable.)
    For me how it was formed was that I broke during training. My trainer made me at age 4, smiling, willing and obedient, intelligent and active. I had total amnesia for the previous training and also subsequent trainings which were also unsuccessful.
    When the memories started to resurface involuntarily a few years ago I couldn’t understand it. The other personalities were deeply buried. They had been archived.
    During recovery I often felt the emotions of alters, for instance I would freeze, tremble and play coy at the proximity of a man just because the waiter brought me my plate of food in the diner. I thought this was CPTSD emotional flashbacks, but for me that interpretation was deceiving psychology. Eventually I identified that the trauma memories were memories of the different alters and the so-called emotional flashbacks were actually their emotions in the present situation.

    Thankyou for publishing this article.

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        1. Thank you!

          Looking back, before the memories came, did you feel like “me”? A person, with a mind and body?

          Did this change when you discovered the other alters? Do each of those alters feel themselves to be “me”? Does it feel more like “we” these days?

          Do you think that there are others who have served as shells, or could serve as shells if needed?

          If all the others had been archived – I assume this is the same as what I called “being shut down” – who filled the shell when they were no longer there?

          That’s enough for now, or you will be writing a whole book!

          Like

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