Shell Alters

* You can find more information on the following holidays at:
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 1
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 2
Fall Equinox
Halloween {personal) (background)
Yule/Winter Solstice
Valentine’s Day
Spring Equinox
Easter: personal. (for background, see Spring Equinox)
Walpurgisnacht/May Eve:
Mothers’ Day:
Fathers’ Day:
Summer Solstice (corrected text)


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: (

“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. 


Upcoming Holidays

7/25 St. James’ Day/Festival of the Horned God
8/1 Lammas/Lughnasadh
8/3 Full moon
8/15 Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
8/24 St. Bartholomew’s Day
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.)


Diagnosing Dissociation

Doctors and therapists have been trained to believe that DID (multiplicity) is very rare. They have also been trained that “when you hear hoof beats, look for horses, not zebras.” In other words, look first for the most common explanation of a set of symptoms. Once you have ruled out common diseases or conditions, start looking for the rarer ones. That’s common sense, but multiples are hardly zebras — they are far too numerous.

In the past, the most common misdiagnosis of multiplicity was schizophrenia. Why? Because both multiples and schizophrenics often hear voices. For multiples, it’s the voices of their alters or an auditory memory and the voices are usually heard inside the head. For schizophrenics, it’s auditory hallucinations and the voices usually seem to come from outside the head. This is not a hard and fast rule, because multiples sometimes hear the voices of their alters outside themselves, but it’s a good guideline.

Other things besides hallucinations – autism, flat affect and loose associations –  characterize schizophrenia and are not commonly associated with multiplicity (except if one particular alter has been made to be schizophrenic.) Autism in this context means extreme self-absorption, an inability to take other people into account, or not using words in the way other people do. Flat affect means that emotions are toned down to the point of seeming non-existent a lot of the time. And loose associations means being all over the place in one’s speech; rhyming, making up words, jumping from one thing to another. A description slang term is “word salad.”

Multiples are not misdiagnosed as schizophrenic as often these days, but it still happens. I believe that, today, the more common misdiagnoses are bipolar disorder, cyclothymic disorder (rapidly cycling mood changes), and borderline personality disorder. This is just my opinion and is not based on studies that I have read.

In this case, the therapist is not focusing on whether the client hears voices or not, but on mood changes. The main characteristic of bipolar and cyclothymic disorders is mood swings from elation, often to the point of mania, to depression. In borderline personality disorder, the mood changes are secondary to changes in perception and/or beliefs. Another person may be seen as all-good for a while and then suddenly seen as all-bad, with the emotions changing accordingly. (Look for a blog entry on borderlines on July, 2011.)

If somebody has DID, mood changes can be traced to switching alters.  Naturally, alters have different moods. Some are even created to ”hold” one emotion or another. Those that experienced the abuse tend to be depressed, hopeless, grieving, while those that dealt with the non-abusive world are more competent, social, and optimistic. So it makes sense that therapists, if they missed the multiplicity, would make these mood-based diagnoses.

PS. Andreas Laddis published “Dissociation and Psychosis in Dissociative Identity Disorder and Schizophrenia” in the Journal of Trauma and Dissociation, Vol. 13 No. 4, pp.397-413. I don’t have a citation for mood disorders and dissociation.