Some people who hear voices or have other unusual experiences also experience dissociation. Dissociation is a disconnection that can take many different forms. People may be disconnected from their memory, sense of self, feelings, and so on. If you’re struggling with experiences such as feeling numb, zoning out, feeling at war with yourself, detached, watching yourself from above, feeling unreal, or possessed, you might find it helpful to look into dissociation and how people manage it. For some people dissociation is a warning sign they are under stress. It can be part of the prodromal (that is, the onset) of a psychotic episode. For others, it can be part of a psychotic experience, or it may be part of the aftermath. Some people believe that dissociation protects them from stress that can put them at risk of psychosis, while others consider that dissociation is the first step in the process. For more information and free resources about dissociation, please see our network The Dissociative Initiative (di.org.au).
Some people hear voices that are chaotic and random, speaking words that make no sense, whispering so they can’t be heard, and so on. But other people hear voices that are like listening to other people. They have their own personality, a coherent set of beliefs, tastes, preferences, and so on. They might be friendly or hostile or frightened or paranoid, but it’s rather like living with flatmates in your head. They may advise, complain, distract, comfort, and support. In these cases, sometimes the voices are a lot like people’s experiences of sharing a body with other people- those experiences are called multiplicity or plurality. People with multiplicity share their body with other personalities, or parts. These parts sometimes talk as voices to each other. They can switch out into the body and go about their day. Most people who hear voices are not physically affected by them, they may influence thoughts, memories, or feelings, but they can’t make your hand move or take over your body and go off to the shops.
Some people come to think of these stable personality kind of voices as being parts of themselves, parts their mind has created, or may have spiritual explanations such as thinking of them as spirits, ancestors, guides, or demons. For people with these kinds of voices, it may help to reach out to resources around multiplicity. Voices may not be able to affect the body, but when they are stable, separate selves, sometimes multiplicity approaches can be really helpful.
A common strategy to help someone who is being bullied and dominated by their voices is to do the ‘dirty dishes’ challenge – challenge voices to do the washing up. This can be really helpful when voices are confusing people by threatening they will make terrible things happen if they are not listened to or obeyed. For some people, this backfires and their voice/s do step into their body. This can be scary when it hasn’t happened before! Please don’t panic, voices that can affect the body are called parts, and they can be worked with too. Multiplicity is a little different from living with voices, but thousands of people are living with parts too.
The DI (di.org.au) also has information and resources around multiplicity for people with voices or parts.