What is a system?

03 July 2020
Okay, time to try to clear up some confusion over our use of “we/us” for self pronouns. Not only would we like to try to clear things up, but help give a broad understanding of what a system is. Keep in mind there are no strict definitions or rules for systems, each case is unique. What one system finds acceptable does not mean it will apply to others, just as with any other identity topics. Some might like a term while some may feel it’s hurtful. If you are unsure; you can ask. That said, do not always expect an answer; some or all parts of this can be a very sensitive topic to talk about.


A system could be broadly defined as someone who has more than one identity. That raises the question, “What is an identity?” Much of this is subjective, but you could compare it to a soul or consciousness; it is more than a personality. As an example, when one goes to work, hangs out with friends, or goes to the store, they tend to act a bit differently. Would you say this is another identity? Most would say no. Identity is who you are, personality, thoughts, dreams, speaking patterns, gender, etc.

It is important to note that DID (dissociative identity disorder) and being a system are different. While there is often an overlap, there does not have to be. A disorder implies that something has a negative impact on someone's life. Being a system does not mean someone has a mental health problem, nor does it mean they have had a traumatic life (although that is often the case). It is extremely rude and hurtful to imply that one or all of someone's identities are just a disorder, it is an invalidation of potentially all of who someone is.

There are no set number of identities any system has, but generally it’s somewhere between 2-10. Some, or all, of those identities might front. Fronting is just the term for which identity is “driving” the body. If you have watched enough sci-fi/fantasy, chances are there has been a character in the show demonstrating a rough idea of how this works. Think: Yugi from the first series of Yu-Gi-Oh, the Tok’ra from SG1, or the Trill from Deep Space 9.

Referring to a system can be difficult, and it’s best practice to just ask. There are added complications of the setting, many systems hide being a system in most situations (due to how much misinformation is around and how stigmatized it is). They might have their own names, the system might have a body name, one of the names could double up to be one identity along with the body as a whole.

Pronouns can be complicated. Not all systems share gender across all identities, some identities might have different preferences even if they share gender. Best practice is to ask, or if you can’t at the time, default to “they/them”. Some systems are totally fine with the use of “you” when referring to them as a whole, where some prefer something like “y’all”, “you all”, “yous”, etc.

For self pronouns, “we/us”: might refer to all/some identities, or the body as a whole. Where “I/me” can be used in the same way as “we/us”; or when one identity is talking about themself, or they do not want to reveal being a system.

The main takeaway is this: treat systems as people. Just because a system is more than one person in one body, does not mean as a whole, or any of them specifically, are somehow sub-human. Many systems will understand the world as a whole views them as “weird,” and that extends to understanding that sometimes people mess up with names/pronouns/whatever. Most don’t want to be word police, but if they correct you on something, chances are it is important enough for them to make mention of it.

It’s also essential to keep in mind that many, not all, systems have come about as a result of trauma, and often being public/open about being a system draws a lot of negative attention. Please, respect them and this fact if any system shys away from wanting to talk about things or answer any questions.

System: someone who has more than one identity

Identity: all that you are, personality, thoughts, dreams, speaking patterns, gender, etc

Fronting: the identity currently in control of the body

Body name: name for the system as a whole

DID (Dissociative identity disorder): the modern term, with some other differences, of Multiple Personality Disorder.
**Remember, not all systems have DID.