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Are tulpas a mental disorder?

Everyone’s rushing to call tulpamancy a disorder, DID, or even schizophrenia as soon as they learn it’s not a practical joke and people actually practise tulpamancy. But is tulpamancy a disorder? Is it something you should be concerned about or treated for?

Let’s begin with what tulpamancy is definitely not and that’s schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a severe mental illness that is thought to have a significant but not solely genetic component; found in about 1% of the population worldwide. Schizophrenia involves a chronic psychosis, characterised by hallucinating (including multimodal hallucinations – i.e. affecting several senses at once), and thinking or believing things with no basis in reality. Contrary to the popular belief, people with schizophrenia do not have multiple personalities and the hallucinations they experience originate from the outwards. In other words people with schizophrenia might hear voices which they would fully perceive as coming from the outside, physically unable to relate to them as being within their mind alone.

Tulpamancy, on the other hand, is primarily focused on multiple personality aspect, whereas visualisation and hallucination components are optional and not deemed crucial to the development of a tulpa. While some tulpamancers practise “imposition” also known as overlaying the visual looks of the tulpa over the real world or otherwise sensing them at best it results in pseudo-hallucinations and the tulpamancer has to apply a non-trivial effort to make the illusion stay.

Now, though, what about dissociative identity disorder aka DID?

DID belongs to a category of disorders – it’s a behavioural or mental pattern that causes significant distress or impairment of personal functioning. In other words, it makes your life really hard. Specifically, dissociative identity disorder is associated with overwhelming experiences, traumatic events or abuse that occurred in childhood.

Previously DID used to be called MPD: multiple personality disorder but in 1994 it gained the current name. One of the reasons for the renaming was that {DSM-IV} stated: “it is a disorder characterized by the presence of two or more identities or personality states that recurrently take control of the individual’s behavior accompanied by an inability to remember important personal information … it is a disorder characterized by identity fragmentation rather than a proliferation of separate personalities”. Thus DID is about a fragmented identity where the fragments (commonly called alters) are unable to remember things other alters know.

The diagnostic criteria for DID includes five points:
– disruption of identity characterised by two or more distinct personality states, which may be described in some cultures as an experience of possession. The disruption of marked discontinuity in sense of self and sense of agency, accompanied by related alterations in affect, behaviour, consciousness, memory, perception, cognition, and/or sensory-motor functioning;
– recurrent gaps in the recall of everyday events, important personal information, and/or traumatic events that are inconsistent with ordinary forgetting;
– the symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning;
– the disturbance is not a normal part of a broadly accepted cultural or religious practice;
– the symptoms are not attributable to the physiological effects of a substance or another medical condition.

But what does that all mean in a plain speak?

DID is basically a condition when you have several distinct personalities who perceive themselves independent from each other and aren’t caused by a broadly accepted cultural practice (like imaginary people in kids or shamanic possessions) or drugs. The existence of those personalities has to cause you non-trivial memory loss, including the recall of everyday events, and the symptoms of having several personalities has to cause you clinically severe distress (you know, the one where you go to the doc and say “help me”, not the one where your SO dumped you).

The important part is of course the first one: “two or more distinct personality states”. Indeed, that alone sounds very much like tulpas. But do tulpamancers show the signs of the other criteria? I ran a quick poll and got 184 replies (thanks everyone who participated in my study). Let’s try to apply the DID criteria to tulpamancers.

First, I considered the origins of the system – predominantly tulpas, walk-ins or others. Walk-ins are a kind of plurals that just happen to appear seemingly on their own (e.g. a character from the book you are reading setting in your mind). Tulpas, on the contrary, are created by active intent.

The majority surveyed have tulpas, while about one-fifth are walk-in based systems. The others include a mix of both. We can see that walk-ins aren’t a common sight in the tulpamancy communities.

The next question was to see how tulpas see themselves. Do they consider themselves independent personalities?

The overwhelming majority was clear on this: tulpas are distinct identities or personalities. But can they form their unique opinions on the daily life?

And again, the majority answered “yes”. Finally, I asked if tulpas can perceive the external sensations in a way different from their hosts.

With seventy-nine per cent answering yes we now have a clear image of what tulpas consider themselves: distinct personality states with their own sense of agency, accompanied by related alterations in affect, behaviour, consciousness, memory, perception, and cognition. Tulpas are a perfect fit for the first DID criteria (and who’s gonna read past that?), showing all the signs of multiple personalities. But don’t forget why DID was renamed from MPD: “it is a disorder characterized by identity fragmentation rather than a proliferation of separate personalities”.

But hey, DID also notes that the personalities might be observed by external observers and the difference in the sensory-motor functioning. How many tulpas can switch or possess the body for at least a couple minutes?

The numbers start to drift. Only sixty-six per cent tulpas are able to control the body – the remaining third failing even the initial DID criterion. Still, the number is high because personal experience is generally richer when you’re the one in control of the body and senses, thus it allows you to develop faster.

Interestingly enough, in the Eastern version of this questionnaire this question is the only one being significantly different. In countries like Japan or Russia tulpas rarely possess the body or even communicate with people outside of their mind.

Let’s move on. Do tulpas cause distress? I was specifically vague in this question, not specifying the “clinical” part.

Two thirds of systems had experienced distress or discomfort originating from their tulpas. Now, of course it’s expected that interacting with a different person will cause you distress and if the question was “did your tulpa cause you enough stress for you to end in a hospital” the answer would be completely different. If you check [my overview] of the tulpa census, you’ll note that sixty per cent tuplamancers were never diagnosed with any kind of disorder, whilst the amount of tulpamancers diagnosed with depression or anxiety is around twenty per cent. Thus we cannot state that tulpas case clinically significant distress.

Finally, what about amnesia?

Twenty-nine per cent tulpas experienced amnesia at least once, regaining the memories of the events happening on their own. Fifteen more per cent didn’t manage to regain the memories before the hosts communicated the events to them.

This makes a major difference from DID. Most tulpas don’t have fractured memories, and those that do don’t have any issues regaining them shortly after – directly or by communicating with the hosts. On the contrary, the memory loss for the people diagnosed with DID is severe, they have no option to regain the missed memories and most of them cannot directly communicate with their alters. This memory loss is a huge cause of distress for them – imagine not being able to remember how you end up in a bar, every evening, every week? For what you know you teleport around! Tulpas don’t exhibit such behaviour, and while some might conceal their memories from hosts those memories tend to be explicitly personal.

Do hosts experience memory loss?

The numbers are even lower, with only eighteen per cent hosts experiencing memory loss at least once while their tulpa was in control of the body, and nine per cent unable to remember the events without their tulpa reminding them.

So, are tulpas DID?

Clearly, tulpamancy as it is doesn’t fit under the criteria for DID (you must fit all five for the diagnosis), and both are very different from the symptoms of schizophrenia. Tulpamancy is somewhat closer to the OSDD – Other Specified Dissociative Disorder which is a “partial DID”, requiring only four out of five criteria to be met. There’s also DDNOS – dissociative disorder not otherwise specified, which is even more lax; DDNOS includes issues like identity disturbance due to prolonged and intense coercive persuasion or acute dissociative reactions to stressful events. Note that the crucial part that remains true for all kinds of the dissociative disorders is that they have to cause distress, otherwise a whole bunch of actors and writers would fit under their umbrella. A well-known example of what could be considered a multiple personality (but not a disorder) is Leonard Nimoy’s Spock. Nimoy was so into his character that he even authored a book titled “I am Spock” where he describes the conversations he had with Spock in his mind.

Now, that doesn’t mean that tulpas are entirely harmless. We come with a whole set of social issues and time sharing nuances. Some of us make the lives of our hosts much more complicated (but I hope – exciting too). We are nuanced personalities with our own worldviews, agendas, hopes and dreams.

We are eccentric, but we’re not confused about what we are. We only try to live our shared lives with inner peace and harmony.

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