Viral 'Dissociative Identity Disorder' TikToker Sparks Questions - Rolling Stone
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Viral ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’ TikToker Sparks Questions About the Internet’s Effect on Mental Health

TikTok is “teeming with users who feel qualified to pass judgment on any psychological issue,” says one expert — and it’s detrimental for everyone

An image of a woman holding a cell phone in front of a TikTok logo displayed on a computer screen.On Tuesday, January 12, 2021, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)An image of a woman holding a cell phone in front of a TikTok logo displayed on a computer screen.On Tuesday, January 12, 2021, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Getty Images

“Hi, I’m Bunny.” As the smiling teenager with bubblegum pink hair smiles sweetly, waving at the camera, you’d be forgiven for thinking, for the first couple of seconds, that there’s no real reason why the video is anything remarkable. But then you meet Z. And then Oliver: followed closely by Ben, Ophelia, Malakai, Echo and various other individuals with their own pronouns, styles, accents, and mannerisms. What caused this introduction video to rack up millions of views in September was the fact that all these individuals seemed to share the same body. This is because, according to the person behind that TikTok, they have dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously known as “multiple personalities disorder.”

The creator behind this account is known as the “Wonderland System,” and it’s dedicated to documenting their experience as a DID “system,” or collection of “alters.” After posting this video, they made several clips answering questions about various aspects of their disorder and alternating identities, adding that they are 18 years old and have been professionally diagnosed with the condition. It didn’t take long for them to get noticed — and, in a pattern that highlights how vitality on TikTok can put a young person at the center of a virtual middle school of millions, they were essentially bullied off the platform.

It started on Jan. 4, shortly after The Wonderland System posted a video in which they said that some of their alters are Republican, or “lean Right.” In response, a handful of TikTokers started making jokes related to the alters’ political beliefs, and as they dug into the other statements, it swiftly escalated into their TikToks being mocked, stitched, duetted, and dissected. These clips included discussions of the alters’ racial identities, their respective dating lives and various aspects of their “inner world,” which they describe as a place their alters inhabit when they aren’t “fronting,” or presenting in the open. (Due to their privacy settings online, Rolling Stone was unable to contact the Wonderland System directly. TikTok did not immediately respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)

In the subsequent days, the account went viral. TikTok tags associated with the Wonderland System have amassed over 100 million views. Over 5,000 people have joined a Discord group dedicated to discussing the latest Wonderland System “news,” while subreddit, which was set up on Jan. 6, is already approaching 1,000 members. While some TikTokers continue to parody the user, others are compiling Google Docs to explain what they refer to as the “lore” surrounding the Wonderland System and their 271 alters. 

Part of what drove this virality is the question around whether the creator is documenting their legitimate condition, or playing a part to get clicks. A number of the videos under these tags also appear to cast doubt on whether Wonderland System has DID at all. Some seem to mock the creator while others set out to directly explain why they believe the Wonderland System is faking DID, a practice known as “fakeclaiming.”

Vedat Şar M.D is a practicing DID specialist, psychiatrist, and Professor at Koç University in Turkey. While he says that it’s “not possible” to tell from a TikTok if someone is “faking” DID, he tells Rolling Stone that people with DID who excessively publicize their condition and “socialize heavily” as multiple alters “represent only a minor subgroup” of people with DID. According to Dr. Şar, this socialization and excessive publicization can lead to people believing that the DID patient in question is “exaggerating or faking” their condition. He also says that this kind of backlash could be detrimental to the person at the center of it: “Such socialization may turn to resistance to treatment and may keep the disorder more and more chronic.”

Despite this, TikTok is “teeming with users who feel qualified to pass judgment on any psychological issue,” says research-based psychology professor Dr. Inna Kanevsky. She adds that many of these TikTokers feel “qualified” to adjudicate based on the fact they majored in psychology at college or, in some cases, believe that psychology itself isn’t real at all. “Given that it is ethically inappropriate for even qualified professionals to make diagnostic claims about people they haven’t met and examined, I find it very disturbing that so many TikTok users see fit to claim that they are definitely faking,” Dr. Kanevsky, who is a TikTok personality herself, adds. 

According to Matt Klein, a digital culture theorist, this behavior forms part of a larger, ongoing pattern on the app previously seen in cases like “couch guy,” where TikTokers conducted “a months-long investigation into a random man’s college relationship.”

“There’s an emerging reflex to invite ourselves into the lives of those that we scroll past,” he says. “We don’t ask for nor require permission to enter these narratives. We instead co-create them ourselves. There’s an implicit invitation once it’s online. This has always been a norm for celebs, but now that fame has been democratized, everyone’s vulnerable for scrutiny and narrative-jacking.”

On Jan. 7, the Wonderland System responded to their growing virality in a TikTok. Their alter Ethan, who goes by he/they/ze pronouns, came down hard on the people “These “jokes” you guys are making aren’t jokes. They’re blatantly being ableist because you’re just making fun of common symptoms of DID. That’s what you’re doing. You are bullying people who are severely traumatized.” They then made their account private.

However, TikTok creator Sierra, who has made a viral TikTok about the Wonderland System, told Rolling Stone that she believes people engaged with her content “because it was something lighthearted without bullying.” 

Some on the platform feel entitled to latch onto the story, though, simply because it’s out there. “I posted a pretty lighthearted video just to engage with this trend that I was so fascinated by,” says TikTok creator Sierra. According to TikToker Jackson Fryer, who has posted several videos joking about the Wonderland System, the reason TikTok users “hopped on the trend” is because the Wonderland System “snowballed into a huge inside joke” on the app. “The fact we created our own little fictional world from this fairly simple account is was what made it so fun for all of us,” he added. “It made our own little community in a way.”

But there have been concerns over how the Wonderland System discourse is impacting other TikTokers with DID. Discord member Evan, who is also the host of a DID system of seven alters, tells Rolling Stone that “the whole situation is going haywire and is hurting other systems more than helping them.” Other people with DID on TikTok are facing an increased amount of fakeclaiming and trolling since the Wonderland System went viral, “The inclination to be skeptical of the Wonderland System’s DID diagnosis, and make light of their condition and trauma, reflects broader persistent skepticism about the legitimacy of mental illness,” says sociologist Clare Southerton. “There remains a persistent (incorrect) public belief that mental illness is not as ‘real’ as physical illness. The spread of memes making fun of the Wonderland System reflect this lack of understanding, which other DID creators have highlighted in their content.”

This latest viral trend comes at a time where moral panic over “munchausen’s by internet” is at an all-time high. TikTok being blamed for the development of tics, and there are also claims of there being a rise in teens self-diagnosing with various disorders. Regardless of how substantiative these worries are — and indeed, whether the accusations against the Wonderland System are true — people both online and offline are failing teenagers when it comes to mental health, Southerton tells Rolling Stone: “Neither the public moral panic the memes mocking these mental health conditions actually take young people’s mental health seriously.”

In This Article: mental health, TikTok

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