Dissociative identity disorder alter roles + functions

Last updated: 26 October, 2022

In a dissociative identity disorder (DID) system, alters may have certain roles, purposes or functions in the system. An “alter” is a unique, separate identity.

DID alter roles

Not every DID system has all of these alter roles, and some DID alters may vary. Every DID system is different. Alters don’t necessarily need a particular role assigned, but it can help provide answers and understanding as a DID system, as well as help to open up communication and empathize with each other.

If you don’t have or know what kind of alter you are, it’s okay; DID alter roles exist to help provide understanding — not a guideline.

DID alters can change functions and roles, the same way people change jobs. Regardless of function or role, each alter is an integral part of the system — much like the cords in my kitten’s sisal rope scratching post.

All of these are subjective. Each DID system varies. There is no normal with DID, because every system is unique.

Moreover, DID alter roles and functions exist only as a way to help you understand your system. If your system works better not subscribing to particular roles, then don’t try to force it. 😌

Disclaimer: This post was written based on my/our experience with dissociative identity disorder, what we’ve learned from/in therapy, and what we’ve learned from other systems.

If you need substantial information about DID, we love DiscussingDissociation.com, which is authored by a “DID Systems Specialist”. (Much better than commenting hateful things.)

If you see a lightning bolt emoji (⚡), this denotes a side note pertaining to our system for anyone who is interested in how these roles may function in a dissociative identity disorder system.

DID alter roles and functions

There are so many dissociative identity disorder system roles that, despite our best efforts, we couldn’t list them all. Every system has their own structure, but the diversity is part of what makes DID so interesting!

So if you find you don’t meet any of the DID system roles/functions below, it’s okay. This list isn’t meant to be a checklist — just an informational list.

Core alter

The core alter is typically perceived as the “original” person in medical communities, but there is no “original” alter because dissociative identity disorder forms before a child’s personality develops.

The core alter may be used interchangeably as the main alter, or the host.

Core/original alters are outdated alter roles that only add to confusion and misinformation. Dissociative identity disorder forms before a child’s identity comes together, therefore there was never any “original” to create parts from. In DID, those parts never came together.

Host alters

The host alter most frequently uses the body. Systems may have multiple hosts, e.g. a primary host and secondary host. Again, every system is different.

Over time, hosts may change. Some systems mayn’t even recognize official hosts, while many medical professionals recognize the host as the legal name of the body.

In our experience, and from who we’ve connected with, primary hosts in DID systems seldom associate with the legal name of the body. We do have a line of previous hosts, most of whom are dormant.

There’s this inside joke within the dissociative identity disorder community about each alter wanting to host, but it’s okay if alters don’t want to host, too. Hosting in a body you don’t identify with or recognize can be uncomfortable and alarming, and it doesn’t make you less of a system (or an alter!) if you have no interest in fronting.

⚡ Our system consists of two primary hosts, Jane and Izzy. The host who uses the body’s legal name is dormant and more of a scared, traumatized child/introject of her narcissistic guardians. The intended endgame host is Jane. We say endgame, because we do want to eventually fuse (even though the concept is terrifying!).

Protective alter

Protector alters protect the system, body, alters, etc.

  • Emotional protectors may take emotional abuse and/or comfort other alters from the blows of emotional abuse.
  • Physical protectors may engage in aggressive behavior to protect or prevent from physical abuse. They also may personally endure physical abuse.
  • Sexual protectors may engage in sexual affairs, regardless of consent, to try to feel more in control of the situation. They may also be more sexual by nature, as a result of trauma; ironically, this can lead to unsafe sex and related situations.
  • Verbal protectors may take verbal abuse or attempt to counter verbal attacks.
⚡ We consider memory and trauma holders “protectors”, but we also think of them as separate from protectors because they’re not always protective.

Persecutors, or misguided protectors

Sitting on the floor in front of a bed, worried, eyes darting around

Often referred to persecutors, some alters seek to harm the body, system, alters, and/or destroy personal relationships and the livelihood of which the body regards.

They may believe hurting the system is what protects it best, so their goal is to control and rule the system through perpetuated abuse.

They may be reenacting trauma, reasoning that more trauma isn’t harmful and will just balance it out.

They may be fearful of good news, good experiences, and even good feelings and seek to stomp it out to avoid hurt/bad feelings.

Some protectors are introjects of abusers and may not understand that they themselves are not abusers.

⚡ We prefer the term misguided protectors because, through healing, these alters are ultimately just…misguided. Our medically perceived “core” host is dormant.

Caretaker alter

Caretaker alters care for specific members of the system, like littles, pets, teens, and system groups. They may act like a parental figure to other alters, and those they care for may refer to them as “mom” or “dad” instead of their names.

Caretakers may also ensure the body is taken care of.

⚡ In our system, the caretaker’s name is Kelly. She takes care of the children and non-human alters, and will cook/clean when the hosts of the system lack the energy. If the body lacks the energy, Kelly does what she can to take care of the children and non-human alters, and our head protector alter (Portia) manages the body and life admin.

Introject alters

Introjects are alters based off outside people — e.g. a family member or guardian who supported and/or positively influenced the dissociative child; a historical figure the dissociative child found strong, brave, and relatable; abusers. Abusive introjects bring zero comfort, self-esteem and moral compass to the dissociative system.

Abusive introjects will reenact trauma and abuse to reinforce the “lessons” of their abusers, and may not see themselves as the person they represent. They may be disgusted by their origin.

Fictional introjects are common, but do not require the entire character/persona of the fictional person they’ve originated from.

Not all introjects are abusive or fictional, or mirror the entirety of those they’re based on or originate from.

⚡ We have a few introjects. One, named Effy, fused with our gatekeeper, Betz, and together they became Izzy. Collectively, we mourn the event and do not celebrate it, but we are also content with Izzy.

Memory/trauma holder alters

Hand facing palm-up over face

We mostly call the memory holder a trauma holder, because they usually hold the trauma. Each alter has their own happier memories, but some alters have less pleasant memories and hold more trauma.

⚡ Jane knows of the body associated with the body, but hadn’t experienced much personal trauma before she started hosting full-time. Growing up, she experienced internal system-related trauma from our misguided protective alter holding the legal name of the body. As an adult, she has experienced external trauma. She is not a trauma holder. ⚡ In our system, one trauma holder bears additional system roles (gatekeeper, host); their name is Izzy.

Gatekeeper alter

Gatekeeper alters controls the “switching”, or whomever gets access to the “front”. A lot of systems will just call it “fronting”, and we are one of those.

They’re essentially a DID system supervisor, not to be confused with a captain/manager/head of the system alter role.

⚡ In our system, our gatekeeper holds the keys to the Library of Memories, makes much of the system rules, and has access to most anywhere within the system they want to go. Betz had been around since the start, enduring countless abuse and did not associate with humanness. They existed — genderless, emotionless, ageless. Our trauma holder and gatekeeper merged to create Izzy, who is not genderless, emotionless or ageless.

Fragment alters

Fragment alters didn’t fully develop or don’t have their own unique attributes. They may exist to complete certain tasks, or maintain single memories and/or emotions. Individually, they may not encompass an entire person and need other alters to complete them.

⚡ Our system low-key had/has one named Liz. She fused with Jane.

Children alters

Child alters include littles, middles and teens, and the ages of each vary from system to system.

  • Littles are usually 0-8.
  • Middles are 9-12.
  • Teens are 13-18, but might extend to age 19.

Sharing too much information about child alters online is dangerous, possibly more so when the DID system’s body is an adult, because certain triggers — like names, things and scents — can result in a child alter fronting and getting into uncomfortable, inappropriate, dangerous, unsafe and/or traumatizing situations.

Littles are not to be confused with the DDLG kink and should be considered children when fronting. This doesn’t mean a trusted person within the system’s vicinity should parent the child without explicit permission from the system, but they should ensure the child alter’s safety.

Something interesting about child alters is that they may have access to an adult brain! This means they might be able to comprehend, speak and behave in a way that children often do not — including using bigger vocabulary or doing laundry — but doesn’t always mean they should do all the things (like cooking on the stove or using the oven), and definitely does not mean they are secretly adults.

⚡ Our system does contain littles. We’re more likely to refer to them as “Little S” than we are their name — and no, Little S is not short for our legal first name!

Historian/Archivist alter

Historian, or archivist, alters record memories and events. Although historians and archivists are not the same, DID systems often refer to them similarly.

If you have historians or archivists, please comment below and share about your experience!

⚡ In our system, we have a historian who does the typical role of historian careers: They (singular) research, analyze and write about our past by studying books in our Library of Memories. They look at patterns and help us identify areas where the system can improve.

Symptom holder alters

symptom holder alter holds the symptoms of all or some diagnoses.

In the event of autism and dissociative identity disorder, the mask may become its own alter instead of a mere metaphorical mask. Since DID forms because of chronic trauma, the alters will form as a coping mechanism.  Autistic masking is a response to trauma, the brain realizing that it needs to hide itself in order to survive. The brain wants to survive. DID alters are coping mechanisms in DID systems.

The entire system is autistic, because autism is a neurotype. It’s literally your brain. Your brain just puts those symptoms into an alter instead of masking. There may still be a mask, it’s just different from the type of mask that other people are experiencing. Some other altars may mask, but most of your symptoms are held by an alternate identity.

Why wouldn’t these two come together? Or any other disorder with a list of symptoms? What better way to hide symptoms in a dissociative identity disorder system then through its alters?

⚡ Jane is a symptom holder of autism and is basically a textbook autistic.

Other alters are autistic, and each alter is still capable of masking! It’s just more complicated than your usual mask. 🥲

Other symptom holders might hold more physical or medical things, from chronic pain to acid reflux or life-threatening allergies.

Factitious disorder by proxy

There is also factitious disorder imposed on another (FDIA), formerly known as Munchausen syndrome, wherein someone else makes or convinces you that you must be sick or have severely poor mental health.

Note: This is really just something my system has been considering the concept of. Take it as it is, from our experience, if you take it at all.

It involves lots of gaslighting, and might be why some alters are Deaf/blind/mute/etc. (e.g. told “You didn’t hear/see anything” or heard “[they] can’t speak”); this manifests DID alters that take on the role of this persona that meets the abuser’s expectations.

I daresay call these “proxy alters”, but I genuinely think that term fits best. The best advice I have at identifying this — and that’s I, as in this system collectively and me, Jane — is:

  • Pay attention to how you/your system behaves around certain people.
  • If you feel like you’re being gaslit, you probably are. Don’t doubt yourself, because that’s the whole point of gaslighting!
  • It may be subtle, like a fragment, possibly not a full-on alter, but more like a system virus? I know it’s a bad analogy, but it’s the best I’ve got.

When my system is away from toxic, gaslight-y people, the virus/filter fades. Everything stops feeling foggy. We start to feel safe again, out of fight or flight mode.

So perhaps, instead of being alters, proxy alters may be a system-wide virus under the guise of a DID alter. It’s not an alter, but a filter or shade that washes over and around the system whilst under the influence of this toxicity.

It’s almost like we regress to the days before our diagnosis. We thought that we were free of toxic people — of our abusers — until we were shown their true colors.

Frequently asked questions

Can alters have multiple roles?

Yes! There are no rules in DID system roles. I know it doesn’t make sense, but alter functions are not binary.

Can you have alters without DID?

Sure.

Other Specified Dissociative Disorder (OSDD) is similar to DID, but without the memory gaps/blackouts/amnesia.

Endogenic systems supposedly form without trauma, but the whole point of DID is to hide the trauma from the person. DID systems do not remember their trauma by default. 🤷‍♀️ My system is not going to state the validity of endosystems because it doesn’t care, so long as endos don’t make a mockery of DID. 🙃

Factitious disorder may include an exaggeration of DID symptoms, but my system has no comment on it.

Can alters change roles?

Alter roles in a dissociative identity disorder system may change at any time. It’s not something to fear, but to see as growth and further understanding.


Other DID alter functions exist, but these are the main ones we come across in other systems and the ones that exist in our own.

If you’re a system yourself, and you feel comfortable, please share which alter roles your system has! We’d love to meet you! XD

ALSO: Would you like separate posts dedicated to each of these roles? Let us know in the comments. 😊 We have more DID content planned, but it’s random and might not be specifically what you’re needing. We have a system TikTok, but written content is our forte.

Other dissociative identity disorder content:

⚡ We don’t have a lot of DID content yet, but will answer some questions and take suggestions — comment or email us. You can also follow our system account on TikTok @mermaidsystem.

If you liked this post and found it helpful, please buy us a pretzel. It’s a $4 metaphor and will help us save for a legal name change.

If you loved this post, please share or buy me a pretzel:

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Comments on this post

I learned a lot from this blog! It helped me understand the terminology. Thanks!

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Thank YOU for this wonderful comment! So happy it helped you 🥳💖

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thank you so much for this ! it really helped me understand my friends system and just systems in general ! thank you, again 💗

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🥳 so glad it helps! 🫠 Being understood as a system helps us feel less alone and helps a lot with our healing process. 🌟

We wish you and your friend’s system the best! 💖

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Trying to write a story and learn about my friends DID and this helped out alot i dont want to offend anyone without being misinformed

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Respectfully, please do not write stories featuring DID characters if you are not a system yourself.

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We’ve read all this and still confused on our roles, we know that Me and Reeve are the hosts but we are still a little confused — 🛐

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We get really confused most of time, too. Our current setup is odd because our primary host (Jane) didn’t want to host anymore 🥲 so I’m hosting (Izzy).

After trying all the system mapping/etc. tips, what worked best for us was choosing NOT to define everyone by a certain role. Alter roles are mostly just there to help you understand your system better, so if they’re not helping, maybe don’t focus on them too much. 😌

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this is still a little confusing for us, but one queston can your system not know their jobs? some of us know but others dont (sorry if youve seen our other comment, i thought it did send) – travis

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All comments are held for moderation due to some past comments attacking members of our system, as well as just anyone who comments our blog. 😬🥲 It’s also easier to keep up with comments this way ☺️

Not everyone in our system knows their role, and it’s okay with us. We have some alters that just ✨exist✨ without any known job/function/etc. At first, this was frustrating. Now, it’s one year after we came out to the world as a system, and we don’t completely subscribe to relying on labels.

Once we stopped trying to figure out roles out, it started becoming clear who was a host, little, caregiver, etc. We also have a few “lurkers” (not added to list above), who we consider lurk in the background but don’t really participate in anything the system does. 🤷‍♀️ Don’t know if other systems have lurkers, but I (Izzy, gatekeeper) do consider them alter roles as well.

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This has been quite helpful as my friend’s system just became aware and they don’t have consistent access to the internet so I’ve been helping research (something I love doing anyway).

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Thank you for sites like this. I wish I could do something to support you in your work! This helps me tremendously because it helps me to keep track and know more about my closest friend DID without having to bug them and ask every question in the book. So thank you so much💕

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So glad it helps you!

We have a Ko-Fi, and we also have a TikTok @mermaidsystem. We don’t currently have other ways to support us, but are working on it.

Additionally, we update this post the more we learn about our system and systems in general to ensure it is as accurate from the perspective of an actual DID system as possible. There are a few sites that aren’t from an actual DID perspective, which kept us from fully understanding ourselves.

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I am Jarvis, protector and gatekeeper of the breach system. We wish to thank you for this post. We were able to use some of the information held within the articles contents to better explain our own system to a friend of ours. Excellent informational placement. -🪐

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this is all really good information for DID awareness, and for other systems to find
we got diagnosed earlier on this year after a long time of being mistakenly treated for bipolar without any improvement, it’s been a lot to try to process and figure out, so it’s really nice to find more firsthand information and terminology we can trust
I guess I’m what you’d call a misguided protector but I don’t hold myself in the same respect as our self proclaimed protector, recently been looking for what a few of us’ roles would technically be, because it’s distressing to not have them known
wondering if you know if there’s such a thing as specific emotion-holders, if there are symptom holding alters? we’ve one who’s constantly fearful and anxious and another who is always tired and depressed but otherwise don’t know “what they do”

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Hi Nico (and the Veritas System),

Thank you for your comment 🙂 We’re glad you like this post.

One of my headmates deep dove into information about how often BPD is used as a scapegoat diagnosis for neurological and mental things neurotypical people struggle to define. She doesn’t remember where she read it, or else I’d link it, but it sounds like an interesting phenomenon.

Our “head” protector, Portia, doesn’t feel that the protector/misguided protector fits her, and I (Jane) honestly agree. I feel like protectors are somewhat “perfect” in their protection, and she’s not — but it doesn’t mean that she is a bad protector or system head/manager/whatever. She can screw up, too, in the same way a misguided protector will. (And so can I.)

Alters can exist without specific roles, but I understand. Not having a solid grasp on what my role is as an alter is debilitating. I feel like a toddler in an adult body (but I’m not a toddler), just because I don’t know what function I serve beyond “intended host”.

Our system has a few alters who behave like trauma holders, but for emotions. We didn’t think to add it to this list, because there’s this low-key fear that we don’t have typical alter roles (even though there is no typical in DID). The stronger alters in our system are as protective of these emotional alters as they are the littles because, even though the danger is similar, things like anxiety, fear and depression results in unpredictable behavior under duress, even for singlets.

Keeping them dormant would be ideal, but then we will start to feel a bit like the way an old house looks as it decays.

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This was a lot of help, I just recently arrived a few weeks ago, and wanted know the roles and forms. Our main host, Edd, was telling me what to put for my roles and I didn’t know what most of them meant. Thank you for making this. -Rød leder

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Hello!
Fear not – I’m the host!! Adam, 🙂
I was wondering, uh, if there is any way to figure out if you have a new alter?
From time to time, our boyfriend and friends will bring up that our little, “Travis”, may act a bit more like a 9-10 y.o then what his actual age is and it gets us all confused.
Maybe the others know I’m too confused 😕

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Hi Adam! So some alters will age slide in a DID system. It’s pretty common among system alters. On the other hand, an alter may remain the same age but they have access to the same brain. Our littles don’t “talk like littles”, if that makes sense, so people often think that they’re not “real” littles.

In regard to figuring out if you have a new alter…we just sort of happen upon ours. The headspace feels different, but we can’t always discern why until this sort of fog/cloak appears. It’s like, unless we question it, we don’t know. It hasn’t always been this way for us, and I don’t know how we got to this point.

~ Mermaid System

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Okay, that makes a lot of more sense, thank you so much!
Also, this really helped, so now I understand this a lot more sense everything I knew seemed to just leave 😩

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Hi, this is Avery, the main host. First of all I wanted to thank you for this site, I’ve been trying to do some research about DID since we’re pretty sure we have it (undiagnosed). I think we have a little, but since our only real method of understanding each other seems to be through direct communication, and they (singular) are very shy, I was wondering if you have any advice. Until recently I had assumed they were another alter that I believe now may be dormant, so I would love to get to know them better. Sorry for the long post.

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Hi, Avery! Portia here 🙂 Definitely not a long post, so no worries.~

With our shy littles, we left 1) coloring books + coloring supplies in multiple places of the home and 2) candy in a candy jar. We made sure to chat about the candy pretty much every chance we got, and I just sort of hung out, along with two other alters (one being our caretaker alter), until we “caught them”. It wasn’t so much catching them as it was just…awareness.

With the coloring books, we would find ourselves coloring and be like, “Oh, okay.” Like, we colored more when the supplies were readily available. (Some of us just like to color.)

Ice pops, ice cream, cookies, cake, etc. might also help — only if it’s safe. We lived in our own apartment, so it was just us and a controlled environment. This method requires letting the little front, which isn’t safe for everyone, even with the awareness of multiple alters.

I don’t associate as a non-human alter specifically, but I guess DID TikTok would consider me a ghost. I’m seen and heard when I want to be, on my terms, especially in the headspace. I use it to my advantage.

Hope this helps. X

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Thanks for the advice, unfortunately we live with our body’s parents so we don’t really have that luxury. They did front for a little last night, however, and I managed to get them settled in a bit better with the rest of us.

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Definitely understand there. We lost our apartment and had to move back in with our grandmother, so we are living covertly as well for the time being.

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thank you so much! this helped explain to my friends more about my alters roles, and helped me understand them more! <3

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I am currently in the need of Jack for blinding all emotions, but he is being stubborn.
Do you have any tips on how could I help him come to front??
Btw, thanks for post it helps me a lot!!
Kisses, Stevey

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Stevey,

Forcing an alter to the front can be dangerous. I actually tried to do this with a protective alter, and it was emotionally damaging for all of us. I’m not sure what you mean by “blinding all emotions”, but if you mean that you want to end/erase the emotions, it’s not a healthy coping strategy — which might be why your brain is essentially saying, “No, this alter can’t front right now.”

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i find this pretty interesting! i dont have did or osdd but i do have alters! i dont feel comfy calling them alters because im not sure if they formed off of trauma. i do have trauma tho but i dont like talking about what caused it…

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Dirk,

Systems also call alters “systemmates” or “headmates”. I recently learned that sometimes they’re called “insiders”. My system uses alters and headmates, but might start using insiders because we like how it sounds more.

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Thank you. I found this while researching DID to find out what was happening to me as a freshly formed fictive. It helped me figure it out. Thank you.

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Hello! I’m Anna, from the DIM system.
Although I am 19, I have the role of a teenager, though I am also a protector (emotional and verbal).
In our system we have another roles such as fiscal (like a persecutor, but agressive with the exterior rather than the system), avenger (have agressive responses to attitudes/people that looks like our abuser), comforter (can calm an alter that’s having a bad time/intrusive flashback), animator (can cheer up alters a little, play with kid alters or give enough motivation to put the body in motion) and dissociater (when we feel overwhelmed by our environment she’s capable of dissociating and give us time to process things up).
Hope I have added something a little helpful. Those are particular roles that our system has, you don’t need to experience the same!
Byebye

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Love these! I think some of these roles actually do show up in my system XD

But definitely, thanks for sharing! And sooo right — roles don’t have to be shared across other systems to be valid. <3

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It is always a pleasure! We have been recently digging a little deeper into this DID thing and your site has helped a lot to all of us, guys. Thank you so much for doing something like this!
~ Anna

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