Walk-in is thought to be a person whose original soul has departed his or her body and been replaced with a new soul. It is based on a misunderstanding of an ancient concept described in Hinduism whose modern name originated in the Spiritualist faith and was popularized by the related, but not identical New Age movements and beliefs.
A typical modern walk-in report is similar to near-death experience, generally involving a human who is initially injured, ill, incapacitated, or seems to "die" and then recover during surgery. Deep emotional trauma and suicidal desires are said to be other suitable settings for the "walk-in".
After recovering the "walk-in" may behave dramatically differently from previously established behaviour patterns. S/he may speak in an unfamiliar language, self-identify under a different name, be disoriented, or supernally calm. Under current conditions such experience cannot be proven to have an objective basis or "reality"; in psychological terms, this subjective experience might be caused by depersonalization.
In the popular mythos the walk-in exists to provide an accessible wisdom, via close encounters with the nature of personality or death. Typically the walk-in's statements reflect popular obsessions, often of a New Age character, and may be considered "wise" by virtue of slightly archaic language and non-committal references to the metaphysical. Typical statements might include "It is not known where the original inhabitant of the body has gone", and references to reincarnation via the statement "the original soul has left and gone on". The new individual may claim he or she is an angel; a "new" version of the former self; an older, more experienced soul; less often, a brand new one who has never incarnated before; or other origins.
Many walk-ins claim heightened psychic sensitivity and may take up work as New Age healers or ministers. Others claim inability to accomplish basic tasks of daily living. Clearly, at least for some, claiming a walk-in experience may have a number of secondary gains.
In classical cases, the change is immediately apparent to the subject. However, it may take weeks or months before a supposed walk-in notices, or comes to believe, that a transition has indeed occurred. The New Age religion explains this in terms of the "new soul" having enough information to take up the life of the "previous occupant" seamlessly, Occasionally, the "old self" returns after a period of months or years; whereupon either the "new self" departs, or they coexist and may try to integrate into a single being, or work out a means of cooperation and live as two persons in one body.
This kind of walk-in is very similar to old-time, pre-Sybil cases of multiple personalities such as Mary Reynolds. A period of unconsciousness is followed by the manifestation of a new self. William James studied Reynolds and Ansel Bourne, and thought of multiple personality as something natural but not yet understood, rather than a mental disease . Boris Sidis in his 1903 book Multiple Personalities recorded similar cases, involving both men and women.
The Spiritualist version of the walk-in belief is similar, except that Spiritualists dealt less with "advanced beings" or guides than with the souls of ordinary persons, perhaps loved ones, who would take up residence within the body of a living person to help them or to stay in touch with earthly goings-on. An example would be the cooperative partnership of Florence Cook with "Katie King". This was regarded as a completely normal form of mediumship.
The original animus of the body is typically portrayed as spiritually exhausted, voluntarily taking a break or ceding control of the body, and the so-called new personality regarded as legitimately "in charge". While the general New Age belief about walk-ins claims represents that no soul leaves a body involuntarily, and that no soul walks into another body "without reason" or spiritual justifications, the popular understanding has evolved since its inception in 1970.
Subsequently, a belief system grew up around the walk-in. It included New Age attributes such as the concept of "ascending into higher frequencies of evolution", a variety of psi powers, traditional "predictions regarding Earth Changes" first cited in the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation but popularized by Edgar Cayce, and predictions of dire fates for those whose "vibrational levels" remain unraised. In the late 1980s and early 1990s a channelling team known as "Savizar and Silarra" (Extraterrestrial Earth Mission), emphasised their "walk-in" status, claiming successive walk-in experiences together with corresponding name changes. The New Age walk-in belief system now includes a number of variant experiences such as channeling, telepathy contact with extraterrestrial intelligences, or soul merging, where the original soul is said to remain present, coexisting or integrating with the new one. As of 2006, an increasing number of people claim some type of walk-in experience. Walk-ins were featured on the June 4, 1999 segment of Robert Stack's Unsolved Mysteries. According to information presented on this program, there are now walk-in conventions, one of them drawing approximately 500 people.
Checklists to determine walk-in status include name changes, career changes, new interest in the study of psychic phenomena, a feeling that one is an alien, or a sudden desire to move to a new environment. Reported physical changes include memory loss and the sudden onset of allergic reactions. Since all of these factors could possibly be attributed to simple life changes such as adolescence or middle age, it's difficult to determine solely from such a checklist if a "true" walk-in has occurred. The most logical method might be to determine if any specific event historically connected with walk-ins (anaesthesia for surgery is one of the most common) occurred around the time one first started feeling differently. There is, however, no known scientific method to prove whether or not the walk-in experience has any objective reality, let alone how to determine if one has occurred.
The present belief system states that all souls come to earth in order to accomplish missions of cosmic significance, and that a walk-in is a highly evolved soul who is here to help raise the vibrational levels of humanity and doesn't want to bother with the tedious process of incarnating in the usual fashion (through birth).
Walk-ins, according to New Age teachers, are not perfect like Ascended Masters, but are invariably more spiritual, compassionate and sympathetic than the original person. This interpretation is sometimes disputed by the spouses of people who abruptly discontinue marital relations on the grounds that they are not the person whose name appears on the wedding license or that carnal love is not for those of higher vibrational frequencies. Separation, divorce, and remarriage are very common to the New Age walk-in experience.
The theorised origins of these types of walk-in souls vary. Some are thought to be human or animal spirits; others, creatures usually considered mythological; or extraterrestrial intelligences. They are thought to share the body space and take turns using the body, usually with permission and awareness.
Unlike the classic or Sybil-like description of multiple personality disorder, people experiencing these groups of minds usually report getting on rather well, contributing energy and ideas to the host individual's life goals, as well as helping with activities of daily living. Rosemary Brown is perhaps a better example of this style of existing with multiple identities. Some people who experience classic MPD also report walk-ins
Another phenomenon often confused with the abovementioned and classical walk-in experience is hosting. A host is a person who believes he voluntarily shares his body with other souls, usually but not necessarily since birth, while retaining his own consciousness and sense of self. A person who believes he's sharing his body with otherkin walk-in spirits can said to be hosting; but according to reports by people who experience hosting, not all hosted spirits are walk-ins, nor are they necessarily otherkin.
Some hosts claim that the presences they experience as residing in their body are simply the spirits of deceased relatives, or friends or lovers from past lives. This is very similar to the description given by old-time Spiritualist mediums who believed they could allow a departed loved one or a spirit guide to take up residence in their body temporarily or permanently. These mediums were among the first to have the term "multiple personalities" applied to them. according to some early articles in The Word magazine. They experience a sharing of space and body time with the perceived spirit, usually with mutual respect and caring uncharacteristic of stereotyped MPD behavior as reported by psychiatrists.
The concept of voluntary possession or sharing of the body by more than one spirit is well known in many indigenous cultures. One of the central practices of Vodou is to allow gods and saints to take temporary possession of human bodies, to give advice and help to all the people. Folk healing on the island of Bali can involve ceremonies in which departed ancestors take over a living body for the same purposes. For the ceremony called Sanghyang Dedari (external link), two little girls are specially trained to become temporary vessels for a pair of angels, Tunjung Biru and Dewi Supraba, who come to remove bad luck and sickness from the village at the end of the monsoons. And in some Gulf Coast Indian tribes, leaders and healers are chosen from "those who have the most spirits living inside them."
Generally, hosts say they are able to change body control between the persons residing in their bodies at will; in such situations, they feel that the main or host self (in most cases, this is the soul of the original inhabitant) simply "takes a step back" and lets another entity "come forward" to control the body.
People who find themselves in a hosting or walk-in situation are also in a larger category, generally referred to simply as "multiples" (without the "disorder" label) by the otherkin community.
Some otherkin multiples, and other people in walk-in hosting situations, stress that it is important to make a distinction between themselves and people who experience DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder). On numerous websites and Internet forums (where a certain amount of anonymity is possible), these people report being aware of the others and able to communicate and cooperate with them, again in contrast to standard popular and psychiatric conceptions of MPD or DID. They may refer to this experience as healthy or non-disordered multiplicity.
Such people often prefer to use internally-referential terms such as "people" or "selves" over the popular "personality" or psychological term "alter", which are considered misleading through the implication that each perceived internal entity is not a person in his or her own right.
The term "Walk-ins" was used several times in the X-Files series. In an X-Files episode (Red Museum) of the second season, it was used to describe the believers of a fictional cult that believed in soul transference in which enlightened spirits take possession of other people's bodies. In another X-Files episode (Closure) of the seventh season, it was used to describe the spirits of dead children who come to convert living children from matter to energy (starlight) in order to save them from a horrible fate in life.
Stephen King's The Dark Tower series of books featured characters known as "walk-ins". In these books, parallel universes are connected through "thinneys" or "doorways" between worlds. "Walk-ins" are human or non-human beings who appear to have accidentally stumbled through to "our" world. They sometimes do not speak English, and sometimes speak languages unidentifiable to academics in "our" world. They often appear disoriented, confused, very ill, or suffering from severe physical defects.