Identity formation is the process of developing a distinct personality and characteristics, becoming an individuated person separate from others. As people move through various developmental stages from infancy to maturity, different aspects of the identity formation process take place, shaping personal identity, self-concept, and self-perception. Some people may experience radical identity shifts as they mature, especially when they start to leave home and experience life in new environments separate from parents and siblings.
During the process of identity formation, people will turn their sense of self-awareness, the knowledge that they are separate human beings, into an understanding of their uniqueness. Personality traits will start to develop and flourish. Some aspects of a person's personality will shift and fade, especially during adolescence, when people often try on different identities to see how they fit, and explore the limits of the traits they like on the way to settling into a more fixed method of seeing and presenting themselves.
At the same time people understand the ways they are separate from other people, they can also start to develop affiliations. Race, gender, religion, and culture are all part of identity formation, providing common ground to connect with other people and share life experiences. In identity formation, people may seek out members of groups they belong to so they can acquire knowledge of that group's behavior, and they may want mentoring and assistance from people with life experience. In many cultures, this assistance is part of cultural values, as seen in many religious faiths where young people can seek counseling and mentoring from religious officiants or knowledgeable older people.
Numerous things can interrupt identity formation. Moving between radically different environments can cause a significant shift, as people attempt to transition to different cultures and places. Someone raised as a British citizen, for example, might have trouble adjusting to China as a teen, and would probably seek out other British people to find common ground and avoid losing national and cultural identity.
While identity formation is often extremely rapid in childhood and adolescence, people can also experience alterations in their identities as older adults. Life changes like acquiring a disability can shift the way people think about themselves and change the way they want to interact with the world. Some aspects of identity may only become apparent later in life; for example, a 40-year-old man may come to the understanding through therapy and community interactions that he is transgender, and could pursue life as a woman.