Schizophrenia vs Multiple Personality Disorder | Everything You Need to Know

In the realm of mental health, it can be easy to confuse illnesses with others, especially when symptoms may overlap or present in similar ways, Schizophrenia vs Multiple Personality Disorder.

For example, it can be hard to tell right off the bat if someone is struggling with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.

That’s why understanding the differences can be helpful, both for the person who has a mental illness and their loved ones, so that they can approach treatment with clarity and perspective.

A common occurrence is for people to use “schizophrenia” and dissociative identity disorder, (more commonly known as “multiple personality disorder” or some may have even heard “split personality disorder”) interchangeably.

Often times this can be due to inaccurate or dramatic portrayals in media about what these illnesses are and what they look like. However, schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder differ from each other greatly.

Let’s dive into the differences and similarities between these two.

What Is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia derives from the Greek terms ‘schizo’ (splitting) and ‘phren’ (mind).

It is a functional psychotic disorder characterized by the presence of delusional beliefs, hallucinations, and disturbances in thought, perception, and behavior.

As a cognitive and behavioral disorder, meaning it’s related to how the brain processes information, information processing is functionally abnormal in patients with first-episode and chronic schizophrenia.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Symptoms of a person who has schizophrenia may include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Anhedonia
  • Lack of motivation
  • Disorganized thinking/speech
  • Inability to maintain eye contact

Like many other illnesses, schizophrenia often presents alongside comorbidities such as anxiety and depression. Having schizophrenia impacts the ways you think, manage emotions, and make decisions.

Hearing or seeing things others do not can be difficult to decipher between what is real and what is not.

What Is Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder)?

Multiple personality disorder (MPD or DID) is understood today as chronic dissociative psychopathology that most often develops in response to severe abuse in childhood. The dissociative component is a manifestation of a defense mechanism out of control.

Those affected by MPD/DID have at least two (and perhaps/oftentimes more) distinct identities, which each have fairly consistent patterns of relating to the environment.

The American Psychiatric Association definition specifies that “at least two of these identities or personality states recurrently take control of the person’s behavior.”

MPD is a rare disorder associated with severe behavioral health symptoms including self-injurious behavior and substance use. It is typically associated with severe childhood trauma and abuse.

It’s estimated that 90% of people with MPD have a history of neglect or abuse.  

A person with DID has two or more distinct identities. The “core” identity is the person’s usual personality. “Alters” are the person’s alternate personalities. MPD is also known as “split personality” disorder, because there may be two (or more) separate identities that a person presents.

These personalities control their behavior at different times. Each identity has its own personal history, traits, likes and dislikes. However, “split personality” is misleading, because it implies there are only two.

In fact, Some people with DID have up to 100 alternate personalities.

Symptoms of Multiple Personality Disorder/Dissociative Identity Disorder

MPD/DID can lead to gaps in memory and hallucinations (believing something is real when it isn’t). Some of the other symptoms include:

  • Memory loss (amnesia) of certain time periods, events, people and personal information
  • A sense of being detached from yourself and your emotions
  • A perception of the people and things around you as distorted and unreal
  • A blurred sense of identity
  • Significant stress or problems in your relationships, work or other important areas of your life
  • Inability to cope well with emotional or professional stress

Someone with MPD may feel the presence of two or more people talking or living inside their head, and may feel as though they have been possessed by other identities.

Each identity may have a unique name, personal history and characteristics, including differences in voice, gender, mannerisms, and even such physical qualities. There also are differences in how familiar each identity is with the others.

Differences Between Schizophrenia vs Multiple Personality Disorder

Now that we know a little more about each of these mental illnesses, let’s explore the main differences between the two.

MPD often comes about as a result of trauma, an external and environmental cause. For example, severe childhood trauma or other traumas, like sexual assault or combat. It can be developed at a young age.

Schizophrenia, however, is a highly genetic condition that develops later in life with a more biological component, such as altered brain chemistry that can lead an inability to function normally. Symptoms generally don’t present until later in a person’s life, around 20s and 30s.

MPD presents with multiple personalities or “alters,” meaning a person may feel that they’re switching into different kinds of people.

Schizophrenia presents with hallucinations, and while a person who has schizophrenia may struggle to determine what is real and what is not, their core personality remains intact and they do not “switch” into different personalities.

Similarities of Schizophrenia vs Multiple Personality Disorder

There are many differences between the two, however, there are some overlaps as well. For example, both Schizophrenia and MPD are vey rare disorders. Only about 1% of adults around the world live with schizophrenia and MPD is diagnosed in about 1.5% of people. 

Additionally, they can both present similar comorbidities such as anxiety and depression, making it potentially difficult to misdiagnose.

Both have available treatments, but both are not “curable.” Like many other mental illnesses, treatment generally involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication specifically tailored to the individual.

Portrayals in Media

Unfortunately, like many other mental illnesses, Schizophrenia vs Multiple Personality Disorder are misrepresented in TV shows, movies, books, and popular culture.

We may see or call someone in a movie who has “gone mad” and misidentify them as having one of these two very rare but serious illnesses. Sometimes we associate characters who hear voices or have hallucinations as “crazy” or many other negative labels.

Someone who has MPD or Schizophrenia do not have to appear in these ways, and oftentimes we don’t realize the severity of a person’s case unless we get to know them. We may even go as far as to identify characters who have MPD or Schizophrenia as “evil” or “the bad guy.”

For example, the movie Split, which highlights the main antagonist as someone who multiple personality disorder (MPD). In Rachet, the Netflix show, one of the characters has multiple personalities, and is seen in a negative light.

What we need more of is representations of everyday people or positive, heroic characters who have one of these illnesses. This way we can begin to normalize some of these rare conditions and accept a person for who they are, and not their illness.

In fact, there are some very famous, intelligent people, like mathematician John Nash, who struggled with schizophrenia, who have contributed greatly to our world. A Beautiful Mind is one film that showcases his story and depicts the illness for what it is, rather than create a monster out of the character who has the illness.

Other famous people who struggled with MPD/DID include comedienne Roseanne Barr, musician Adam Duritz, and retired NFL star Herschel Walker.

We all carry with us our own mental health journey—we need to be conscientious that these two illnesses are just as important as the others. We also need to remember that a person is still who they are, with or without the illness.

While MPD or Schizophrenia may have behavioral effects/symptoms, it does not mean we should treat a person with disrespect, call them “crazy,” or assume they are intentionally dangerous.

We must remember that these are real illnesses and we can help people who struggle with treatments and medication, just like any other injury to our bodies. We just approach these conditions in a different, more subjective way.

Schizophrenia vs Multiple Personality Disorder — Rare and Serious

MPD and Schizophrenia are both serious, rare mental health disorders that require a physician’s diagnosis. Treatment is available to help ease symptoms, though these illnesses cannot be cured. If you believe you or someone you know might be suffering from one of these illnesses, contact your doctor or physician and schedule a diagnosis. Being as educated as possible can help speed up the process of getting to treatment.

While we can’t always control the chemical makeup of our bodies, we can be preventative and try to create safer, healthier spaces for our brains as we look to generations growing up today.

Are you familiar with Schizophrenia vs Multiple Personality Disorder? Let me know in the comments.

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2 years ago

This was helpful to me. I was wondering if I had schizophrenia or DID. Other things I’ve read were not as specific or clear. Thank you for this article.

2 years ago
Reply to  TKB

Really appreciate the feedback–thank you so much!

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