Difference Between Schizophrenia And Split Personality Disorders

“I have an interesting case. I’m treating two sets of Siamese twins with split personalities. I’m getting paid by eight people.” —Leonard Zelig, in Zelig (1983)

In A Nutshell

When schizophrenia is mentioned, it often goes along with ideas that a person’s hearing voices from their other personalities. The two disorders are completely different, though, with those suffering from schizophrenia prone to delusions, hallucinations, and difficulty in finishing complete thoughts and sentences. Dissociative identity disorder (DID) happens when more than one personality exists in the same person, usually without the person being aware of it. DID often begins when a child struggles to come to terms with some sort of trauma, while schizophrenia is thought (but not confirmed) to be a genetic disorder.

The Whole Bushel

There’s a lot that’s wrong with the general media and pop culture depictions of both schizophrenia and split personality disorders. Schizophrenia is one of those words that conjures up an instant image of someone hearing voices in their head and usually acting on impulses that quickly turn violent. This mash-up of two entirely different disorders is one that’s permeated popular opinion and put an undeserved stigma on those suffering from each illness.

Schizophrenia is a condition in which a person interprets reality in an abnormal way. A major part of the symptoms includes hallucinations, which can include both (or either) seeing or hearing things that don’t exist—it’s this part of the disorder that’s probably most over-represented in pop culture and mainstream media, interpreted as a split personality that leads to violent actions.

And that’s absolutely not the case for most people suffering from schizophrenia.

Other symptoms include harboring strong delusions, such as believing someone’s out to get you, someone’s talking about you, or someone is obsessed with you. Delusions are among the most common of symptoms, with an estimated four out of five sufferers struggling with them.

Schizophrenia often manifests itself in an outward manner in a few different ways. A person will often begin to develop what’s called disorganized thinking, and that’s reflected in their speech patterns. Ask them a question, and you’ll get an answer that seems half finished, completely unrelated to the question that was actually asked, or contain words that are either nonsense or also unrelated. Movement and emotional behavior are similarly disorganized, and a person will seem to perform actions that aren’t getting them any closer to achieving a specific goal, or might be completely inappropriate to a situation.

Emotion and a person’s ability to relate to others are also severely impacted by schizophrenia. They might be unable to make eye contact when speaking, or lack the typical inflections and gestures that go along with normal conversation. This often leads to a withdrawal from social situations and activities, particularly in younger people—adults who are developing schizophrenia will often have stronger delusions.

When it comes to associated violence and schizophrenia, that’s another part that’s absolutely untrue. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, most schizophrenics aren’t violent—violence only comes into the equation when it’s linked with other issues like alcohol or drug abuse.

And even though schizophrenia is often associated with having multiple personalities, dissociative identity disorder is a very different thing.

With DID, multiple personalities have taken up residence in a single individual, usually without the person being aware that there’s any problems. There can be as few as two different personalities and as many as 100, but the average settles around 10. Usually the person suffers from blackouts and time losses, without there being any other indication that there’s anything wrong or that they were functioning under another personality or identity.

People diagnosed with DID often also suffer from some of the same symptoms as schizophrenics, such as hallucinations and delusions. They may also suffer from memory problem tied to their blackouts as well as headaches, confusion, and disorientation.

DID is often triggered in individuals who have suffered a massive childhood trauma, such as abuse. Personalities divide as a way for the child to deal with the stress and trauma, enabling them to pretend that it was happening to someone else—average age for this is about six years old. On the other hand, no one’s quite sure what causes the development of schizophrenia, although it’s been suggested that it has something to do with genetics.

It’s also important to not that there is a personality disorder called Schizoid personality disorder, and it’s not the same thing, either. People diagnosed with this disorder have difficulty in relating to others, prefer being alone to being in the company of others, and are completely uninterested and unmoved by the attention of others.

Show Me The Proof

Mayo Clinic: Schizophrenia
National Alliance on Mental Illness: What is Schizophrenia?
National Alliance on Mental Illness: Dissociative Identity Disorder