DID vs. Schizophrenia: How to Recognize the Symptoms

Schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder are two complex and severe mental health conditions that are often confused with one another. Though they share some similarities, these two disorders are different in many ways.

What causes these mental conditions? When is the right time to start recognizing the symptoms? Learn everything you need to know about DID vs. schizophrenia to break the misconceptions behind these disorders.

Learn in This Article

  • What Is Dissociative Identity Disorder
  • What Is Schizophrenia
  • What Are the Differences Between DID and Schizophrenia
  • Key Takeaways

What Is Dissociative Identity Disorder

Previously known as multiple personality disorder or split personality disorder, dissociative identity disorder (DID) is characterized by the presence of two or more distinct identities, known as alternate identities or alters.

These DID alter types may take on different characteristics, roles, and behaviors. Not to mention, they have their own unique habits, memories, thoughts, and feelings.

What Is Schizophrenia

The word “schizophrenia” comes from the Greek “schizo” (splitting) and “phren” (mind). The term itself translates into “split personality,” which refers to the fragmented thinking and the splitting of emotions that come with this disorder.

However, this differs from the “split personality” in DID. In fact, people with schizophrenia don’t experience multiple personalities. On the other hand, this mental health condition is primarily characterized by psychosis.

Psychosis is a condition that causes people to lose touch with reality. In schizophrenia, this comes in the form of delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized thinking and speech.

DID vs. Schizophrenia 1

What Are the Differences Between DID and Schizophrenia?

While dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia may seem similar at first glance, they are actually two very different conditions. 

Causes

Even though the cause of DID is still unknown, many experts linked it to a history of severe childhood trauma. In fact, a staggering 90% of people[1] with a dissociative identity disorder experienced neglect and abuse. Health professionals believe that children usually dissociate to protect themselves from trauma.

On the other hand, the main causes of schizophrenia can be associated with a combination of genetics and environment.

Symptoms

Both DID and schizophrenia come with a set of similar traits, including hearing voices, memory loss, and losing touch with reality. But, how can we tell these disorders apart? Let’s take a closer look.

Age of Onset

Dissociative identity disorder symptoms first appear in early childhood, with the age of onset between 5 and 6 years old[2]. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to notice these traits in children, as parents usually think they’re playing games where they pretend to be someone else.

On the other hand, schizophrenia generally develops in adulthood. Most people start experiencing the first symptoms between their mid-20s and 30s[3]. In some cases, schizophrenia can also appear before the age of 18.

Hearing Voices

Auditory hallucinations, or more commonly “hearing voices,” are quite recurring in dissociative identity disorder. People with DID often hear multiple voices that represent different thoughts, commands, or comments from their alters. However, this doesn’t mean that individuals with dissociative identity disorder experience psychosis.

In contrast, people with schizophrenia usually hear voices that can cause them severe distress in their daily life. These auditory hallucinations can be either inside or outside their head.

Memory Less and Amnesia

Dissociative amnesia is one of the most common symptoms of DID. However, not every person with a dissociative identity disorder experiences memory loss the same way. In most cases, people with DID don’t recall a specific event or a series of events that happened in a certain period of time. However, a small percentage forgets their own identity and experiences.

In contrast, researchers believe that amnesia in schizophrenia stems from disruptions in the brain’s dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). The prefrontal cortex area is responsible for storing and managing valuable information to execute cognitive tasks.

Diagnosis

Both dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia are serious mental health conditions that need to be diagnosed by a mental health professional.

Because of their similar traits, DID and schizophrenia are usually misdiagnosed. According to a recent analysis by PubMed Central[4], only 60.4% of professionals diagnosed DID accurately.

Treatment

Contrary to popular belief, treatment for DID can be quite effective. This involves practices like psychotherapy, hypnosis, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). Medication is also a good aid in regulating emotions and stress.

Like most disorders, schizophrenia treatment includes a mix of medication (mostly antipsychotics) and psychotherapy.

DID vs. Schizophrenia 2

Key Takeaways


  • DID is characterized by multiple personality identities known as alters. On the other hand, people with schizophrenia experience psychotic episodes.
  • Severe childhood trauma is the primary cause of DID. However, schizophrenia stems from genetics and environmental factors.
  • Dissociative identity disorder typically begins between 5 and 6 years old, while schizophrenia develops in young adults.
  • Only around 60% of clinicians managed to diagnose DID accurately.
  • A combination of psychotherapy, medication and other practices can help both people with schizophrenia and DID manage their symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does schizophrenia have dissociative symptoms?

Dissociation is a mental process that involves a temporary interruption of consciousness, memory, or sense of identity.
Some experts believe that dissociative symptoms and derealization may play a role in schizophrenia. In fact, dissociation can occur as a result of psychotic experiences.

Is dissociation the same as psychosis?

Dissociation is often related to psychotic experiences, including hallucinations, delusions, and other symptoms. However, they’re not the same. For example, people with dissociative identity disorder don’t necessarily experience psychosis.

Is schizophrenia more common than DID?

When comparing DID vs. schizophrenia, it’s safe to say that schizophrenia is slightly more common than dissociative identity disorder.
In the US, schizophrenia affects 1.1% of the population[5], which equals around 2.8 million adults. On the other hand, between 0.1% and 1%[6] of the population reported having DID. This mental health condition is more prevalent in women than men.