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Schizophrenia Versus Dissociative Identity Disorder

Updated on January 30, 2012
"Stop! He's a schizo!" um . . . no, he's not.
"Stop! He's a schizo!" um . . . no, he's not.
Anti-social Behaviors . . .
Anti-social Behaviors . . .

Once Upon A Time . . .

. . . there were two movies produced by Hollywood. They were completely different from each other in terms of genre, characters, and plots but people still had some confusion about the particular mental illnesses that the protagonists had suffered.

The first movie is "Me, Myself, and Irene" starring Jim Carrey. It is a comedy about a push-pver Rhode Island state trooper, suffering from dissociative identity disorder (formally known as multiple personality disorder), and having to save a woman from something. Jim Carrey's character learns to fight his alter ego, Hank, over control of his body. Then, happy ending.

The second movie is "A Beautiful Mind" starring Russell Crowe. It is a drama based on the life of John Nash. Nash is a genius mathematician that is eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia after he loses his grip on reality. He eventually comes to return to his life in academia and wins a Nobel prize. Another happy ending.

Basically, if you are thinking of dissociative identity disorder, think of "Me, Myself, and Irene". And, if you are thinking of schizophrenia, think of "A Beautiful Mind".

Yet, what is schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder? What are some of the symptoms of these mental illnesses? How are they caused? There has to be a reason why they are often confused for one another, so some research is required to differentiate them.

PET Scan of Two Brains

Note the red area on the right brain.  That shows disruption in the brain's functionality.
Note the red area on the right brain. That shows disruption in the brain's functionality. | Source


What is it and how do you get it?

The actual term "schizophrenia" is based off of two Greek words: "schizo", which means 'split', and "phrene", which means 'mind'. 'Split mind'--no wonder people confuse this mental illness for dissociative identity disorder. This word signifies not the different types of personalities that the mind could undertake, but how the symptoms manifest with the progression of the disease.

Schizophrenia is a disorder that can manifest due to genetics, early development, social processes, and prenatal development. There are several factors that could influence schizophrenia or cause the disease, but further research in underway to understand them better. Currently, scientists are discovering that schizophrenics have different brain activity, or a disruption in brain activity, and a decreased function mostly in the frontal cortex (which is responsible for decision making, emotions, problem solving, and purposeful behavior). One thing is for certain, the symptoms of schizophrenia can be excerbated due to drugs, both legal (prescription and OTC is included) and illegal.

This disease usually starts to outwardly present itself in the late teens or early twenties, but can begin to form in the womb due to chromosomes and possible missing "genetic codes". Therefore, this can affect many members in a family. Simply put, the higher the amount of family members that have schizophrenia, the higher the chances of you having it.

There are about five different subcategories of schizophrenia, mainly based off of what symptoms are shown.


There are two main classifications for the symptoms of schizophrenia--negative and positive. Negative symptoms are a lack of interest shown by the individual about themselves or others. This will be in further detail later, but we will begin with the positive symptoms.

  • Delusions. This is essentially types of paranoia and ideas that the individual thinks are true. They can think that people are out to get them or that they have special abilities or powers. This can show a "split mind".
  • Hallucinations. This can be visual or audible, as well as messing with the senses of touch, taste, and smell. In "A Beautiful Mind", John Nash's best friend and roommate was actually a hallucination.
  • Bizarre Behavior. This is pretty much any type of behavior that would not be socially accepted as normal or appropriate. This can show a "split mind"
  • Disorganized Speech. Cognitive health can really be reflected by speech. If a person jumps topics that have little connection to each other or jumbles their sentences, then this can be a sign of schizophrenia. This can show a "split mind".
  • Negative Symptoms. As previously stated, lack of interest in people or self. This can be a lack of personal hygiene, lack of motivation, lack of emotional expression, or a lack of interest in interacting with other people. (John Nash had a good amount of negative symptoms). This can even include posturing, in which the individual freezes and seems to not move.


The treatments for schizophrenia has come a long way since the days in which schizophrenia was first viewed as a disease (in the 1800's). Some of the first treatments ranged from listening to music to the drilling of holes in the skull. Now, there are medications to help block receptors from receiving dopamine, as well as education, support groups, various types of therapy, hospitalization, and vocational programs.

Yet, with the improvements ranging from the development of programs to further research into schizophrenia, those diagnosed with the disease will still have a hard time. Those with schizophrenia will have a tendency to abuse drugs, have depression and anxiety attacks, be unemployed, live in poverty and/or be homeless. The average life expectancy for these individuals is also at least a decade lower than a person without schizophrenia.

What Alter For What Trigger?
What Alter For What Trigger? | Source

Dissociative Identity Disorder (or "Split Personality")

What is it and how do you get it?

The correct term for this is Dissociative Identity Disorder, but it was formally known as multiple personality disorder or split personality. Everyone in the world exhibits dissociative behavior when they daydream or get lost in a moment. But Dissociative Identity Disorder is when this behavior is extreme; a disconnect between memories, emotions, thoughts, feeling, actions, et cetera. This could be mistaken for schizophrenia when you think of how much there is of a disconnect when certain schizophrenics speak or act.

Dissociative Identity Disorder is suspected to come about due to a traumatic experience, usually before the age of 9, either from a physical, mental, or emotional event(s). The experience can also be insistent negligence. The individual will dissociate from life and the trauma as a form of coping. This allows the person to endure the traumatic experience without bringing it into contact with the individual's conscious self. But they are not dealing with it.

The "alter(s)" can take control of the body and behavior and can remember events in a totally different light than the other personalities. These other personalities have their own age, race, genders, and they can be animals. They also have their own speech patterns and gestures. When one takes over, it is called "switching", and it can take anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of days.

There are different subcategories of dissociative identity disorder, just as there are different subcategories of schizophrenia.


Along with the different alters that are created, an individual can also have a wide variety of other symptoms. Essentially, dissociative identity disorder is a person with two or more alters that can take control of the body and have their own speech and gestures. But there are other things involved.

  • Depression
  • Changes in mood
  • Insomnia, night terrors, sleepwalking
  • Eating disorders
  • Panic attacks
  • Substance abuse
  • Compulsions
  • Self-destructive behavior (i.e. suicide, cutting, self-persecution, et cetera)
  • Time loss
  • Delusions and Hallucinations (can be confused with schizophrenia)
  • Amnesia
  • Headaches

That is a long list of possible symptoms, and many of those would be hard to prove. For example, many people don't believe it when someone says that they do not remember what they did for the past three hours, but those with dissociative identity disorder can honestly have no idea and not remember.

But those with dissociative identity disorder are trying to keep their conscious away from anything that triggers a remembrance to a traumatic event. Thus, they keep themselves far away, feeling detached from their body and that the world is not real. The more stress and triggers they come across, the more alters will be created to help deal with them.


There can be anywhere from two to fifteen personalities, or alters, in a person receiving treatment. During treatment, more personalities can be formed since the individual is facing their past traumas. In some rare cases, an individual can develop more than one hundred alters. Each alter protects the conscious from a certain trigger.

There is no cure, currently, for dissociative identity disorder. Long term therapies, as well as medications, can help. Those that take medications that treat depression and anxiety find that it helps, since individuals with dissociative personality disorder often have depression or anxiety. But those with dissociative identity disorder need to maintain their therapy sessions to get effective treatment.

Is There a Difference?

There is a huge difference between schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder. They share very few similarities: Depression, Anxiety, Delusions, Hallucinations, and Substance Abuse are a few that can be shared by the two.

Yet think about those two Hollywood movies. Did John Nash, at any moment, start to act or speak differently in regards to a traumatic experience? Not really. Nash had his bizarre behavior and anti-social symptoms, but he did not start to act or speak differently. He was always John Nash. And what of Jim Carrey's character? Did that character ever start to hear or see things that were not there? No. There were no voices that only he could hear and there were no other types of delusions or hallucinations. But it was strange when he and Hank started to converse with each other.


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    • Jay C OBrien profile image

      Jay C OBrien 2 years ago from Houston, TX USA

      This article is very informative. Both my father (deceased) and brother have paranoid schizophrenia. After 20 years in law enforcement I have seen many cases of mental illness.

      As I read religious books such as, The Book of Joshua and the Bhagavad Gita, I wonder at the mental illness of the "Hero." Both Joshua and Arjuna killed people because God told them to.

      What do you think? Do you believe Joshua or Arjuna were mentally ill?

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Great hub, informative , and useful to many readers interested on this topic brilliantly approached.

    • Cammiebar profile image

      Cammiebar 5 years ago from Upstate New York

      Those are just some facts about the two disorders and how different they are. Thanks for reading!

    • Vegas Elias profile image

      Vegas Elias 5 years ago from Mumbai

      Very interesting insight into disorder of split personality.

    • Cammiebar profile image

      Cammiebar 6 years ago from Upstate New York


      The line "Wait! He's a schizo!" in the movie "Me, Myself, and Irene" always drove me crazy because I knew that he was suffering from something different. But I still want to show people that those with these disorders can still live a good life. All the best

    • Tams R profile image

      Tams R 6 years ago from Missouri

      Thank you for bringing awareness to the differences between these two very different disorders. While both are traumatic, people frequently get them confused.

    • gail641 profile image

      Gail Louise Stevenson 6 years ago from Mason City

      Your welcome , Cammiebar. I really like the movie that Sally Field starred in (Sybil). When Sybil was little her mother really abused her bad. I think her mother had schizophrenia. Sybil had multiple personalities. Your welcome, Carl.

    • Cammiebar profile image

      Cammiebar 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I'm gonna have to start writing out a list of these movies to see haha! Thanks for your recommendations, Carl! All the best

    • CarltheCritic1291 profile image

      Carl 6 years ago

      @Gail641, I also thank you for the movie recommendations, I saw "The Ward", it's not a "great" movie but I enjoyed watching it :)

      Also Cammiebar, you may want to also check out "Tale of Two Sisters" (a Korean Horror film that without wishing to spoil has to do with such a topic, or the American equivalent "The Uninvited"), and "Identity" (film similar to "The Ward", which I also highly recommend checking out). Again great hub, and thanks again gail641 for the suggestions :)

    • Cammiebar profile image

      Cammiebar 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Gail, thank you! Now all I have to do is get a hold of those movies, and I definitely will. All the best!

    • gail641 profile image

      Gail Louise Stevenson 6 years ago from Mason City

      I would like to see "The Ward." The "Three Faces of Eve" is an old movie. "Sybil" stars Sally Field. Your welcome. Shelly Long starred in one, too. I don't remember what it was called. It was on TV years ago.

    • Cammiebar profile image

      Cammiebar 6 years ago from Upstate New York


      Thanks for commenting! There have been a lot of movies based off of one of these diseases or the other. I ended up seeing a scary movie called "The Ward" which is about Dissociative Identity Disorder. I'll have to check out the ones you have said.

      All the best!

    • gail641 profile image

      Gail Louise Stevenson 6 years ago from Mason City

      Very interesting. The two disorders are definitely different from each other. I saw The Three Faces of Eve. That's an old movie,that was about multiple personality disorder. I voted up. I saw Sybil, too. That was a very interesting movie.

    • Cammiebar profile image

      Cammiebar 6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you so much for your comment! I tend to get gun-ho about some things, and this is one of them. All the best!

    • CarltheCritic1291 profile image

      Carl 6 years ago

      100% correct. Many people often mix the two up, when in actuality the two are very different (similar in some aspects such as both are very serious disorders, but over all different. Thank you very much for writing this, it is very well written, and many will find this useful. Voted Up, Useful, and Interesting. Keep up the great work :)

    • mariofa profile image

      mariofa 6 years ago from Italy

      veri interesintg article, i'm an ASPIE, but for a long time docotrs believ i was schizophrenic, in any case is walwais an interesitng matters the way our mond works, thanks fro sharing it