Split Personality

split on the subway

There are a lot of people who maintain the notion that schizophrenia means a person has a “split personality”. And it’s hard to blame them, considering the literal translation of the word, “schizophrenia”, means “split mind”.

Origin of the Term

The term schizophrenia was originally used by psychiatrist in Switzerland nearly a century ago. Dr. Eugen Bleuler had been working with mentally ill patients and noticed that some of them had thought patterns and emotions which appeared to be completely disconnected. He also observed their tendency to “split off” from reality. This is why he used the term “schizophrenia” to label his observations.

What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Schizophrenia is very different from the disorder which is actually characterized by a “split personality”. This disorder, now referred to as “dissociative identity disorder” in the DSM-IV, used to be known as “multiple personality disorder”. Dissociative identity disorder, or DID for short, is a psychiatric illness which is generally believed to develop as a coping mechanism for severe childhood trauma.

Causes of Dissociative Identity Disorder

The trauma often stems from severe physical or sexual abuse, but may also be due to highly traumatic events such as war or natural disaster. The person “dissociates” or essentially mentally escapes the trauma, which makes it more bearable. The primary characteristic is the presence of at least two distinct identities, or personalities, which at different times control the person’s behavior.

Treatment for DID

Treatment for DID often includes some form of psychotherapy, possibly medication, and hypnosis. Individuals with this disorder are at high risk of things such as suicide, substance abuse, and becoming victimized over and over by others in their life. They often have depression as well, and may struggle with insomnia.


Of all the psychiatric disorders, DID is probably one of the most controversial. Some mental health professionals argue that it is over-diagnosed in individuals who are highly suggestible, and thus actually much rarer or even that it does not exist at all. Others believe it is quite common.

In summary, there is no correlation between schizophrenia and “split personality” (DID). The etiology, clinical presentation, and treatment protocol are entirely different. The only similarity, if any, is that both disorders are extremely challenging and significantly disrupt the person’s life.

written by Dr. Cheryl Lane, PsyD