Often, schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder (MPD) are confused, and some people believe they are the same. In reality, they are two distinctly different disorders. Schizophrenia is a brain disorder that some people are born with -- it may be inherited, but symptoms don't usually develop for many years. In men, symptoms often develop in late adolescence or the early 20s; for women, symptoms often appear in the 20s or 30s. Sometimes, symptoms do develop during childhood, but this is rare.
When a person has schizophrenia, he experiences hallucinations and delusions, seeing things that aren't there and believing things that are clearly not true. For example, he may see demons sitting next to him at dinner or believe he is the son of God. A person with this condition also suffers from disordered thinking, decreased attention span, and problems with focusing. Typically, those with this disorder withdraw socially. It's also common for those with this condition to appear expressionless and lose their ability to initiate and carry out plans.
Often, a person with schizophrenia will believe the voices that he hears are working to control or harm him. He is likely to be very fearful. He may sit for hours without moving or talking, and he may not make sense when he does speak. However, some people with this disorder exhibit what seems like normal behavior until they start talking and others learn what they are thinking. This disorder is also marked by clumsy, uncoordinated movement and an inability to care for oneself or work a job.
A major difference between multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia is that those with multiple personality disorder aren't born with it. This mental condition is induced by something that happens in life, and it is usually related to a trauma that occurs during childhood, such as physical or sexual abuse. A patient with this disorder develops additional personalities as a way of coping with the traumatic event. To be diagnosed with MPD, a person must have at least one alter personality that controls the person's behavior at times.
A person with MPD may develop as many as 100 personalities, but the average is 10. She may take on alter personalities of the same sex, a different sex, or both sexes at the same time. Sometimes a MPD patient even takes on the physical characteristics of her different personalities, such as a certain way of walking or moving. Additionally, depression and self-mutilation are common.
There are some ways that schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder are alike. A person with schizophrenia is likely to have hallucinations, and while hallucinations are not present in all cases of MPD, about one third of patients do experience them. People with MPD may also develop behavioral problem in childhood as well as difficulty concentration on schoolwork. This may cause some to confuse the disorder with schizophrenia, as these issues often develop in child or teenage schizophrenics as well.
The age of onset of the two disorders is a major difference. While schizophrenia is more likely to develop in those who are approaching adulthood or are already in their 20s or 30s, the average age of onset of multiple personality disorder is 5.9. However, people with both conditions are alike in that they are more likely to attempt suicide.