by Dr. Lorin Bradbury
Question: Is a Split Personality the same as Schizophrenia?
Answer: The answer to that question is “No.” They are not the same. At present, it is believed that Schizophrenia is a disease rooted in biological processes in the brain that may be exacerbated certain psychosocial factors. The reference to “split” in Schizophrenia is a “split with contextual reality.” In other words, the perception of an individual with symptoms of Schizophrenia is inconsistent with what most would consider reality.
A split personality is a lay term for Dissociative Identify Disorder (DID), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. The essential feature of DID is the presence of two or more distinct identities. This diagnosis is relatively rare, but has been known throughout the Twentieth Century.
During the 1980s, it was popularized in Flora Schreiber’s 1973 book Sybil, which told of a woman with 16 personalities. Around this same time, counselors confronting child sexual abuse and feminists began arguing that there was a correlation between child sexual abuse and multiple personalities. A small, but very devoted group of therapists began working with these sexual-abuse victims and frequently encountered multiple personalities. Some of these personalities revealed stories of horrible sexual abuse, including satanic rituals.
“By the early 1990s it began to dawn on rational folk just how preposterous the whole business was. Having investigated more than 12,000 accusations over four years, researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Illinois at Chicago determined that not a single case of satanic ritual abuse had been substantiated. A 1992 FBI study arrived at the same conclusion: overeager therapists had planted horror stories in the minds of their patients. In 1998 psychologist Robert Rieber made a convincing case, based on an analysis of audiotapes, that even the famous Sybil had confabulated her multiple personalities at the insistence of her therapist. The bubble burst, and diagnoses of multiple personalities subsided” (Sanjeev Sharma).
During this same time, memory researchers, such as Psychologist, Elizabeth Loftus, Ph.D., demonstrated the plasticity of memory. Memories could be created by overzealous therapists who reveled in the thrill of retrieving (creating) memories from unsuspecting patients.
Seventeen years ago (2000), the authors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – Fourth Edition – Test Revision (DSM-IV-TR) noted the questionable nature of the diagnosis. “The sharp rise in reported cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder in the United States in recent years has been subject to very different interpretations. Some believe that the greater awareness of the diagnosis among mental health professionals has resulted in the identification of cases that were previously undiagnosed.
In contrast, others believe that the syndrome has been overdiagnosed in individuals who are highly suggestible” (p. 528). Very often these suggestions came from therapists.
Since that time the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual — Fifth Edition (DSM-5) has been published and the diagnostic category continues to be accepted. However, there have been a number of peer-reviewed articles that question the validity of the disorder entirely.
A significant percentage of those diagnosed with this disorder have histories of being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder. The majority of patients with DID report childhood sexual or physical abuse, though the accuracy of these reports is controversial. Further, it has been hypothesized in a number of peer-reviewed articles that symptoms of DID may be created by therapists using techniques, such as hypnosis, to recover memories on suggestible individuals.
I have always questioned the diagnosis of DID, but maybe my suspicions lie in the fact that in all the years I have practiced psychotherapy, I have never seen a case of DID, or as it is more commonly know to the general public, Multiple Personality Disorder.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.