Some experts believe borderline personality disorder (BPD) could be a type of neurodivergence. Currently, though, major health organizations consider BPD a mental health condition.
The term “neurodivergent” refers to individuals whose brains
BPD shares some similarities with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, more research is necessary to determine if BPD may occur due to a natural difference in brain development.
Read on to learn more about whether people with BPD may be neurodivergent.
There is no consensus yet on whether BPD is a form of neurodivergence.
Generally, people define neurodivergence as a significant and lifelong difference in brain development that affects how a person thinks, processes information, and perceives the world compared with someone who is neurotypical.
Some ways in which BPD and neurodivergent diagnoses overlap include:
- Family links: Researchers have not identified specific genes that could cause BPD, but people with a family member who has BPD are more likely to also have the condition. This could indicate that it stems from genetics or similarities in neurological development.
- Brain structure: The structure and activity of the brain tend to be different in people with BPD versus those without. A 2023 study found that some of these differences were similar to, although not the same as, the differences in people with ADHD.
- Long-term symptoms: People who are neurodivergent have this quality for their entire life. If necessary, treatments may make it possible for them to learn additional skills to reach their life goals, but it does not “cure” them. BPD is also a long lasting condition.
However, there are also some counterarguments to these similarities between BPD and neurodivergence. For example:
- Environment: There is a well-established link between childhood trauma and an increased risk of BPD, which could mean BPD sometimes occurs as a result of a person’s life experiences. This link could also explain why BPD appears to run in families, as trauma can affect multiple generations.
- Age of onset: Diagnoses such as autism and ADHD can cause symptoms from a very young age. People with BPD also develop symptoms in childhood, although people
oftendo not identify them until adolescence. Delays in diagnosis are common, though, so it is unclear how early the signs could be present.
- Brain structure: Not all brain structure differences are permanent. Some conditions that cause these changes are treatable, and this may include BPD. A small 2018 study found that, after 12 weeks of dialectical behavioral therapy, females with BPD had more gray matter in the brain. Gray matter is responsible for emotional regulation.
- Remission: While BPD is a long-term condition, people sometimes enter “remission” following treatment, meaning they no longer meet the criteria for BPD. That said, a
2019 reviewof previous research suggests that even when this occurs, people often still experience effects on their interpersonal, occupational, and financial domains of functioning.
In part, the uncertainty around whether people with BPD are neurodivergent is due to how people define neurodivergence.
The concept emerged in the 1990s through the work of sociologist Judy Singer. She argued that diagnoses such as autism are not disorders but a natural variation in how the brain develops.
This idea laid the groundwork for the neurodiversity movement, which aims to reduce stigma surrounding diagnoses such as autism and ADHD and frame them as part of a diverse spectrum in how people think.
However, because the concept of neurodivergence originated in this social movement, there are no specific medical criteria that characterize it.
BPD is not a form of autism, but there is some overlap in their symptoms. A 2021 meta-analysis found several significant similarities, including:
- difficulties in interpersonal relationships
- trouble regulating emotions
- emotional “meltdowns” in response to certain triggers
- identity issues or disturbance
- sensory issues
However, in the studies that researchers examined, few participants were autistic and had BPD at the same time.
The same is not true for BPD and ADHD, which frequently occur together. There is also an overlap between the symptoms of BPD and ADHD, particularly with regard to impulsive behavior and difficulties with emotional regulation.
At present, many health organizations maintain a distinction between neurodivergence and personality disorders.
According to their current understanding, there are some key differences between having a personality disorder and being neurodivergent. For example:
- Self-awareness: People with personality disorders
may notalways be aware they have them or be willing to accept a diagnosis. In contrast, many neurodivergent people know they think differently to others.
- Perception of reality: Both neurodivergent conditions and personality disorders affect how a person perceives the world, but the latter often causes extreme or distorted perceptions of reality that are distressing.
- Harm: Because of distorted beliefs, people with personality disorders may engage in behavior that is harmful to themselves or others. This is not a characteristic feature of neurodivergence.
On the one hand, these conditions affect brain function in a way that impacts many facets of life and can last a long time. People with mental illness can also experience prejudice and discrimination.
Some feel that including mental illness in the definition of neurodivergence creates a sense of community among people who can experience similar obstacles.
However, other people feel this is unhelpful to both groups, as they have different needs. For example, many mental health conditions are treatable, but viewing them as part of a person’s identity may discourage people from seeking treatment.
Additionally, Judy Singer created the concept of neurodivergence for autistic people and those with learning disabilities. As a result, some feel the term should be exclusive to this group to reduce the specific form of stigma that affects them.
If a person thinks they may have BPD, a type of neurodivergence, or a mental health condition, it is best that they contact a doctor.
Getting a diagnosis can help people access treatment if they need to. A doctor can also give individuals more information about the potential causes of their symptoms and methods of managing them.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.
There is currently no consensus on whether people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are neurodivergent. BPD has some important similarities with neurodivergent diagnoses. However, because the definition of neurodivergence is still evolving, it is not yet certain whether BPD falls into this category.
New research about BPD, such as how early it develops, its causes, and how long it lasts, may help with answering this question. Even if BPD becomes widely accepted as a type of neurodivergence, people with this diagnosis still need support.
If a person thinks they may have BPD or another condition that is affecting their mood or thinking, it is best that they speak with a doctor.