Old/new effects on event-related potentials (ERP) were explored in 20 patients with schizophrenia and 20 paired comparison subjects during unfamiliar face recognition. Extrinsic perceptual changes - which influence the overall familiarity of an item while retaining face-intrinsic features for use in structural face encoding - were manipulated between the study phase and the test. The question raised here concerns whether these perceptual incongruities would have a different effect on the sense of familiarity and the corresponding behavioral and ERP measures in the two groups. The results showed that schizophrenia patients were more inclined to consider old faces shown against a new background as distractors. This drop in face familiarity was accompanied by the disappearance of ERP old/new effects in this condition, i.e., FN400 and parietal old/new effects. Indeed, while ERP old/new recognition effects were found in both groups when the picture of the face was physically identical to the one presented for study, the ERP correlates of recognition disappeared among patients when the background behind the face was different. This difficulty in disregarding a background change suggests that recognition among patients with schizophrenia is based on a global perceptual matching strategy rather than on the extraction of configural information from the face. The correlations observed between FN400 amplitude, the rejection of faces with a different background, and the reality-distortion scores support the idea that the recognition deficit found in schizophrenia results from early anomalies that are carried over onto the parietal ERP old/new effect. Face-extrinsic perceptual variations provide an opportune situation for gaining insight into the social difficulties that patients encounter throughout their lives.