Why Does My Mac Keep Switching Screens?

Your computer is almost an extension of you whether you use it for work, school, or to binge your favorite shows. However, you might not enjoy any of these experiences if you have issues with your Mac, especially one as annoying as screen switching. But why does it happen? 

Your Mac keeps switching screens because you’ve enabled automatic space switching on your computer. However, you might also notice the problem if you have a buggy operating system, a program running in the background, the trackpad is sensitive, or your computer has a virus.

However, several factors or a combination of factors could cause the problem on your Mac.

Therefore, it’s important to understand how each problem happens if you want to troubleshoot them appropriately.

Someone using multiple screens on a Mac.

1. Automatic Space Switching Is Enabled on Your Mac

Although most users don’t realize it, multitasking is essential in today’s technological landscape. It’s why your devices, even your Mac, can run so many programs simultaneously. 

And while the real technology powering this feature is a combination of simple hardware advances and accompanying discreet software programs, multitasking is essential.

Of course, while all smart devices can multitask, some do it much better than others.

On the Mac, for example, you can multitask as you’d expect, running multiple windows simultaneously and cycling through them as you wish.

And in typical Apple fashion, the Mac also pushes this feature further and allows you to have a virtual desktop.

This virtual desktop is referred to as Spaces and has been a part of the Mac’s Mission Control since the Mac OS X 10.7 software update was released in 2010.

Spaces allow users to open a completely different “screen” on their computer without using external hardware connections, downloading new software, or tweaking existing settings. It’s a handy feature and allows many Mac users to organize and sort their desktops without hassle.

Unfortunately, this crucial feature might also be why your computer keeps switching screens.

The problem usually presents itself as a situation in which your screen keeps cycling back to a previous or Home screen when you select a new window.

However, you may also notice the issue when moving across desktops on your computer. 

This problem is known as Automatic Space Switching or Auto Switching and arises as a result of your operating system attempting to organize your open windows automatically.

And while Automatic Space Switching can be annoying, I highlighted a few easy ways to disable the feature in the latter parts of this article.

2. Buggy Operating System

Your Mac might also switch screens because of a buggy operating system update. You’ll know if this is the case if the problem appears almost immediately after updating your computer’s software.

A buggy operating system might also cause your Mac to behave erratically, almost like it’s been infected with malware. However, you should only notice slight issues with your device during operation.

Many users first encountered the problem with the 2021 Mac OS Monterey software update, but you might notice it with newer or older versions of Mac OS.

And while these bugs might be somewhat upsetting, they typically disappear after Apple releases another OS update.

3. Sensitive Trackpad and Faulty Hardware

The problem might also be quite simple—your trackpad. It’s a widespread consensus that Mac trackpads are one of the best parts of the devices, and Trackpad Gestures has been a game changer. 

However, the trackpad is still just a piece of hardware—prone to all the problems regular hardware devices face.

For example, your Mac might keep switching screens because you have an overly sensitive trackpad. Therefore, the device might respond to slight touches from your fingers, clothes, or even a breeze from an open window.

In this case, the problem is usually with the device sensitivity settings, but it’s not uncommon that the problem is because of an electrical problem with your Mac’s motherboard.

Additionally, you might have the same screen-switching issue on your Mac if your trackpad is dirty, dusty, or wet.

You’ll know your trackpad is the culprit if the screen switches when you touch it lightly or after it’s been exposed to dust, grease, or fluid. 

I recommend inspecting the hardware closely for dust, liquids, and other stains. Ensure you examine the trackpad closely since even a grease stain might affect the device and accidentally trigger gesture commands.

Of course, you should also check the trackpad sensitivity settings to ensure it’s not responsible.

However, remember that you might not be able to accurately detect if the trackpad is to blame if it’s an electrical problem with your Mac’s motherboard.

4. Virus or Malware

As you’d expect, your Mac might be on the fritz if it’s infected with a virus. Viruses are malicious software programs that can affect various computers, even Macs.

Therefore, you might experience screen-switching problems on your computer because of these programs.

They can do this by interfering with a device driver or affecting your operating system’s normal operations.

A surefire way to know if this problem is linked to viruses or malware on your Mac is to take note of when it started and ask yourself a few questions.

Did the problem start after downloading new media or installing new software?

Did you get these programs from trusted sources?

Did you notice weird extensions, like “.exe,” when downloading files to your Mac?

These questions will help you identify if the problem is due to a virus and what program might be responsible. However, you’ll need to take quick action to deal with the virus or malware if it’s the culprit.

5. Your Mac Has Software Running in the Background

The problem might also be pretty straightforward. Your Mac might keep switching screens because you have software running in the background.

This software may be trying to send notifications or run specific commands that cause it to keep waking up.

However, you could also be dealing with multiple programs of this nature.

You can confirm if this is the problem if the screen keeps returning to a specific window. This program might be relatively harmless and can be an application or system software.

6. Corrupt Preferences File

Preferences files are system files that tell application programs how to behave. They specify program operation parameters and are stored in every application’s file folder.

And since they’re an integral part of any application, a slight problem with these files will result in program glitches and crashes.

These glitches could be minor and predictable, but it’s not uncommon for programs with corrupt preferences files to misbehave in unpredictable ways.

Therefore, you may notice your Mac keeps switching screens if this is the problem.

Your Mac’s preferences file might become corrupt if the computer shuts down unexpectedly, after an application crash, or if your hard disk is damaged.

Or the problem might be because the preferences file, or a part of it, is missing from your computer.

7. Charging and Power-Related Problems

Like hardware and trackpad issues, your Mac might keep switching screens because you have a problem with your charger, port, or plug.

The problem could also be with your cables, battery, or electrical outlet.

Regardless of the source of the problem, charging and power-related problems typically manifest the same way. Therefore, you’ll notice the screen-switching problem when you plug in your charger.

Another telltale sign that that’s the problem is if you see sparks or hear a buzzing noise from your Mac or the power outlet when you plug in a charger.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to fix the problem if this is to blame, but I recommend you discontinue using the affected device or accessory so it doesn’t get worse.

Troubleshooting Guide for a Mac That Keeps Switching Screens

Diagnosing the reason your Macbook keeps switching screens might seem like a hassle.

However, it’s pretty easy. All you have to do is note what triggers the problem and perform a few checks to ensure your computer is working as it should.

You can also try troubleshooting your Mac to clear the problem. 

Here are a few troubleshooting options you can try if your Mac keeps shifting screens:

  • Disable automatic space switching on your Mac.
  • Reboot your Mac in safe mode.
  • Update your device drivers and software.
  • Install and run antivirus software.
  • Close unnecessary applications on your Mac.
  • Adjust your trackpad’s sensitivity settings.

Let’s examine each of these options in detail.

1. Disable Automatic Space Switching on Your Mac

Disabling Automatic Space Switching on your Mac should almost always clear any screen-switching problems.

You can solve this problem by disabling a Mission Control setting or writing a simple script on Terminal.

Here’s how you can disable Automatic Space Switching on your Mac by adjusting your device settings:

  1. Open the Apple Menu on your Mac.
  2. Click on System Preferences from the list on the screen.
  3. Select the Mission Control option.
  4. Choose Displays have separate spaces on the screen.
  5. Restart your Mac.

Ultimately, the best option to disable Automatic Space Switching is up to you.

However, I recommend you start by disabling the feature in your computer settings and then head over to Terminal if the problem persists.

Here’s how to disable Automatic Space Switching on your Mac from the Terminal:

  1. Open Terminal by looking in the Finder’s Applications folder or using Spotlight to find the program.
  2. Type the command defaults write com.apple.dock workspaces-auto-swoosh -bool NO killall Dock in the Terminal Window.
  3. Restart your Mac.

When entering commands in the Terminal window, be careful not to make any mistakes or add unnecessary spaces.

2. Reboot Your Mac in Safe Mode

Safe mode isn’t just a diagnostic tool. It can be a nifty system to clear many operating system-related errors, including a screen-switching problem. However, you can also use it if you need clarification on what may be affecting your Mac. 

Here’s how to reboot your Mac in safe mode:

  1. Turn off your Mac.
  2. Hold the power button on your computer for a few seconds until the Loading Startup Options screen appears.
  3. Pick a storage volume.
  4. Long press the shift key and select Continue In Safe Mode.

Your Mac will restart immediately, and you should be able to carry on in safe mode afterward.

I recommend you check out the Apple Support website to learn the best practices for using safe mode on your Mac.

3. Update Your Device Drivers and Software

A full-on system update is the best way to deal with buggy operating systems, corrupt preferences files, and software errors. It’s also great for fixing drivers contributing to the problem.

Fortunately, Mac has a Software Update feature that you can use to perform this update. Of course, you’ll need an internet connection to complete the operation.

Here’s how to update your device drivers and software on Mac:

  1. Open the Apple Menu on your Mac.
  2. Select System Preferences from the menu list.
  3. Click on the Software Update button.
  4. Choose Check For Updates.

These steps should fix the problem since the process will install your computer’s most recent software updates.

4. Install and Run Antivirus Software

You can try several antivirus software programs, but ensure you only install paid versions from trusted sources.

These programs will help you find and quarantine any virus or malware affecting your computer, which should solve the screen-switching problem. 

5. Close Unnecessary Applications on Your Mac

Although this fix seems pretty simple, it can be startlingly effective. I recommend you close all programs you’re not using if you notice they keep “waking up” and affecting your Mac’s normal operations.

Don’t forget to save your work on these programs, so you don’t lose important data.

6. Adjust Your Trackpad’s Sensitivity Settings

As I mentioned earlier, your trackpad’s sensitivity settings might be why your Mac keeps switching screens.

Fortunately, this problem is an easy fix since Apple allows users to change their Mac’s trackpad settings.

Here’s how you can adjust your trackpad’s sensitivity settings:

  1. Open the Apple Menu on your Mac.
  2. Click on System Preferences from the list on the screen.
  3. Select the Trackpad option.
  4. Click the Point & Click tab.
  5. Adjust the sensitivity slider to your liking.

You should hear a “click” sound as you cycle through each setting. This sound is an excellent way to know if you’ve made changes.

However, you might not need to adjust the settings this way. Your Mac might return to working smoothly if you clean up the computer or replace damaged hardware, including power cables.