It is located in Zamboanga peninsula along the boundary with Zamboanga Sibugay, traversed by the national highway to Zamboanga City. The municipality is 152 kilometres (94 mi) from Dipolog City, the capital of the province.
The name Tampilisan originated from a tree called "Tampilis". This tree is about one (1) to three (3) meters in height, belongs to the palm family. Its sturdy part when split was used by the natives, Subanen, as a substitute for betel nuts. Since this tree were abundant in the area, the place thus called by the native as "Tampilisan".
The municipality was originally a barangay of the Municipality of Liloy. In the early part of 1978, because of the concentration of population and potentials of the area and through consultation of the local leaders, Assemblyman Guardson Lood filed a bill in the Interim Batasang Pambansa, Batas Pambansa Bilang 14 an "Act Creating the Municipality of Tampilisan".
The newly created municipality originally comprised seven barangays: Poblacion, Cabong, Galingon, Situbo, Lawasan, Molos, and New Dapitan, with the Poblacion as the seat of the municipal government. Today, the Municipality of Tampilisan has grown to twenty barangays: the seven preceding barangays plus thirteen more barangays: Sandayong, Tilubog, Tininggaan, Tubod, Balacbaan, Banbanan, ZNAC, Camul, New Barili, Sto. Niño, Farmington, Lumbayao, and Malila T.