Depersonalization/derealization disorder: what is it?

Feeling disconnected?

Many of us do. Sometimes we feel like we’re detached from ourselves or our feelings. Sometimes we feel like we’ve completely disconnected from our environment. It could be that we feel like a robot, or that we’ve floated outside of our bodies and are looking down on ourselves. It could be like we’re in a dream. It could be that we feel like we’re going crazy.

All of these experiences, believe it or not, are actually quite common.

But when these emotions start to get in the way of our routines, if the feelings begin to interfere with our lives, it may be more serious than just feeling a little detached, a little disconnected.

We could have something called depersonalization/derealization disorder.

Depersonalization is when you feel detached from your own body, your emotions, or your thoughts, while derealization feels like you’ve disconnected from the world around you. But depersonalization or derealization doesn’t mean you’ve lost touch with reality – you know that what you’re perceiving isn’t real. You know this is your mind at work.

Some people think that depersonalization/derealization is the same as dissociative disorder, and justifiably so, if you just look at the words, and not the symptoms. When a person is dissociative, they’re dealing with a more serious mental condition that results in breakdowns in consciousness and awareness, and at times even memory. But with depersonalization/derealization, the individual knows that what they’re feeling isn’t real – they’re very aware of their disconnection. On the other hand, individuals with psychotic disorders aren’t aware that their feelings are not, as a matter of fact, based in reality.

Many people – like about half of all people – experience what’s called transient depersonalization/derealization. For a brief moment in time, you feel like you’re not a part of you or your environment. It’s like watching yourself on film or reading about yourself. It doesn’t require any medication or treatment – it just happens. And just as quickly, it goes away.

Although there is no official cause for depersonalization/derealization, nor is there a typical trigger, experts believe that some people are at a higher risk for developing it, like a seizure disorder, other mental health disorders, or a nervous system that reacts less to emotions than what might be considered typical.

People who experience intense trauma or prolonged stress – those who’ve experienced natural disasters, abuse, violence or sudden death, for instance – might also be at higher risk for depersonalization/derealization.

And beyond those reasons, medication and other conditions can also play a role. Hallucinogens might be to blame. Sleepless or fatigue could bring depersonalization/derealization too.

So what are the treatments available for depersonalization/derealization?

There are actually no treatments for this condition, but if you’re concerned, a primary health care professional may assess you for other disorders, like depression, that this particular disorder could be accompanying.

If diagnosed, you may be provided a number of options, including talk therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectic behavior therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) or other creative therapies, like music or art therapy.

It may be suggested that you learn how to meditate and practice mindfulness.

In more severe cases of depression or anxiety, you may be prescribed medication.

Here’s the good news: for most people, depersonalization/derealization goes away all on its own. But treatment is always a wonderful thing, so you can assess and address the underlying issues that may be causing your symptoms to appear in the first place.

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