The body has an immediate, physical response to every emotion we feel and everything we experience. It is inextricably linked to our thoughts and emotions and has the capability of storing each of our experiences (traumas). Because the body holds many of the emotions we experienced in moments of trauma, some of which we don’t even remember, it holds the key to unlocking and releasing conscious and subconscious fears, beliefs and traumas that bleed into our daily lives and manifest as detrimental behaviours and thought processes, as well as aches, pains and illness.Continue reading “How to Release Trauma and Reconnect to Yourself Through Stretching”
Depersonalization and Derealization are dissociative disorders in which the individual experiencing them feels detached from their own body and feels as though they are in a ‘dream’. The two conditions are often experienced in conjunction with each other. Individuals often experience numbness of the skin and complain that the room looks ‘darker’ or that things sound ‘strange’, muffled or very loud but muffled at the same time.Continue reading “Depersonalization & Derealization”
Our breathing is our life force. It reflects how we feel, influences how we feel, and if it is disordered, it can contribute to physical and mental illness. These are the core functions of the breathing pattern:Continue reading “The Importance of your Breathing Pattern in Mental Health”
People suffering from DP and DR are usually so frightened and crippled by their symptoms, that their main focus becomes getting rid of these symptoms and to feel 'normal' again. This was the case for me, too. It was all I thought about and all I wanted. I knew that I wouldn't be able to live my life fully or focus on anything else while I felt like I was in a dream and was constantly battling with my mind and my worries.
I learned, however, that you can't approach DP and DR as though something is 'wrong' with you, or as though it is a burden. You can't try to fight it or override it, or approach it as something you need to 'get rid' of. Because DP and DR is a stress response, and it is something that is actually trying to help you, even though it feels like a curse. Nothing is really 'wrong' with you. In fact, the symptoms of DP and DR are a perfectly normal survival response to the prolonged state of extreme stress, anxiety, detachment from the self and a harsh environment that you have been subjected to.
When you start to view DP and DR as something that is your physical and emotional response to fear and stress, and your subconscious' effort to protect you, you will start to feel less afraid of your symptoms, and instead can notice patterns in when they flare up, and take them as a sort of navigation system or alarm system, alerting you to the fact that you need to step back from whatever people, places or things are causing your symptoms to flare up, and move to an environment in which you feel safer.
To understand more about what I'm saying here, and before you continue reading, I highly recommend you read my blog post titled What Causes Depersonalization and Derealization. There, I talk about the environmental and emotional factors that have caused you to develop this condition, and how the feelings of dreaminess and disconnection mirror patterns of self-abandonment and self-disconnection.
In order to 'cure' depersonalization and derealization, it is absolutely essential that you understand what has caused it. It is the causes - the factors contributing to it - that need to be fixed or 'cured', not the symptoms. The symptoms are merely trying to alert you to the core problem, and although it seems like the symptoms are what is ruining your life and causing you so much suffering, the core problem is actually what has caused, and what will continue to cause you suffering and problems in life. DP and DR is not the problem - your lifestyle and thought processes are. Improve these factors, and DP and DR will cease to rule your life.
Step 1: Reconnecting to the Self
DP and DR is forcing you to reconnect with yourself - to take notice of how you feel physically and emotionally in every situation, and to take actions accordingly. If you have developed this disorder, you are used to overriding and suppressing your own emotions and feelings about things in order to survive in your environment and social/family setting. You have probably lost touch with the things that really interest you, and you most likely feel passionless or directionless. This is because you have abandoned yourself to survive to such a degree that you can no longer 'feel' yourself anymore - hence the depersonalization (feeling separate from the self).
Before you developed DP and DR, you were probably already prone to extreme anxiety or nervousness when going out into the world or in social settings, feeling like you were on 'high alert', constantly living on your nerves. Although your anxiety may have been a mystery to you, it is caused by your subconscious knowing that whenever you are with other people or in new places, you invariably suppress and override your natural instincts in order to fit in.
You are constantly (unknowingly) going against yourself, and because of this you continually put yourself in situations or take actions that are unpleasant for you. Subconsciously you know this, and your anxiety flares up because you are always preparing for the next episode of self-abandonment or the next 'bad' thing. You don't trust yourself to make decisions or choices that benefit you, so you live in a state of fight or flight, always preparing for the worst.
Before DP and DR you most likely didn't even realize you had these problems. You probably felt like you were happy and life was just fine. I felt this way too, and it wasn't until I went through the process of reconnecting to myself that I could look back at my life prior to DP and DR and realize that I was not happy at all, and my lifestyle was not at all conducive to health or happiness. I just didn't realize it at the time because I was so disconnected from myself. It was normal for me to feel that way and to override myself. DP and DR forced me to notice how I actually felt in my environment - and it didn't feel good.
Since developing DP and DR, even though you may have been extroverted and social before, you are probably now feeling an overwhelming need to isolate yourself from your social group and from the world in general - to hide away at home and just be alone. The need to be alone is DP and DR forcing you to reconnect with yourself, to be with your own thoughts and feelings, and acknowledge them and familiarise yourself with them without the influence of anyone or anything else. Because at this point you are incapable of being present and loyal to yourself in social environments, your subconscious knows that you must be alone while you re-learn how to acknowledge, validate and follow your own thoughts, ideas and emotions.
Your need to be alone is also due to the degree to which you feel uncomfortable and distressed in your environment now. You most likely feel panicked or fearful at the thought of going to the places you used to go or being with your social group. This is because DP and DR has reconnected you to how you really feel in your environment - and for the first time you are realizing that you feel terrible in it.
This may be because your environment is actually very toxic or dangerous, or it could just be that you feel unsafe and frightened in it because you are constantly abandoning yourself for it. DP and DR is now forcing you to remove yourself from these threats until you learn to not abandon yourself and learn to follow yourself again.
Once you have re-learned these skills, you will feel safe enough to re-enter your environment. However, if your environment is particularly toxic or out of alignment, you may never feel safe enough to re-enter it. DP and DR will force you to radically alter your environment and the people in it permanently.
Again, it is not the symptoms of DP and DR that are making you incapable of being social or being in a certain environment, it is the environment itself or your behaviours related to it that are damaging you, and DP and DR has simply made you acutely (and painfully) aware of how uncomfortable you truly feel in these situations, forcing you to finally make changes that are for your benefit.
Now that you are aware of your true responses to certain people, places and things, you must acknowledge them and validate them. If you feel unsafe or scared, and want to run and hide and be alone, you must do this. It is perfectly normal to feel this way if you have a habit of abandoning yourself. Let yourself sit in the emotions, and be kind to yourself.
Do exactly as your body and emotions are guiding you. Learn to follow and trust yourself again. I cannot emphasize how key the process of reconnecting to yourself and your emotions is, and listening to them, in your recovery from DP and DR. Forget about pleasing everyone else now. You literally will no longer be able to do it.
Prioritise the way you feel over everything else. Once you start to act in accordance with your feelings, the choices you make and actions you take will be to your benefit, and your DP and DR symptoms will gradually dissipate as you will no longer be separate from yourself or afraid of yourself.
Step 2: Reconnecting to the Body
The depersonalization you are experiencing is your subconscious' way of protecting you from environmental stressors and threats. You feel 'out' of your body and separate from yourself because it is too uncomfortable for you to be in your body while you are constantly subjecting yourself to people and place or decisions that are detrimental. As a survival response, you disconnect so these threats feel less severe. Your skin feels numb so you will no longer have to feel these things at all.
However, once you have started working on reconnecting to your emotions, trusting yourself and taking actions based on how you feel, you should gradually start to feel safer and as a result should start to come back 'into' your body, because you will no longer need to escape from a vessel that is undergoing perceived attacks.
To aid the process of reconnecting to the body, I recommend any kind of movement. I don't mean exercising to the point of exhaustion or to become the next great athlete. I mean exercising purely to 'feel' your body again, to ground yourself in your body.
Because you are used to being in a state of perceived harshness and also sort of masochistic behavioural patterns, I don't recommend any strenuous exercise or overly rigid, structured exercise. Avoid anything that makes you feel more stressed or is harsh - for example long, strenuous runs can be mentally and physically daunting and stressful. You don't need to get a sweat up, just move. Swing your arms, skip around, go for walks, move to some music. Simple things. Spontaneous things. Keep it light - no pressure.
Stretching is also hugely beneficial. Stretching helps to release tension, fears and traumas that are held in the body. Any stretching that feels good or comfortable for you is good, but for people with this condition, deep hip openers are essential. The pelvis and hips are ruled by the root chakra, which rules our life force and personal power. By activating this chakra and releasing tension held in this area, you will aid the process of reconnecting to yourself, trusting yourself and regaining your personal power. It will also help you to feel more grounded and stable in life, and less fearful or fragile. For more information on deep hip openers and stretching in general, see my post titled How to Release Trauma and Reconnect to the Body through Stretching.
Because people with DP and DR often feel unsafe in the world and as though their environment is harsh, they often have poor posture and poor breathing. You may have forward neck posture or rounded, hunched shoulders. You probably lean forward and have a collapsed chest. This is the body's natural defence mechanism to protect the heart and stomach from threats in the environment.
Poor posture, unfortunately, leads to poor breathing patterns (breathing disorders - I was diagnosed with this). Breathing disorders will exacerbate the symptoms of DP and DR as our breathing affects our nervous system. Poor breathing can also worsen poor posture, as the more shallow or irregular your breathing pattern is, the more your body will compensate by adopting certain unhealthy postures.
Stretching is another way to improve posture. It helps to retrain your muscles, and open your chest back up, helping to activate your heart chakra (which you have been protecting by hunching over).
Your posture also mirrors how you feel about yourself and how you feel in the world. When you see someone who walks with their heads down, shoulders rounded and neck out, they probably struggle with anxiety and feel generally unsafe in the world. Their breathing is probably weak, and as a result, they feel fragile, nervous, and suffer from cold sweats and clammy hands (also linked to poor breathing).
Your breathing, next to food, is the most primal function in our survival. If it is flawed, it has a profound effect on our mental health and quality of life. By deepening and calming the breath (breathing from the diaphragm), and opening the chest, we can feel stronger, safer, and more confident. Shallow, panicked breathing, gasping for air (gasping for relief in a spiritual respect), can lead to strange tingling and numbness of the skin, lightheadedness, and for those suffering from DP and DR, it can make your symptoms much, much worse. For more information on how to correct your breathing, read my post titled The Importance of your Breathing Pattern in Mental Health
Step 3: Nutrition and Nourishment
The food we eat has a huge impact on our mental state, emotions and energy levels - our gut and digestive system are actually referred to as the 'second brain'.
If you are suffering from any kind of emotional or mental disturbance, it is essential that you consume foods that nourish your brain and vital organs, as well as stabilize your blood sugars and hormones. For people suffering from DP and DR, this is especially the case. It is important that you eat foods that will help to bring you back to earth, so to speak, and to ground you back in your body.
Root vegetables, as in vegetables that literally grow in the ground, are excellent for this. Carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, beetroot, and many others, fall under this category. Starchy, heavy vegetables are particularly good as they are calming and fill the gap of 'nervousness' and the feeling of lacking a solid centre.
Whatever you choose, make sure the foods you consume are in their most natural state as possible. Foods in their natural state are always the most nutritious, and they also lack the harmful toxins that are harsh on our bodies and contribute to being in a state of stress.
Avoiding salty, sugary and/or highly processed food is essential. It is not just that these foods lack nutrients, but they are full of additives and other ingredients that cause imbalances in our moods because they affect our hormones and blood sugar levels.
The way these foods are produced and the vibration they hold is also very harmful. Since developing DP and DR, you may have found that you don't need to 'try' to eat healthier food, you may have found that since becoming hypersensitive to your environment, this also extends to the food you eat, and that you simply can't eat fast food or processed foods anymore without feeling unwell.
This is because foods produced in bulk, in factory environments, carry the harsh energy of the environment in which they are produced. They are produced in a rushed manner, and the sole goal (most often) is money, not that there is anything wrong with this, but it is a problem when the goal is profit at the expense of the health of the consumer or with no consideration for the health of the consumer.
Foods also carry the energy of the people who handle and package them, and if factory workers are unhappy or mistreated, your body consumes this energy also. If you can, purchase fairtrade foods and avoid mass-produced, processed foods. Fast-food chains are a no-no, too, of course!
Focus on eating foods that are alive, not dead. Process foods fall under the 'dead' category. Cook your own food as often as you can, as it will carry the energy and intention with which you have made it, which is to nourish yourself. Pay attention to your emotions and physical symptoms after eating meals prepared by yourself, compared to foods that are mass-produced. Notice the difference. Handle the food you eat with care, as it always takes on your vibration. Remember you are putting this in your body - you don't want to consume things that carry negative or harmful vibrations, particularly if you are already feeling distressed.
Eat regular meals, and always eat when you feel hungry. Don't deprive yourself or make yourself wait for long periods between meals. Because your body is already in a state of stress and defence, things such as diets or any kind of harshness will make you feel much worse, and will only worsen your DP and DR, as it will give your subconscious more of a reason to be 'out' of your body. If your body is subjected to harshness, you will feel more disconnected and dreamy in order to be protected from this harshness.
Before I developed DP and DR, I ate irregularly and the foods I did eat were terrible. I was often cold and tired because I didn't eat properly, but I continuously ignored this because I was not connected to myself enough to do anything about it. Because I didn't take proper care of myself, I perceived my environment as being harsher than it actually was.
For example, when you don't eat properly or regularly, your energy levels will be low, and things will feel generally more difficult. I was also cold a lot so I found daily life more uncomfortable, 'harsh' and mentally challenging. If your body becomes used to, or expects to not eat during the day or not received the foods it needs, it will naturally go into a state of tension and your hormones will respond accordingly to make up for this lack of nourishment. You won't only feel low in energy and unwell, but you will feel as though the world is harsh, not a 'nourishing' place.
This is where nutrition overlaps with nourishment. Proper nourishment is not limited to the obvious or literal, like food. When I talk about nourishment, I mean the overall way you treat yourself. If you have DP and DR, you need to soften everything in your life. Your body and emotions, for the first time, need to experience the opposite of severity and harshness: softness.
This means doing what your emotions tell you to do, when they tell you to do it. It means cuddling up in warm places, resting and taking all pressures off yourself. Stop depriving yourself of things. It is important to eat nutritious food, but if you feel you need to eat sweet things or typically unhealthy things, allow yourself to do this. Do whatever you need to do to comfort yourself and give yourself that warm grounded feeling.
Eat the unhealthy foods you feel like eating, but make sure you also eat all the healthy, nutritious foods you need aswell. This is nourishment. This feeds your emotions too, and tells your subconscious that you unconditionally give your physical and emotional body what it needs. If certain foods represent comfort and safety to you, eat those foods, regardless of whether they are unhealthy, as this is what will nourish your emotional state, and help you to heal.
Nourishment can also extend to many other aspects of your environment. For example, you may have found that you can no longer wear certain clothes anymore as they are too uncomfortable. I found myself feeling acutely uncomfortable in my usual clothes. I felt angry and overheated when I wore tight clothing or unnatural fabrics. I found my favourite jeans awful all of a sudden and I just couldn't wear them. I resorted to wearing baggy, ugly clothes, but I didn't care because they were the only things that were bearable for me to have against my skin.
Since becoming hypersensitive, you too may find that you need to change the types of clothes you wear. Try to stick to soft, natural fabrics. Cotton, linen and wool are cosy. For the moment, don't worry about how you look. Focus on being soft with yourself, and softening your environment. Wear clothes that make you feel comfortable and free.
You can come up with your own definition of nourishment and apply it to your life. For me, it just means listening to yourself and doing the things that make you feel good. It is the opposite of punishment or deprivation. To restore a feeling of safety within yourself and to allow yourself to come back into your body and to wake up from the 'dream', you must first nourish yourself and soften your environment, and make this a habit, so that you feel safe enough to be back in your body again.
If you are suffering from DP and DR, you must reconnect with your emotions, validate them, and listen to them. You must start making decisions and taking actions that are based on how you feel, and stop abandoning yourself. Develop boundaries and priorities how you feel over everything else.
The symptoms of DP and DR arise to alert you to the fact that either your environment is toxic, or that your behaviour and treatment of yourself within that environment is harmful, which is why you have 'left' your body, so to speak, and feel the need to stay away from your environment or social group. You have simply become aware of how uncomfortable you truly feel around these people on in these places, and now you are being forced to change the things that aren't suited to you.
Your subconscious is merely trying to protect you from the perceived threats of your environment. It is safer for you and less painful for you right now to be in a 'dream' than to be in reality. Once you alter your environment and learn to listen to your emotions, your DP and DR will gradually dissipate, as it will no longer need to protect you from anything or alert you to any problems.
This is such a frightening and crippling disorder to have, but if you can understand that it is just a defence mechanism, and something that is trying to protect you, it should help you to feel less afraid of it. Once you make the changes that DP and DR is urging you to make, and develop a trustworthy relationship with yourself, you will value the experience of DP and DR, despite its unpleasantries. It isn't trying to ruin your life, it is helping you to live your life - for you.
I hope this helped.
Depersonalization and Derealization disorder is a stress response. People who develop DP and DR have been in a state of long-term stress and or/anxiety, often without being aware of the extent to which this is the case.
Depersonalization/derealization are classed as dissociative disorders, that is, disorders in which the individual enters into a pervasive state of disconnection from self and environment in order to cope with stressors.
This disconnection occurs subconsciously, so is always confusing and frightening to the sufferer, as there appears to be no cause for the sudden onset of DP/DR symptoms.
Disconnection from the self is apparent in the feeling that one is observing oneself doing things and interacting with people, or is on 'autopilot' and is not really in full control.
This disconnection often results in the sufferer complaining that they no longer have emotions and that their skin feels numb, as well as other strange and frightening sensory distortions.
Disconnection from the environment is apparent in the feeling that one is living in a 'dream' and that life does not feel real.
Disordered Breathing Pattern/Hyperventilation
Due to being in a state of long-term stress, the sufferer develops poor breathing patterns (being in a state of constant hyperventilation). This poor breathing affects the brain and in turn the senses, leading to the strange sensory experiences related to DP & DR.
Sufferers often feel that their breathing became panicked or shallow following the onset of DP & DR symptoms, as a response to the fear and confusion of the disorder, but in fact this poor breathing has been in place for a long time prior and is one of the causes of DP & DR. Poor breathing may become more severe or apparent following the development of DP & DR, but it was already in place for some time prior to developing DP & DR.
Poor breathing is not only caused by anxiety and being in a state of fight or flight, but it fuels the anxious state as it affects our posture and brainwaves, resulting in a vicious cycle - see my blog post The Importance of your Breathing Pattern in Mental Health for a better understanding of this.
High levels of Cortisol running through the body due to external stressors also contribute to this disorder. Cortisol is present when we enter fight or flight, or whenever we perceive a threat. When in this state long-term, cortisol can be quite damaging.
Often people with DP and DR have become so used to feeling under stress that they aren't even aware that they are in such a state or that anything is wrong. They are used to ignoring how they feel and suppressing it so as to survive in the environment that is causing them this stress.
If the environment is perceived as particularly stressful or even life-threatening, this can lead to dissociation. By disconnecting from one's body and environment, the threats and stressors are not felt as severely and the individual is better able to cope with the 'knives' being thrown.
Dissociation (which is what depersonalization & derealization is) occurs as a defence mechanism and as a way of escaping from a particular environment or situation to protect the self.
It happens because the individual chronically ignores their emotions and natural stress response, so is incapable of protecting themselves and instead continues to put themselves in harmful situations.
As a result, the body and mind's only defence and way to escape is to detach completely from the vessel (the body) that is putting the self in these situations. This happens subconsciously and involuntarily, however, and as a result, is very frightening.
A Spiritual Perspective on Depersonalization & Derealization
I only use the term 'spiritual' here because whenever we delve deeper into the emotional causes behind health conditions (whether physical or mental) it seems to slip into the category of spirituality, as the emotional component of illness is still often overlooked in mainstream medicine.
As a result, whenever the emotions are discussed in relation to illness, it is seen as somewhat 'alternative'. So, when I say a 'spiritual perspective', all I really mean is what are the emotional causes and traumas beneath depersonalization and derealization.
My opinion is that all illnesses are physical manifestations of aspects of our emotional bodies that are misaligned. When we have a trauma that needs to be healed or an emotion that is being ignored or bulldozed, this will manifest physically in illness as a physical mirror of this misalignment but also to give us the opportunity to heal this aspect of ourselves and to realign.
With depersonalization and derealization, first and foremost the sufferer disconnects from their body and their environment and enters a feeling of being in a dream and as though things are not real. They feel as though they aren't really in their body, they have numbness of the skin and their senses feel muted, dimmed.
Their emotions are dumbed down and they feel as though there is an invisible wall or film between them and the outer world. The body does this to protect the person from the threats of the environment - it is safer to be in a 'dream' than to be in reality (derealization).
If the person can't physically escape from the threatening environment, they instead escape from themselves (depersonalization) so they no longer have to 'feel' the perceived threats. They can no longer feel their emotions because when they do it is too painful and they are incapable of following what their emotions are telling them. This is how depersonalization/derealization is a subconscious effort to protect the individual.
In terms of mirroring, the extreme feelings of disconnection from self and dreaminess are simply mirroring the fact that the individual is disconnected from themselves. The individual has developed such a severe pattern of self-abandonment and suppression of emotion that they are incapable of protecting themselves. They override their emotional responses to things and continue to put themselves in harmful situations or environments.
They have developed a pattern of forcing themselves to fit into their environment and social circle to survive, and unfortunately, this is at the expense of themselves. They are totally disconnected from themselves and often are living a life that they think they enjoy, around people who they think they connect to, doing things they think they are interested in, when in fact they have simply overridden their true thoughts, feelings and opinions and adopted those of the people and places around them so they will not be excluded or ostracized.
These individuals are often around people or in environments where the consequences for not adhering to the norms or for 'making a fuss' are so severe that it is safer to completely detach from the self and anything that might conflict with the environment, and instead become a sort of 'emotional chameleon', matching their thoughts and feelings with those around them.
These people often feel as though they don't have any interests or passions in life and don't really know what direction they want to go in, because everything they do in life is reactive to the environment, not driven from the self.
When this pattern is long-term and unrelenting, depersonalization and derealization then emerge as both a protective response and also to alert the person to the fact that they are way out of alignment and need to reconnect with their true selves. The symptoms of DP & DR are so overwhelming and obvious that the individual is absolutely incapable of ignoring them.
Depersonalization and derealization force the individual to finally pay attention to how they feel, to acknowledge the physical and emotional responses they have to their environment and the people in it, and to finally allow every action they take be dictated by how they feel, not by what they should be doing.
The overwhelming need to isolate oneself from people and to 'hide away' is because the individual has finally become acutely aware of how they truly feel in their environment and social circle.
They have become so acutely aware of the harshness and threats of their environment they have been ignoring and that have caused them to develop DP and DR that they can no longer be in such an environment. It is too painful, overwhelming and frightening, so they instead isolate themselves and prefer to be alone, because at least that is safer the subjecting themselves to the threats of the outer world.
DP and DR is the body's way of making it impossible for them to suppress their feelings or mould themselves to their environment anymore, finally forcing them to isolate themselves and seek out an environment that will be safer, softer, and allow them time for extreme introspection in order to 'find' themselves again - to reconnect.
The body and the subconscious know that the individual cannot survive in a state of constant stress and disconnection from self (even though the person isn't usually aware of it), so by manifesting the symptoms of DP and DR, the subconscious gives rise to the opportunity for the individual to acknowledge their emotions and reconnect to the self.
As frightening and painful as this may be, DP and DR are actually a protective, survival response. If the individual allows the symptoms of DP and DR to guide them in a different direction, to allow the time of isolation to take place, the symptoms will dissipate much sooner and the person will find a connection with themselves that they have never known before and develop a sense of trust in themselves.
Depersonalization and Derealization is a spiritual awakening in the sense that it gives rise to a whole new connection to the self and perspective of the self. The individual is finally forced to feel themselves and become aware of how their environment makes them feel. The individual feels as though they have entered into a dream or a different life, that the world looks and feels different. Although it is extremely unpleasant and frightening, it is just that the individual is finally seeing aspects of their environment and themselves that they have ignored and been numb to for so long.
Depersonalization and derealization force the individual to radically change their life and to develop an entirely different perspective on life, people and the world, as the loneliness of this disorder leads them to extreme introspection and philosophising. Once the shock and fear of the symptoms dissipate, and the individual learns to understand them and listen to them, living with depersonalization and derealization becomes less like a nightmare and more like a unique perspective of humanity and the world.
These people usually lose interest in the finer details of life and social customs and can view things objectively and see the greater meaning behind things that happen in life. They don't get caught up in the little things. Depersonalization and derealization can be a gift if the individual can learn to work with it, and it is something that they have 'chosen', in a spiritual sense, to develop a higher perspective. Being alone in one's thoughts, alone in one's experience, becoming extremely introspective and observant can lead to great insight. Being a loner doesn't necessarily equate to loneliness.
If you want to get really 'hippy dippy', some people believe that depersonalization and derealization is a type of spiritual enlightenment wherein the individual is made aware of how thin the veil is between physical reality (life) and what we would call the spirit world (simply where our consciousness exists with no physical body - Source).
The sense of things being dreamlike or unreal, and feeling outside of one's body is just that the individual has become less attached to the physical world. They have become more aware that life isn't really 'real' in a sense, it is just a projection of our consciousness from Source. If the person can master this, manifestation should become easier and more fluid as things should feel less solid or 'stuck' in the physical - the reality should feel more malleable because it feels less real.
Overall, like any other illness, depersonalization and derealization is a physical manifestation of the misalignment of one's emotions and thoughts. The sufferer has become so detached from themselves and is in such a state of constant stress and anxiety, that the body numbs the senses to both protect from the threats, and in turn the symptoms and displeasure that come from suddenly becoming aware of how greatly detached they are, forces the individual to make the necessary changes in their life.
Depersonalization and derealization render the person incapable of bulldozing themselves or abandoning themselves anymore, as the symptoms are so overwhelming and obvious, and are simply too painful to override.
The individual's decisions and actions become dictated by the symptoms of DP and DR, which is just the body's way of getting the person to finally acknowledge and follow their emotions, their internal guidance system.
When the individual allows this to happen, and makes the necessary changes to their environment and thought patterns when they finally reconnect to themselves and validate how they feel, DP and DR will become less of a burden, and more of a guidance system, leading the person back on track when they start to fall back in to the same patterns of self-abandonment.
DP and DR is not a curse, it is something that will help you to reconnect with yourself and redirect your life down a path that is actually what you want and is of your choosing, not a path that you have conformed to in order to survive in your environment.
Being disconnected from the self and having no understanding or awareness of how you are feeling is one of the most dangerous states to be in. This makes a person incapable of making decisions that are in their best interest, and will only lead to a life that causes more stress and anxiety, and is ultimately a life that is not yours - it is the product of what your environment, family or social group expect.
Being in touch with your emotions, although frightening and extremely painful at first, is a gift long term. Allow this process to take place. Know that DP and DR is a normal response to the state that you have been in. You aren't going mad and you aren't the only person to experience this.
Do what your emotions and your body are telling you to do - withdraw for as long as you need to, be soft to yourself. When you start making this your priority, the symptoms of DP and DR will become less severe. See my blog post titled How to Cure Depersonalization and Derealization for further advice on how you can get back into your body and reconnect to yourself to heal from depersonalization and derealization.
I experienced depersonalization and derealization (DP & DR) for the first time in 2005 when I was 13 years old - it was the most frightening, confusing, dismantling and lonely experience of my life.
I remember I was sitting in class, feeling fine. I had just had lunch and was looking forward to the last period of the day ending so I could go home. My day had gone fine, I don't remember feeling stressed or worked up about anything, it had been a completely normal, mundane day.
I remember leaning back in my chair to stretch. I did a big yawn and tilted my head back. As I did, the room spun for a second and all of a sudden I felt as though I had entered into a dream. As this happened, I heard a strange noise, sort of like the sound you hear when you jump into a pool and your ears first fill with water- that sort of "zjoop" sound. Everything felt really, really weird, like it wasn't real. I could see I was still in the same classroom, with the same people, but everything suddenly looked sort of 'different' and felt off - way, way off.
The room suddenly looked darker, it was like the lights had been dimmed, except they hadn't been. It was just me. Everything sounded different too - much louder but muffled at the same time. It was like my senses had all been amplified, but at the same time everything was muffled and fuzzy. It's so hard to explain. The sounds and movements of the people around me seemed so much louder and more intense, intrusive.
The best way to describe it is that it was like there was a film over all my senses, so I could see, hear, smell and touch everything around me, except there was something between me and everything else. Like clingfilm. Things weren't as crisp and clear as they had been before. Now everything was fuzzy, foggy, dreamlike - terrifyingly so. I felt unreal and the world around me felt unreal, like a movie or a dream (more like a nightmare). I panicked. Is this real? Am I real? It plunged me into a sort of existential panic, and no one in my peer group understood how I was feeling. I suddenly just felt so cut off and disconnected from everyone and everything. Even my skin felt numb. It was like a bad trip on drugs that wouldn't end.
I went home that day crippled with fear. I walked the usual streets back to my house that I was so familiar with, but nothing was the same anymore. Everything looked and felt so different. It was like I had gone to another planet. My whole world felt like it had come crashing down. I felt like I was in some sort of parallel reality. It was so confusing and horrible that I was just frozen. I couldn't believe it. How could I ask for help when what was happening to me and what I was feeling was so bizarre and so hard to explain?
How I coped with Depersonalization and Derealization
I tried to tell my friends, but of course they didn't know what I was talking about and couldn't relate. Being the silly teenagers that we were, they sort of laughed it off or would make jokes about it. Not in a nasty way, but just in the sort of callous, ignorant way that you would expect of a 13-year-old. For me, though, it made me feel even more terrified and alone. The fact that no one mirrored back to me how serious this all felt to me, made me feel even more like I was going mad and was trapped in my own mind, and like nothing was real.
In my mind, I would go over and over all the things that could be wrong with me. Was I developing schizophrenia or some other kind of serious mental illness? Was I psychotic? Did I have a brain tumour that was causing me to experience these strange symptoms? The more I worried, the more I withdrew and lived inside my head.
I was frozen with fear. I couldn't talk about it because no one seemed to understand what I was experiencing and no one had any answers for me. I was totally alone. I was afraid of everything and everyone. I couldn't relate to my friends anymore, and I lost interest in socializing with them because I didn't feel safe. All my focus was on trying to feel better, to feel the way I 'used' to feel, when I felt 'normal'. I stopped going out and socializing because I felt so weird all the time and being in noisy social places exacerbated my symptoms. I felt desperately alone in a crowd. My home, as a result, became my fortress and the only place where I felt some semblance of control over things.
I would wake up every morning and the first thing I would do would be to check if I still felt 'weird'. I would pinch my skin to see if it was still numb. It was. As weeks passed and I continued to feel this way without relief, the more sad and 'flat' I started to feel, because I realized that I would probably never get to feel the way I used to feel. And to me, that meant that I would never again get to enjoy things the way I used to, like being out with my friends and just feeling carefree.
I resigned myself to the fact that this was going to be my life from now on, and consequently, my life started to feel pointless, hopeless, meaningless and empty. I couldn't picture my future as long as I felt this way. I stopped looking forward to things. Every day my main goal was just to make it through to the end of the day and survive, not to freak out completely or lose my mind.
Each day was so, so difficult. I was living in a state of constant confusion, fear, worry, panic and mental isolation. Walking to school I would sometimes momentarily find myself not recognizing some of the streets I was walking down and I would have to stop and reorientate myself. This usually happened on overcast or rainy days - I would always feel more weird and dreamlike on overcast days for some reason.
Even to this day, my symptoms return on muggy, cloudy days. I think this might be to do with air pressure or the way your breathing is affected when it is humid and the air is moist. At night my symptoms would flare up the most. Partly because I was less distracted so I would overthink and worry more, fuelling my panic and consequently exacerbating my symptoms. But also, we are more tired at night and this effects our breathing and brain waves. Also, with all the lights on in the house, this would play with my senses.
I still start to feel strange in places where there is a lot of artificial lighting like supermarkets and shopping malls. Sometimes I would even have small 'blackouts'. For example, on a few occasions, I found myself in the toilet or bathroom brushing my teeth, but I had no memory of walking in there or making the decision to do that. I would just sort of 'come to' in the middle of brushing my teeth. It was frightening and confusing. I lost trust in my mind.
Things that helped my Depersonalization/Derealization Symptoms
I went to the doctor (a pediatric chest physician who had treated me since I was little), who said it sounded like I had a breathing disorder. He explained that when we are in a state of worry or panic our breath tends to be higher up in our chest and short, like hyperventilation. Over time, this can lead to the sort of symptoms I was complaining of. But he didn't mention anything about depersonalization or derealization.
I went to a breathing clinic, where I was given exercises to correct my breathing pattern. It was difficult at first and I knew it wasn't going to make me feel better quickly, but over time, as I improved my breathing pattern, I did start to feel less panicked and worried. I was a bit calmer and my symptoms became less severe. But I still didn't feel right.
This was the only help I got because most people were confused by what I was explaining, and I was told there wasn't really any 'fix' for this kind of thing. So I went even more inside myself and just hoped that it would go away. I got used to feeling 'weird' all the time and developed coping mechanisms to survive. I made my home my safe place, I cut myself off from the world. I watched a lot of television and became very sedentary, even though by nature I'm a very physically active and athletic person. I started to disconnect from my body and emotions (very bad) because I couldn't cope with them or make sense of them.
I watched only comedies because these seemed 'light' and 'sunny' and made me feel less dark. I could escape into the lightheartedness of the shows and movies I watched, even if I didn't really find them that interesting, because they made me feel like the world was not such a scary and confusing place. They distracted me from the way I felt and made me feel like maybe everything would be ok one day. And this did start to make me feel better.
When I was at home and safe, I often didn't think about whether I felt strange, and if I did have a day where my symptoms were particularly bad, I was kind of ok with it because if I was in a controlled environment (my home) I knew I could deal with it.
So for about a year and a half, I felt really, really bad and I worried a lot. It took me this amount of time to gather myself and recover from the shock of everything I had experienced.
But by the time I had reached age 15, my symptoms had mostly gone. They only flared up when I was around my friends who were all drinking and doing drugs. I knew I absolutely could not be around that kind of thing because I didn't trust my mind and knew that if I dabbled in that stuff it would be a disaster for my mind. I didn't need to be doing drugs - having DP and DR is like being high or on a bad trip 24/7. My friends seemed kind of 'hard' and 'rough' to me, and because of my DP and DR, I didn't feel safe around them. They were a threat to me. So I would see them at school, but I never invited them over to my house or made any effort to connect with them outside of school. Once or twice they unexpectedly showed up at my house and I panicked but hid it well. My symptoms flared up when they were around.
So, even though I felt 95% better by the time I was 15, I had developed rigid patterns and coping mechanisms that kind of ended up holding me captive. These coping mechanisms, such as isolating myself and developing consistent daily routines, worked really well initially when I needed to restore some balance in my life and to feel safe, but when I started wanting to engage in the world again, I didn't really know how to or how to break out of these patterns. I was so used to being alone that I didn't know how to be any other way. I felt kind of embarrassed because I thought I had lost some of my social skills and was a bit of a weirdo.
I didn't want to let my friends back in because I knew the way they were living just wasn't what I could have around me. But I didn't know how to find new friends who I would be able to connect to. So I became really bored, frustrated and really angry about everything. Angry that I was stuck, angry that this had happened to me. Why did this have to happen to me? Why am I the only one? I felt it had ruined my life completely and turned me into someone that I wasn't and didn't want to be.
How Depersonalization/Derealization Affected My Life Long-Term
I spent the rest of my college years being mostly a loner. When I was 16, I felt safe enough to go to a few parties and drink with my friends, but I never hung out with people in an intimate way.
I never hung out with my friends in a casual way around at their houses. I never let them back into my life. I just couldn't be close with them again. It didn't feel safe. I couldn't be honest or open with them about what I had been through, because in the past they hadn't understood, so why would they now? The one thing that completely defined me and ruled my life was something I just couldn't explain to them or be honest with them about. And I didn't feel safe enough around them to try. So I would see them sometimes at parties because this was an impersonal setting where you didn't connect closely. That was all I could cope with. It had become foreign to me and just a memory to have a proper, close friendship. I was totally on my own.
Once I finished school, I was lost and had absolutely no connections to anyone - no social life. But I wasn't lonely. I knew that I just needed to find people who were like me. There just weren't that many around. What bothered me most was that I was directionless and passionless. I had numbed myself to everything and hadn't developed any interests or passions. Because I had felt so dreamlike and alone for so long, I had lost faith in the future and thought it was pointless to hope for a good life, because I thought I wouldn't be able to enjoy life feeling the way I felt.
I developed negative, entrenched thought patterns. I had spent so many years just trying to survive and feel ok, just to carry out the basic functions of life, that my life was completely dead in every other area. I didn't know how to move forward. I was like a half-person.
I wanted a career but I knew I couldn't go down a conventional path because, the way I felt, I couldn't fit into the world. And I didn't want to. To be honest, I felt completely repelled by a lot of aspects of life and the way people had to live. It wasn't something I had to think about, I just felt it. I couldn't engage in that way. The world seemed harsh a rough to me (and it still does), so I knew I needed to find a way to build a world around me that did work for me, rather than trying to fit myself into a world that was harmful to me.
It has been a long road for me, but I'm starting to find my way now. I want to help other people who are struggling with the things I have struggled with, so that hopefully if you find some support now and some guidance, it won't take you as long as it has taken me. I think if I had found some answers when I was 13 and 14 and had found someone who had said "Don't worry, I know how you feel and you aren't going mad. You will feel better and life will get better", I wouldn't have been so terrified and as a result wouldn't have developed the coping mechanisms that have held me back for so long.
My Thoughts on the Cause of Depersonalization/Derealization
I think the reason I developed depersonalization and derealization was that I was in a state of constant stress and disconnection from myself. At the time I thought I was happy, but looking back, I was putting myself under a lot of pressure and was trying so hard to keep up with everything and everyone. I was disconnected from myself, I was eating poorly and my lifestyle was generally just bad. I was an athletic kid, but I was hanging around people who weren't, so I started to become like them and I completely lost touch with myself.
I was being very harsh on myself and I was hanging around people who, even though I liked them, probably weren't the best people for me to be around. I'm not saying my friends were the problem. They were just normal kids, but the problem was that I was trying to fit myself into the way they were living, but I just wasn't like them and it wasn't good for me to do that anymore. I had been friends with them since I was little, but by the time we got to high school, it became more and more apparent that I didn't fit with them anymore, and I didn't want to - I just didn't realize it initially. Fitting with them meant abandoning myself, and that was where things had started to go wrong. I had fit my whole lifestyle around people and things that were wrong for me, and eventually, my body gave me hell for it.
I had been an anxious and worried person since I was about 8, and when I got to high school I think the pressures and intensity of everything overwhelmed me, and to cope I abandoned myself and was harsh on myself without being aware of it (because I was so disconnected). The DP and DR I developed was my body's way of saying "No. No, no, no. Stop."
It forced me to reconnect with my body, to feel my emotions, and to realize that the way I was living and the people I was around were not right for me. It forced me to correct my diet and every other area of my life. To soften things. To really get in touch with myself. It was painful and scary and a long process.
But, as a result, I now know who I am and what I need in my life, what and who I can't have in my life and the sort of world I need to create for myself. I've realized that even though I prefer to be alone, it's not that I'm inherently a loner, it's just that I find a lot of people and a lot of aspects of life to be too harsh, and when I find someone who 'feels' right, then I'm absolutely fine with letting them in. I think it's ok to be the way I am, and I need to stop fitting myself into a world that isn't good for me.
I think this is the case for all people who develop DP and DR. It's your body and your emotions communicating to you that you need to change your life, to reconnect. It is frightening and seems unfair, but if you let it happen and follow your body's guidance, your symptoms will alleviate much faster and you'll find yourself in a life that is much better for you. I fought my symptoms for a long time and tried to ignore them, but when I finally surrendered and accepted that this was the way I needed to live, for the time being, things dramatically improved and I was a lot happier. It is a great gift to learn to acknowledge your emotions and to understand what they are saying.
Overall, I think it is stress and anxiety that leads to this disorder. But that stress and anxiety is as a result of disconnection from the self and the constant unpleasant environments we find ourselves in because we ignore ourselves and our emotions, going against them in favour of other things or people.
We end up in a state of anxiety because we don't trust ourselves or life to bring us positive experiences. We are constantly preparing for the next bad thing, which will inevitably come when we don't follow our internal guidance system (our emotions).
Because we don't understand our painful emotions or our anxiety, the more we try to disconnect and ignore them, and the more this feeds the cycle of self-abandonment. People who experience DP and DR do this to such a degree that our bodies literally numb themselves to not feel the harshness of the outer world. We enter a 'dream' because this is safer than reality. The symptoms are so severe and frightening that we cannot ignore them and simply cannot go on living the way we have been. It is our subconscious' last-ditch attempt at getting us to reconnect with ourselves and to make the appropriate changes in our lives. Try to acknowledge this fact and follow the direction your body and emotions are telling you to go in. I promise it will be a good one.