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.
These conditions are not a mental illness, they are classed as a disorder. Depersonalization/derealization disorder is rare – less than 2% of the population is diagnosed with it.
Before you read any further, let me first say that if you are suffering from depersonalization/derealization, you have my complete sympathy and understanding. People who suffer from this condition truly suffer. I myself have DP/DR and it is the most frightening thing I have ever experienced, although now I have found ways to cope with it and manage it, so it doesn’t interfere with my enjoyment of life anymore.
Please know that you aren’t going mad, you are real and your life is real, even though it might not feel that way. You aren’t the only person experiencing this (hi there), even though you probably don’t know anyone else who is.
You have found a place where all your questions and concerns will be answered and validated. I have so much to say about this rare condition and I hope this will bring you the comfort I intend it to.
Depersonalization describes the feeling of being detached from one’s own body, as though one is observing him or herself objectively, and is on ‘autopilot’, observing everything that is happening, but as though they are not really part of their own life.
Derealization describes the dreamlike symptoms the individual experiences. Individuals often complain of feeling as though nothing is real, that they are not real, or as though they are in a movie or a dream that they can’t wake up from. The numbness of skin further fuels the state of feeling unreal.
Some people go in an out of being in this state, often feeling this way when ‘triggered’ by something or when in stressful situations. Crowded, noisy environments may trigger an episode of derealization, as will alcohol and drugs. Other people feel this way constantly.
Quality of Life
The symptoms of these conditions are absolutely terrifying, debilitating and life-changing (in a bad way) for the person suffering from them. These people may feel ‘flat’ and as though they have no emotions, or that their reactions to things are numbed.
They may appear to be flat and emotionless to others. Often this flatness is a side-effect of the crippling fear and total isolation these people feel, as they have no way of ‘breaking out’ of the ‘dream’, which leads to hopelessness and resignation to the fact that they will never feel the way the used to or be able to function the way they used to, and that life is therefore pointless.
These people often withdraw and find solace within themselves, as the people around them often have never experienced these symptoms or even heard of this condition. Poverty of speech is also common, as these individuals remain very much in their head, and give up on communicating with others, as they feel that nothing is real and no one can help them.
These people often become anti-social. This is not because they don’t like people, they may in fact have been very social and extroverted beforehand, but in order to cope with their frightening symptoms, they make their world very small, reducing it to just a few close friends or acquaintances (often family members). Parties and people – anything that stimulates the senses – often result in sensory overload and total overwhelm.
These people usually struggle with the desire to socialize and engage in relationships, and the inability to do so because when they do venture out into the world, the symptoms of their condition prevent them from enjoying things or feeling connected to the people and places around them.
Those who experience this as a transient condition live in fear of the next time they will suddenly feel ‘spaced out’, ‘freaked out’ and panicked, which can happen suddenly and unexpectedly. When this happens in a public setting, it is even more terrifying and the individual may feel trapped, often leading to them choosing solitary activities or activities confined to the home. In the long term, this leads to boredom, and the development of odd or unusual habits, or addictions to technology or food as a way of comforting the self, filling in time and creating structure in a day that otherwise feels empty and meaningless.
What Causes Depersonalization & Derealization?
Compared to other mental and emotional disorders, there has been less research on the causes and contributing factors of depersonalization and derealization. As a result, those suffering from these conditions will have noticed that there is little information out there on how to prevent, treat and cope with depersonalization and derealization.
Because it is a rare condition, it is not talked about as much as other conditions, and many people have never heard of it or known anyone who suffers from it. This further leads to sufferers feeling isolated and alone, as looking to others for information and help results in little feedback or support.
In some cases, symptoms are first experienced after taking drugs (not while under the influence, but some time after taking drugs). In other cases, there is no identifiable link between the condition and substances or a specific event – the individual was feeling fine and normal, then all of a sudden, inexplicably, they experience the first onset of symptoms.
Other medical theories suggest that depersonalization/derealization is a stress response and the result of extreme and prolonged stress and/or distress, brought on by a traumatic event or an unhealthy lifestyle.
When in a state of stress, our bodies are in survival mode, also known as ‘fight or flight’, and our hormones, particularly cortisol, respond accordingly. This affects our breathing, and we often end up developing poor breathing patterns, or ‘panicked’ breathing, which actually fuels cold sweats, numb skin, anxiety and feeling ‘spaced out’.
Those of us who are disconnected from our bodies and emotions may not have even been aware that we were stressed or unhappy until this condition arose and forced us to take notice and make the necessary changes to our life.
Depersonalization & Derealization: A Spiritual Perspective
The feelings of disconnection from self, feelings of being ‘unreal’ or ‘in a dream’, the inability to ‘feel’ oneself (numbness of skin) are all literal, physical manifestations of the fact that we are disconnected from ourselves.
People who suffer from depersonalization/derealization may have had lifelong difficulties with processing their emotions. They may find their emotions too painful or confusing or may feel that they are not able to express themselves or their emotions without being shamed, punished or ostracised. As a result, they suppress their emotions and feelings, disconnect from their bodies and ignore the signals that their emotional and physical bodies are sending them.
Sufferers probably also experience the world as being a harsh and cold place, and the manifestation of numb skin and being very much ‘in your head’ and lacking emotion is your bodies way of protecting you from the harshness of the outer world. You are literally numb to it, so it can’t affect you as badly. It is safer (subconsciously) for you to be in a ‘dream’ than to be in the real world.
These people invariably abandon themselves and make choices and decisions that are aimed at pleasing everyone else or that will help them to adhere to whatever their environment requires of them. That’s ok – sometimes, particularly when we are little, this is the only thing we can do to survive in our environment.
But as we grow older and can take charge of our own lives, this is is a technique that hurts us far more than it helps us, and it is essential that we reconnect to our bodies and learn to listen to and understand our emotions.
Depersonalization/Derealization is forcing you to pay attention to how you feel by speaking to you so loudly and so painfully that you are incapable of ignoring your true emotions anymore. It is forcing you to radically change your lifestyle. You will find that your symptoms are exacerbated by certain people, places, foods, music, colours, clothing etc. You won’t have to think about whether or not you like these things anymore, you will simply feel so terrible and frightened around the things that are not good for you that you will no longer be able to share a space with them.
You have probably already cleansed your life of many of the things you once enjoyed because they make you feel terrible or unsafe now. The truth is, because you have been so disconnected from yourself, the people and things you thought you enjoyed were probably things that were not good for you or not what you really wanted, but didn’t realize this because you had lost the inability to communicate with yourself or read the cues from your intuition. But, as you have now found out, if we don’t listen to our emotions, our bodies have other ways of communicating to us, which is often through the development of diseases, injury or unpleasant symptoms that are impossible to suppress or ignore, such as the symptoms of DP & DR.
As you adjust your life to cater to the new, intense needs of your emotional body, you may suffer an identity crisis. Your life, habits and choices are probably the polar opposite of what they were prior to DP and DR.
If you were very attached to your prior identity and the way people viewed you, this can be a painful process. Maybe you were seen as the life of the party and an adventurous spirit, and now the only thing you are interested in doing is feeling safe and curling up at home where you know nothing can go wrong and nothing can frighten you. Maybe you feel uncool being seen as a homebody. This is very confusing and yes, painful, and it doesn’t mean you have to stay this way, but at the moment, while you are ‘redecorating’ your life and rediscovering your real likes and dislikes, you have to let go of prior attachments and place how you feel before everything else.
I know you probably don’t recognize yourself anymore or your personality, but that is because you are now getting to know yourself for the first time, the real you.
The person that is forming now is who you have always been, but never let come through. That is not to say that you will remain a timid recluse for the rest of your life, that’s just for the moment while you deal with these frightening symptoms.
As you recreate a life that is better for you and begin to feel more in control, you will venture back out into the world (if you want to) and begin living again. However, your hobbies, circle of friends, diet and even dress sense will probably be totally different.
Overall, Depersonalization/Derealization is teaching you to reconnect to yourself. I know this is the last thing you want to hear, and you just want it to go away, but if you listen to your symptoms and adjust your life accordingly, they will gradually dissipate.
When you start to pay attention to how you feel, and actually base your decisions on this, you will create the foundation for a life that is much more conducive to peace and happiness than the life you were living before, as it will be a life based on you, not on anything or anyone else. This is a painful way to learn this lesson, I know, and I’m so, so sorry, but DP/DR is here to help you.
For all the suffering it brought me, and having come out the other side, I wouldn’t have had it any other way – I’m so different from the person I was before, but I like this person more, and I trust this person more.
How to Cure Depersonalization & Derealization
Because long, entrenched patterns have led to this disorder, there is no quick way to ‘cure’ it. Dissipation of symptoms is usually a slow and gradual process, which is why it is important not to focus on how long it is going to take, but rather implementing healthier structures and coping mechanisms that will lead to better long-term wellbeing.
The whole purpose of my website is to provide others who suffer from this and other mental/emotional disorders with the tools that have helped me in dealing with my symptoms.
I focus on three key factors: fitness/exercise, nutrition/nourishment and breathing. I have used these as tools in my own life to get back into my body, nourish the physical and emotional, centre myself, and to provide structure and a routine that grounds me and helps me to feel safe.
I have so much to say about the importance of these three key factors, as they are the foundation for our entire lifeforce. From a medical perspective, proper nutrition is essential for a healthy brain and to moderate our hormones. A nutritious diet helps to moderate our moods. Exercise has a similar effect but is also excellent in providing structure to your day and an outlet for stress. Correct breathing also has an effect on the brain waves and hormones, and a ‘grounded’ breathing pattern alleviates stress, fear and anxiety. You will find in-depth information on these subjects in the links on my home page and in my blog.
“Cure” is an interesting word in relation to this disorder. Because this is such a frightening and lonely condition to have, people suffering from it usually fixate on how they can make it ‘go away’ and how long they are going to feel like this. The answer is, as long as it takes you to listen to how you feel and act on that. Implement the things your body is telling you to do and to change immediately.
Sufferers of this condition need to heal the times they have repeatedly abandoned themselves and their emotions. You need to heal the harshness your physical and emotional bodies have experienced. To heal is to experience the opposite of what damaged you. So for you, your pathway to healing is to be 100% present with yourself at all times, and base your decisions off the way you feel and nothing else.
Focus on being soft with yourself. Eat the foods you feel like eating, even if they aren’t healthy. Nourish your soul as well as your body. Wear the clothes you feel like wearing: loose-fitting, soft, natural fabrics. Let your body learn to trust you again. Develop a relationship with yourself. You need to learn to trust your mind again – it is not playing tricks on you. You aren’t going mad. You are real. Life is real.
How I Can Help
As someone who has suffered from depersonalization and derealization from the age of 13, I want to provide people with this disorder (and other mental/emotional issues) with the support, guidance and information on this topic that I was desperately looking for in the depths of my despair.
There is still very little information or help out there regarding this disorder, so I want this to be a place people can come to for reassurance and to feel safe, and to have all their questions answered by someone who has actually experienced the exact same thing.
I do regular blog posts providing tips on coping mechanisms, my own thoughts and any news on scientific discoveries and developments on this disorder. My blog also focuses on general mental health and wellbeing, with a focus (as mentioned earlier) on fitness, nutrition and breathing. I want this to be a place for people to check in regularly and find support and a boost in life.
My Instagram account also features regular posts on my thoughts and tips for the day, and things to help keep you feeling positive even when there isn’t anything to feel positive about.
I also offer conversations over skype to those who would like to speak to me about this disorder, so we can talk one-on-one about your personal fears and struggles, and so I can suggest structures and tools ideally suited to you to help ease your symptoms and settle your anxiety.
I am not here to tell you what to do, I am simply a fellow DP/DR sufferer who wants to help by sharing the things that have helped me, in the hope that maybe they will help you also.
My goal for the future is to write a book on DP/DR and generate greater awareness of this disorder by speaking at mental health summits, and also discussing my thoughts on it from a spiritual perspective.
I hope this has provided you with some of the information you need. Follow my blog and Instagram for much, much more on this and other topics.
See the “Services” tab on the home page for more information on how I can help.
It’s going to be ok.