Depersonalization & Derealization

Depersonalization and derealization are symptoms of dissociative disorders. These disorders, generally born from other serious mental health conditions and trauma, leave a person feeling disoriented and confused about what’s happening internally and in their environment.

What are depersonalization & derealization?

When people experience depersonalization or derealization, they feel like they aren’t in control of their thoughts, words, or actions. When these symptoms are recurrent and inhibit daily life, they become a diagnosable condition called depersonalization-derealization disorder (DPDR).

Depersonalization describes the feeling of watching yourself go through your day as if you were watching a movie or watching from the ceiling. People who depersonalize feel numb and have a difficult time expressing their emotions, even when prompted. This can get paired with feeling like they can’t control themselves, as if they’re a robot.

Derealization, on the other hand, is the feeling that your life isn’t real. People who derealize are so disconnected from themselves and others that they think that the world isn’t real. They may feel like their life is a dream, seeing their environment with the fuzzy perspective we all get while dreaming.

Episodes of depersonalization can last for hours, days, or even months. Being in a dissociated state can lead to negative impacts at work, in relationships, and with friends. They can also result in issues remembering what happened and memory loss.

Origins of depersonalization & derealization

There are many reasons why people may dissociate, both intentionally and unintentionally. Dissociation may be the brain’s way of avoiding the devastating effects of traumatic events. People who experience trauma over a prolonged period of time may resort to dissociate to get by or to cope with the situation. Other people have depersonalization or derealization as a symptom of another mental health condition, such as:

Sometimes, depersonalization or derealization may occur as a result of a lack of sleep or insomnia, which is a common symptom in many mental health conditions.

It’s important to note that depersonalization and derealization are not the result of substance use or alcohol intake. While similar experiences may happen under the influence, depersonalization and derealization are distinctly different within the DSM-5.

Therapy for depersonalization & derealization

Depersonalization, derealization, and other dissociative conditions can be treated with the support of a credentialed therapist. Therapists teach clients grounding techniques to help bring them back to reality. This could include running their hands under cold water or interacting with objects in their environment. Therapists will also encourage clients to explore the origins of their dissociation, providing a safe space to talk about painful memories or great fears. Clients could also learn how to avoid the triggers that send them into dissociative states, including thought patterns.

Because of the severity of these symptoms, it’s important to work with a therapist who has experience working with clients who have depersonalization or derealization. These therapists are often certified in trauma-informed practices and can effectively help their clients move past their mental health symptoms and feel connected to their lives once more.