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What Is Depersonalization and Derealization Disorder?

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Trigger Warning

Depersonalization and derealization disorder can be intensified and triggered by speaking about, reading about, or even looking at images (such as the one above) that depict what depersonalization is like. For that reason, most people with the disorder avoid engaging in such activities.

However, the fear of speaking about and reading about the disorder can hold sufferers back from discovering what is actually going on. At its roots, depersonalization/derealization disorder is a run-of-the-mill, obsessive anxiety disorder, and without the proper information, your imagination can run wild and convince you that you've gone crazy or lost touch with reality completely--which is far from the truth.

If you suffer from depersonalization and derealization, or what you think might be DPD/DR, you should begin to read about it in an encouraging, realistic, and optimistic context, without fear. Finding out what you're truly dealing with, and realizing how many people are out there who have this, are recovering, and can support you through the difficult days, can take much of the weight off of having this disorder, and can certainly make it less isolating. DPD may not vanish completely--at least not for everyone--but you can be happy and integrate it into your life in a healthy, non-threatening way.

The most important thing to remember with this disorder is that in the vast majority of cases, there is nothing broken about your brain. It is not psychosis. It is terrifying, but it will not hurt you. You will not disappear into the earth, although it feels that way.

You still exist. You're here.

What is Depersonaliztaion and Derealization Disorder?

From the Mayo Clinic:

Depersonalization symptoms

Symptoms of depersonalization include:

  • Feelings that you're an outside observer of your thoughts, feelings, your body or parts of your body, perhaps as if you were floating in air above yourself
  • Feeling like a robot or that you're not in control of your speech or movements
  • The sense that your body, legs or arms appear distorted, enlarged or shrunken, or that your head is wrapped in cotton
  • Emotional or physical numbness of your senses or responses to the world around you
  • A sense that your memories lack emotion, and that they may or may not be your own memories

Derealization symptoms

Symptoms of derealization include:

  • Feelings of being alienated from or unfamiliar with your surroundings, perhaps like you're living in a movie
  • Feeling emotionally disconnected from people you care about, as if you were separated by a glass wall
  • Surroundings that appear distorted, blurry, colorless, two-dimensional or artificial, or a heightened awareness and clarity of your surroundings
  • Distortions in perception of time, such as recent events feeling like distant past
  • Distortions of distance and the size and shape of objects

Drug Experiences and Depersonalization / Derealization

drugs and depersonalization disorder (DPD) and derealization (DR) ; pink smoke

drugs and depersonalization disorder (DPD) and derealization (DR) ; pink smoke

DPD / DR and Drugs

Because depersonalization and derealization often come on after long-term drug use or even just one drug experience, those who suffer from the disorder may suffer in silence, thinking that it is probably something much worse, like permanent damage or psychosis, for fear of being judged by doctors, family, and friends.

The most important thing to understand about this disorder is that it feeds off of that lack of information because the anxiety over what is happening in your mind causes you to focus on the feelings of depersonalization, which worsens those symptoms.

To make matters worse, the feelings of unreality and being stuck far back inside your own mind are impossible to explain to anyone who has not experienced the syndrome. Typically, you'll be treated for "panic attack", "dissociation", "anxiety", all the while knowing deep down that something else is going on, and you still do not know what it is.

You may constantly be running through the possibilities: permanent brain damage caused by drugs or a disease (there are quite a few awful illnesses that cause similar symptoms, but they're rare and a doctor can help eliminate these possibilities); schizophrenia; a psychotic break. Some drugs cause permanent damage to the brain, but that is not what this is.

Many people suffer from depersonalization from marijuana use, which is often somewhat temporary, and they're able to overcome it. The more persistent cases are usually depersonalization from hallucinogenic drugs--primarily bad drug experiences. The anxiety after this bad drug experience, and the confusion it might cause about reality, are what cause feelings of depersonalization and derealization. Even though it might feel like reality itself has changed, or you're no longer able to understand reality because of some type of damage, that is not the case.

Impossible to Explain

This is what you run into again and again with DPD: it's impossible to really explain to someone who hasn't experienced it. It is a different reality, utterly and completely. Not visually, but internally--deep down.

From the Mayo Clinic:

Persistent and recurrent episodes of depersonalization or derealization or both cause distress and problems functioning at work or school or in other important areas of your life. During these episodes, you are aware that your sense of detachment is only a feeling, and not reality.

The experience and feelings of the disorder can be difficult to describe. Worry about "going crazy" can cause you to become preoccupied with checking that you exist and determining what's actually real.

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The video below is what I stumbled upon a short time ago that encouraged me to reach out to others and help any way I can.

What Does Depersonalization Feel Like?

Recovering From Depersonalization

When you've become depersonalized, you have become completely severed from your sense of self; what you're mind and emotions are constantly, frantically trying to do is find it and grab it again. You are desperately trying to get back to how things are supposed to be.

You have to let go of "how things are supposed to be." You've had a life-altering experience and that's OK. It is going to be life-altering. Let go of "how things are supposed to be" and "reality," and live life the way it is right now. You have seen a version of your reality that is not the version you had before. But the truth is, every intelligent person grapples with the question, "What is real?" at some point in their life. When we don't have depersonalization/derealization, we're able to let go of that question easily. The more relaxed you are with your current state of mind, and with letting that question exist (without having to answer it) the more in-control you will feel. That control is what you had before (without trying or knowing) that you are missing now.

Accept that this is reality, where you exist right now. Sitting on your couch, or at your desk. Right now. Letting go does not mean you will disappear or that you will exit reality. You can relax, knowing that nothing bad will happen if you stop thinking about your depersonalization symptoms or stop trying to battle them.

meditation and recovering from depersonalization  (DPD) and derealization (DR) disorder

meditation and recovering from depersonalization (DPD) and derealization (DR) disorder

Meditation and Depersonalization Disorder

The best way to teach yourself how to relax into reality again is by practicing meditation. Start out with 10-15 minutes, and work your way up to 30 minutes every day. Do it after you shower, or at some time of day where it's routine and you can just do it without debating with yourself over it. Don't shame yourself for skipping a day if you end up skipping a day--just do it the next time you can.

Set a timer on your phone, and then turn the phone to silent except for the alarm. Don't put yourself in a position to be distracted. Then sit comfortably (this doesn't have to be in any position, but researching and finding the best meditation posture can help ease you into relaxation), and look forward. Don't close your eyes, but make sure you sit facing a blank wall that is a boring color, like white or gray. Then breathe in from the bottom of your stomach, and breathe out. That is "one." Do that ten times, counting your deep breaths from the bottom of your stomach and just observing them. When you get to ten, start over from one again. All you need to think about is one...two...three...four...

When an obtrusive thought comes in, don't get angry at yourself or fixate on how you are supposed to only be counting your breaths. Just observe the thought as it comes in, and gently let it exit as you exhale. If a panicky thought, like "Are my eyes open?" comes in, do the same. Observe it without judging it, or scolding it, or bullying it out, and gently let it exit with your breath.

It will take time for this to become truly relaxing--the first and second time may feel uncomfortable and unfamiliar, and even a little bit triggering--but once you get used to it, meditation is more relaxing for the mind than sleep, especially for those suffering from depersonalization. When you get the hang of it in practice, you can meditate on-demand in the store, at work, at school, or at dinner, in short 3-breath bursts to help ease out panicked thoughts that are caused by your disorder.

If meditating on your own is too uncomfortable, or you're not seeing improvement, try a guided meditation app.

Depersonalization and Illness

There are a number of illnesses and hormonal imbalances that can worsen DPD. It's important to make sure your body is functioning as well as possible so that you can minimize the depersonalization in all of the ways that you have control over. Go to your doctor and get a basic hormone and blood panel done, checking for anything that can cause anxiety. Hormonal imbalances can cause anxiety and depression, which both worsen depersonalization in a big way.

Using any recreational drugs and drinking will also worsen DPD / DR, but chances are you've already stopped doing those things if you've noticed that they cause a worsening in your symptoms. Always check yourself to make sure you're well-fed and well-rested. Sleeping too little or too much can also increase your DPD symptoms.

Find Others Who Are Dealing With Depersonalization Disorder

One of the best things you can do to recover from depersonalization and derealization is reach out to other sufferers. They can be your absolute best resource in taking the gravity out of this disorder and easing the isolation that it causes, since depersonalization is so difficult to talk about to anyone who hasn't experienced it themselves.


Sarah B (author) from Klamath Falls on April 12, 2015:

Thank you for your support darciefrench :)

Darcie French from BC Canada on April 12, 2015:

I voluntarily let go of the programming that made "me" up - in search of Self-realization. While not everyone would agree with me, it was the best thing I ever did.

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