What is depersonalization disorder?
Depersonalization disorder is marked by periods of feeling disconnected or detached from one’s body and thoughts (depersonalization). The disorder is sometimes described as feeling like you are observing yourself from outside your body or like being in a dream. However, people with this disorder do not lose contact with reality; they realize that things are not as they appear. An episode of depersonalization can last anywhere from a few minutes to many years. Depersonalization also might be a symptom of other disorders, including some forms of substance abuse, certain personality disorders, seizure disorders, and certain other brain diseases.
Depersonalization disorder is one of a group of conditions called dissociative disorders. Dissociative disorders are mental illnesses that involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, consciousness, awareness, identity, and/or perception. When one or more of these functions is disrupted, symptoms can result. These symptoms can interfere with a person’s general functioning, including social and work activities and relationships.
How common is depersonalization disorder?
Depersonalization can be a rare symptom in several psychiatric disorders and sometimes occurs after experiencing a dangerous situation, such as an assault, accident, or serious illness. Depersonalization as a separate disorder is quite rare. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of depersonalization disorder?
The common symptoms of depersonalization disorder are:
- Feelings that you’re an outside observer of your thoughts, feelings, your body or parts of your body — for example, 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
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
Passing feelings of depersonalization or derealization are common and aren’t necessarily a cause for concern. But ongoing or severe feelings of detachment and distortion of your surroundings can be a sign of depersonalization-derealization disorder or another physical or mental health disorder.
See a doctor if you have feelings of depersonalization or derealization that:
- Are disturbing you or are emotionally disruptive
- Don’t go away or keep coming back
- Interfere with work, relationships or daily activities
What causes depersonalization disorder?
The exact cause of depersonalization-derealization disorder isn’t well-understood. Some people may be more vulnerable to experiencing depersonalization and derealization than others, possibly due to genetic and environmental factors. Heightened states of stress and fear may trigger episodes.
Symptoms of depersonalization-derealization disorder may be related to childhood trauma or other experiences or events that cause severe emotional stress or trauma.
What increases my risk for depersonalization disorder?
There are many risk factors for depersonalization disorder, such as:
- Certain personality traits that make you want to avoid or deny difficult situations or make it hard to adapt to difficult situations
- Severe trauma, during childhood or as an adult, such as experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event or abuse
- Severe stress, such as major relationship, financial or work-related issues
- Depression or anxiety, especially severe or prolonged depression, or anxiety with panic attacks
- Using recreational drugs, which can trigger episodes of depersonalization or derealization
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is depersonalization disorder diagnosed?
If symptoms of depersonalization disorder are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical exam. Although there are no lab tests to specifically diagnose dissociative disorders, the doctor might use various diagnostic tests, such as imaging studies and blood tests, to rule out physical illness or medication side effects as the cause of the symptoms.
If no physical illness is found, the person might be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist, health care professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a person for a dissociative disorder.
How is depersonalization disorder treated?
Treatment of depersonalization-derealization disorder is primarily psychotherapy. However, sometimes medications may be added to your treatment plan.
Psychotherapy, also called counseling or talk therapy, is the main treatment. The goal is to gain control over the symptoms so that they lessen or go away. Two such psychotherapies include cognitive behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy.
Psychotherapy can help you:
- Understand why depersonalization and derealization occur
- Learn techniques that distract from your symptoms and make you feel more connected to your world and feelings
- Learn coping strategies to deal with stressful situations and times of extreme stress
- Address the emotions related to past trauma you’ve experienced
- Address other mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression
There are no medications specifically approved to treat depersonalization-derealization disorder. However, medications may be used to treat specific symptoms or to treat depression and anxiety that are often associated with the disorder.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage depersonalization disorder?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with depersonalization disorder:
- Follow your treatment plan. Psychotherapy may involve practicing certain techniques on a daily basis to help resolve feelings of depersonalization and derealization. Seeking treatment early can improve your chances of successfully using these techniques.
- Learn about the condition. Books and internet resources are available that discuss why depersonalization and derealization occur and how to cope. Ask your mental health professional to suggest educational materials and resources.
- Connect with others. Stay connected with supportive and caring people — family, friends, faith leaders or others.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Depersonalization-derealization disorder. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depersonalization-derealization-disorder/home/ovc-20318895. Accessed July 19, 2017.
Mental Health and Depersonalization Disorder. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/depersonalization-disorder-mental-health#1-4. Accessed July 19, 2017.
Review Date: July 20, 2017 | Last Modified: July 20, 2017