Have you ever felt detached from your own body? If so, you might be dealing with a symptom called “depersonalization”.
For people with depersonalization, this type of “out of body” experience is not unusual. It feels as if their bodies no longer belong to them. Staring into a mirror, they are unable to recognize themselves. Such episodes even result in a temporary inability to talk.
You might think of depersonalization as an altered state. Your self-awareness is altered to the point where you feel dissociated from yourself. If the loss of connection is related more to your surroundings, it may be another dissociative disorder called derealization. Either way, if the condition is recurring, it must be addressed.
Common Symptoms of Depersonalization and Derealization
Imagine watching your own life like it was a movie. Your feelings, your behavior, and your thoughts are perceived from a distance, through a fog. To gain more clarity about this scenario, consider some of the common symptoms. Generally speaking, the symptoms first appear in childhood. Only five percent of people with depersonalization/derealization disorder experience their first signs after the age of 25.
With depersonalization, you may not feel connected to normal daily sensations. These may include hunger and thirst, touch, and even your sex drive. Depersonalization can also result in a sense of emotional numbness. You’re moving and talking and going through the motions. But you don’t feel like you’re controlling any of these actions.
Derealization, as mentioned, relates to feeling distant from the outside world. This is where the whole “like a movie” sensation comes into play, for example:
- Time is not static. It speeds up. It slows down.
- Items in your line of sight appear to be the wrong color, size, etc.
- You experience sound in distorted ways. Noises seem muffled.
All of the above can be self-induced. Stare into a mirror or a flame long enough and you will likely experience some level of dissociation. For an accurate depersonalization and/or derealization diagnosis, the episodes are recurring and spontaneous. They can last for hours. In some cases, they can last for days. Obviously, in such instances, depersonalization/derealization severely impacts daily functioning.
What Causes Depersonalization?
No direct cause has been identified but useful theories abound. For starters, psychoactive substances (e.g. marijuana and hallucinogens) can play a role. They can trigger depersonalization but often, this is a temporary neurochemical response. Two large categories of possible causes are existing health conditions or abuse and trauma at a young age.
Here are just a few of the medical issues that can trigger depersonalization or derealization:
- Panic attacks or panic disorder
As for traumatic abuse, it’s not difficult to imagine how detachment would temporarily help a young child manage a horrific situation like:
- Domestic violence (as the victim or witness it or both)
- Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- Parents or caretakers who are neglectful or who abandoned them
- The loss of a loved one — especially sudden and unexpected
- Living in a home where mental health issues or substance abuse was present
- Dealing with an accident, injury, disability, or illness
- Living in a war zone
While no one has isolated a definitive cause, you can find effective treatments.
Talk Therapy Can Help
If you are dealing with this feeling of disconnect, don’t feel ashamed or suffer any longer. Generally, most people with depersonalization/derealization disorder recover. Others learn how to manage, control, and limit the episodes. These outcomes are most typically the result of psychotherapy. Your regular sessions can teach you invaluable skills like grounding and distracting. You have space to discuss sensations and identify their triggers.
Finally, if any of the above sounds familiar to you or someone you know, let’s connect. Read more about trauma therapy and let’s talk about it during a safe and confidential consultation.