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Depersonalization and Derealization Disorder

What is Depersonalization/Derealization disorder?

Do you ever feel that things around you are not real? It is estimated that about 50% of the population experiences at least once in their lifetime a moment of derealization and depersonalization. However, only about 2% actually have the criteria for such disorder. Derealization or depersonalization disorder is diagnosed when you repeatedly have feelings that the outside world is not real, or you believe to be observing yourself from outside your body. Often, individuals with derealization/depersonalization feel as if they were living in a dream and can have a hard time identifying their reality. Although many of us at some point may have had such experience, that doesn’t mean we have such disorder. One may have such disorder if the derealization keeps occurring, if it completely never goes away, or it begins to interfere with your daily life. It is important to note that such disorder usually begins in mid to late teens or early adulthood and that it is rare among children and older adults.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms for depersonalization may include the following:

  • Feeling that you’re an outside observer of your own thoughts, body parts, feelings, etc.
  • Feeling a lack of control in your speech or movement
  • Sense of memories lacking emotion

Symptoms of derealization may include:

  • Feelings of being unfamiliar with your own surroundings
  • Feeling an emotional disconnection from loved ones
  • Distortions in perceptions of time
  • Surrounding may feel distorted, blurry, or colorless, for example
  • May experience distortions of distance, size, and shape

It is also important to note that such symptoms may last hours, days, weeks, and even months. Also, such disorder can cause difficulty in concentrating on tasks, remembering things, may create problems in relationships (i.e. friends and families), may cause a sense of hopelessness, and may interfere with daily life activities (i.e. work and school).

What are some risk factors that may trigger such disorder?

  • Certain personality traits (i.e. avoiding or denying difficult situations)
  • Severe trauma (including witnessing)
  • Severe stress (i.e. financial, work, or relationships)
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Using recreational drugs

What causes depersonalization/derealization disorder?

The exact known cause is not yet known. However, it is believed that both genetic and environmental factors may play a role.

How is such disorder treated?

One can receive medication, but the main treatment used to manage such disorder is psychotherapy, which can help you improve the following:

  • Understand the reason why such disorder occurs
  • Learn ways to cope with your symptoms
  • Learn techniques that will keep you distracted from your symptoms
  • Will be able to address the emotions related to the trauma experienced
  • Will help you address other mental conditions that may affect such disorder as well

How can I help myself, or someone I know, cope with such disorder?

  • Follow your treatment plan
  • Learn and become knowledgeable about your condition. Ask questions.
  • Connect with others
    • Maintain that connection with those who support you (i.e. friends, family, faith leaders)

When talking to your doctor, below are some questions that you may want to ask:

  • What is causing my symptoms? Are there other causes?
  • Do I need to take any additional tests to prove the diagnosis?
  • What treatments are there available? Is there one that you would recommend?
  • Do I need to see a specialist?
  • Do you have any brochures that I can take with me so that I can learn more about what it is? Are there any websites that you recommend?
  • Do you have any additional recommendations?