Depersonalization & Derealization (Feeling unreal)




A message from Rob:
It's unfortunate that many doctors and psychotherapists do not understand this condition. It's mostly to do with the simple lack of research. Although Depersonalization Disorder (DPD) is listed as a Dissociative Disorder and sufferers do not report the same symptoms as anxiety, the reality is that DPD shares many of the same characteristics of anxiety and depression. For example, there is a tendency for a depersonalization sufferer to avoid certain places, situations, and even thoughts that trigger or exasperate the symptoms. This is similar to the behaviors of a person with an anxiety and depression disorder, suggesting the same defense mechanisms are at play. Depersonalization becomes a protective mechanism -- a way for the mind to cope with certain harsh realities, stressors, and unpleasant self-images, through the mechanism of escape. Ironically, this protective function is not the most enjoyable feeling of safety.


I help people build self-trust during these difficult times. Self-trust is the health of the mind. In my audiobook, I provide a listening script for depersonalization, which helps you to build this trust.

Peace, wellness, and love,



Depersonalization is characterized by a feeling of detachment or estrangement from one's self.  During an episode of depersonalization, the sense of ‘self’ is disturbed.  There is an overall feeling of estrangement and detachment from the self.  



During the experience of derealization, the perception of reality feels distorted and there is a sense of being detached from the outside world.  It can feel like living in a dream.


Depersonalization can be very distressing because it seems like one is losing their grip on reality, losing control, or 'going insane.'



Episodes of depersonalization can occur:

  • During, following, or preceding a panic attack
  • Questioning life and intense introspection
  • Using drugs (notably marijuana or ecstasy).
  • After the death of a loved one
  • Shocking or traumatic incident
  • Crowded spaces


PTSD / Trauma & DPD
Dissociation is common in people who have suffered through a traumatic event.  Symptoms of Depersonalization are commonly reported in people with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.


Have you had it?

Most people have experienced at least one episode of depersonalization or derealization at least once in their lifetime.  It could be a fleeting sensation for a few seconds or an unpleasant experience that lasts a while.  The disturbance was temporary.  The disturbance could have been associated with anxiety, depression, or fatigue.  However, a smaller percentage of people experience a chronic form of these episodes.  In this case, the term, Depersonalization Disorder is used. 


Depersonalization Disorder (DPD)

When depersonalization becomes a chronic condition, it’s listed under the category of Dissociative Disorders.  Dissociative Disorders are disruptions in the cohesive function of consciousness, memory, identity, or perception.  These disturbances can be sudden or gradual, temporary or chronic.

Depersonalization Disorder is characterized by recurrent episodes of depersonalization or derealization.  DPD is more common in people who have experienced emotional abuse, physical abuse, attachment problems, traumatic events and disasters.  However, these experiences are do not account for 100% of the triggers. 

Some refer to DPD as Alice-in-Wonderland syndrome, although this term is mostly associated with physical symptoms like migraine and fatigue, rather than the emotional symptoms.

A person with Depersonalization Disorder is aware that the experience is a feeling and there is no real disconnect from reality nor is there behavior on automatic.  The person has the same abilities as they did prior to the episode(s), but the feelings make it more difficult and take away the desire or motivation to live life fully. 

A large portion of psychiatrists, psychologists, and medical doctors do not know about this condition.  Sufferers often seek medical treatment only to find out that the physician knows nothing about the condition.
Depersonalization Disorder is also seen as an Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Disorder because of the obsessive monitoring of symptoms, the preoccupation with what the symptoms mean, and compulsive checking, testing, running for reassurance, etc.




Accompanying Feelings

  • A feeling of not being here or anywhere
  • Feeling detached from the self
  • Numb feelings or loss of emotion (lack of affective response)
  • Frustrated because one thinks they can’t feel ‘love.’
  • Things seeming flat or blurred
  • Being on automatic pilot
  • Feeling like the self is looking at itself
  • Being aware of awareness
  • Feeling like one is estranged from the self
  • Feeling a lack of control over one’s movements or speech
  • Feelings of observing the self from outside the body
  • Feeling of being stuck in a dream
  • Feeling like there are two things going on. 
  • A feeling of having another point of view or another voice inside
  • Obsessing over the physical symptoms can resemble hypochondriasis. 


Other Accompanying Symptoms:

  • Hopelessness
  • Ultimate Doom
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic
  • Worry
  • Obsessive thoughts
  • Compulsions / rituals
  • Disinterest in usual things (relationships, friends, hobbies, etc.)
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia


Accompanying Worries/Fears

  • Is this madness?
  • What if I go in too deep and never come back
  • What if I lose my mind?
  • Have I lost myself?
  • Am I real?
  • Am I still here?
  • What if I black out?
  • I don’t recognize my face the way I usually do
  • What if I can never feel anything anymore?
  • What if I lose control and do something bad?
  • Fears of being non-existent
  • Fears of losing control
  • Fears of going insane
  • Fears of being stuck like this
  • Fears of losing all connection with other human beings




One of the things that will exasperate the feelings of depersonalization is a compulsion of being hyper-aware and distressed about the feelings.  The sufferer will often perform checking rituals to see if the feelings are still present.  The ritual is comparable to the checking rituals of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Pure Obsessional mental checking.
Often people with Depersonalization have difficulty describing their symptoms and may fear that they will be labeled 'crazy.'


Sometimes anxiety, worry, or panic will trigger the feelings. Other times, a setting or situation will be the trigger.  Traumatic experiences and heavy stress are also highly associated with depersonalization. It is also not uncommon for deep introspection, meditation, or philosophizing to bring on the symptoms. 


Triggering Thoughts

Many people with depersonalization issues spend too much time on certain existential or philosophical thoughts.  If anxiety is involved with these thoughts, and mental rituals to combat the anxiety, it crosses over into the OCD world:


Existential / Philosophical OCD – Spending excessive amounts of time contemplating existence, awareness, or one’s mortality.

Example Thoughts of Existential OCD:


  • How can reality exist? 
  • Do I exist?
  • Does the rest of the world exist?
  • Is everything just an illusion?
  • What is awareness?
  • Who/what process is doing the awareness of my thinking?
  • How am I capable of doing this? 
  • How am I doing the thinking right now?
  • What is the nature of reality?
  • How do I control my movements?

Less impactful thoughts:


  • What is my purpose?
  • Is there a God?
  • What if everyone is just in my imagination?
  • Should I care about anything if everything is an illusion?
  • How did the universe get here


Triggering Behaviors

  • Pondering existence with others
  • Extreme self-reflection / monitoring
  • Repeating certain words until they lose meaning
  • Drug usage
  • Getting lost
  • Musing over one’s face or body in the mirror



Depersonalization and Derealization episodes often occur with other disorders such as panic disorder, OCD, depression, and schizophrenia. 


Drug-induced DPD

It is not uncommon for depersonalization or derealization to occur after using certain drugs like marijuana, Ecstasy, magic mushrooms, acid, DMT, 2C-B, Ketamine, etc.


For some people, alcohol helps them forget about DPD. For others, it's a trigger.


Worth noting:

Some people find relief from caffeine because it makes them feel more “attached” to reality, although others find that it makes their symptoms worse. 
Some people consider depersonalization as a desirable or spiritual state of mind.  These people try to induce a reportedly similar state using drugs, hypnosis, or meditation.




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This info should not be used to diagnose, treat or prevent a medical or psychological disorder.


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