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Have you ever felt like you’re not yourself? Like you’re not really sure what’s happening in your surroundings? Like you’re in autopilot mode? You’re working, living, talking, but you’re really disconnected from reality? That might be depersonalization or derealization disorder.

As defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, 5th edition, Depersonalization disorder is a mental health problem that involves feelings of disconnection from oneself. 

While derealization disorders are the perception that things and the people around you don’t seem real. When these dissociative disorders are combined, everything in your life may not seem real. This is otherwise called depersonalization/derealization disorder

In simple words, you’re not feeling yourself, may feel disconnected from your surrounding. It’s like you’re looking at your life in a glass. You’re observing yourself from outside your body and feel like not actually living it.

These feelings may come and go or might not be an immediate cause of alarm. But if you’re starting to have panic attacks or it’s starting to affect your everyday life, then you need a definite diagnosis or treatment. 

What Causes Depersonalization Disorder?

Like all other mental health conditions or dissociative disorders, the exact cause of depersonalization disorder isn’t well understood. However, risk factors can contribute to and increase the chances of a person developing depersonalization disorder. 

Risk Factors:

  • Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event (e.g., abuse, accident, assault, death of a loved one)
  • Stressful events related to work, relationships, or family issues
  • A mental health decline like anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or a nervous breakdown
  • Alcohol or substance use

Symptoms of Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder

People experiencing depersonalization describe the symptoms as, for the lack of a better term,  “going crazy”. It somehow makes sense because dissociative disorders are associated with the feeling of being disconnected from your memories, thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. 

Depersonalization symptoms include:

  • May feel like you’re an outside observer of yourself, like you’re not actually the one living your life
  • On autopilot mode or robot-like actions (you aren’t in control of what you do or what you say)
  • Thoughts, feelings, or perceptions that your body appears distorted (e.g., you lack an arm, you’re a tiny creature)
  • Emotional or mental numbness (may seem like you don’t feel pain or don’t cry at all)
  • Not quite sure of the memories you have (questioning yourself if the past events in your life really did occur)
  • Out-of-body experiences (e.g., seeing yourself sleeping)
  • May not be sure of the time or date (feels like being stuck in the past or still being a child)
  • It seems like the world around you doesn’t exist

Episodes of depersonalization or derealization disorder differ for each person. Some people experience episodes that may last for hours. For some, being detached from reality may last for days, weeks, or months. If you’re experiencing any symptoms mentioned above, seek medical advice right away. 

Does Depersonalization Go Away?

For some, the symptoms of depersonalization/derealization disorder may go away on their own. For some, a treatment plan is needed for recovery. Dissociative disorders like depersonalization and derealization start to be a concern when they affect a person’s everyday life. 

The symptoms of depersonalization and derealization disorder may resolve on their own. Still, when there are triggers in the future, and when they aren’t appropriately addressed, the symptoms may come back. 

When dealing with depersonalization/derealization disorder symptoms, here are two things you need to remember: they may recur (return), and the symptoms are distressing. How do you know that you’re battling depersonalization/derealization disorder if you don’t seek help? How can you aim for recovery for a disease that a mental health professional did not properly diagnose?

Treatment for Depersonalization Disorder

The goal of treatment for depersonalization or derealization disorder is to control and avoid the recurrence of the symptoms. The primary treatment for these types of mental health disorders is psychotherapy or talk therapy. 

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, Talk Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or counseling with a mental health professional is the primary treatment. During therapy, the goal of the treatment plan is to talk to a mental health professional about what you feel or what you think.

Talk about what you’re going through, stressful situations, your feelings, or any trauma you experienced. Your therapist may help you realize why you’re going through all of these symptoms. Then your therapist can help you formulate a treatment plan to cope with depersonalization/derealization disorder. 

Psychotherapy can help you:

  • Understand why you’re experiencing depersonalization/derealization disorder
  • Get to learn coping techniques to distract you if you’re having episodes
  • Help you feel more connected to yourself and the world around you
  • Learn how to deal with stressful times to avoid triggers
  • To address emotions related to past trauma experiences 
  • Recovery from other mental health disorders like anxiety or depression

Medications

Medications may be prescribed to people with depersonalization/derealization disorder. To make it clear, no medication can magically heal dissociative disorders. However, anti-anxiety or anti-depressants may be prescribed to address symptoms of anxiety or depression. 

How to Cope With Depersonalization Disorder

If you have depersonalization disorder, and when you’re experiencing episodes, it’s important to remind yourself that everything will be okay. You got this! Even in times of extreme stress, practice these self-coping techniques. 

Acknowledge Your Symptoms and Feelings

Do not ignore your symptoms and wait for them to dominate for most of your day. Acknowledge the existence of your symptoms so you can do something about them. That’s why awareness, education, and proper diagnosis are important for the recovery of dissociative disorders. 

If you acknowledge your emotions, it can lessen your feelings of depersonalization and take control of what’s happening. As soon as you realize that the episodes are starting, seek help right away.

Challenge Your Intrusive Thoughts

The symptoms of depersonalization/derealization disorders involve experiencing intrusive thoughts. These are unwanted thoughts in your head that just can consume you all day. What can you do? Take control of your thoughts and challenge these intrusive thoughts. Here are some things you can do: 

Mindfulness Breathing

When you’re starting to stress out, and your thoughts are starting to overwhelm you, pause for a while, go to a quiet place, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Mindfulness breathing can disrupt your intrusive thoughts, calm your senses, and you can take control of depersonalization and derealization symptoms. 

Listen To Music

Feelings of depersonalization can be intense; an excellent idea to get over your intrusive thoughts is to listen to music. As for what kind of music to listen to, this depends on you. Preferably listen to songs that make you happy, makes you sing along, or calm your senses. 

You can make a playlist on your phone of your favorite songs. Once you experience intrusive thoughts, hit play and let the music soothe you. Music therapy can distract you from feeling detached, naturally, lift your mood, and help you have pleasant feelings. 

Read a Book

You can also distract your thoughts by reading a book. You can read a magazine, e-book, or even listen to audiobooks. It doesn’t matter if you read an old favorite book, a comforting story, or a new self-help book. When you read and make sense of the words, this will quiet down your intrusive thoughts. 

If it helps, you can read self-help books about mental health. Not only are you distracting the intrusive thoughts, but you’re learning new knowledge as well on how to cope with what you’re going through. One of the life-changing books you can read is Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.

Journal Your Thoughts

Documenting your thoughts, emotions, or feelings in your journal has many benefits for your mental health. When you write your inner thoughts, this can help you put things into perspective. You can also document the patterns you’re experiencing depersonalization/derealization disorder. 

Document your triggers, what happens, what your symptoms are, and what are effective distraction methods that can help you erase your intrusive thoughts. Or simply plan out your day, make a to-do list for the next day, or what made you happy today. By forming these words in your head, you’re erasing your intrusive thoughts and gaining control of what you think. 

Call a Friend or Loved One

When you’re getting overwhelmed, and the symptoms of the disorder arise, it’s better not to isolate yourself. If you isolate yourself, the symptoms may get worse. Do not feed your mental illness and wait for it to become severe. Instead, call a friend or loved one once you experience the symptoms.

Open up to a trusted person how you’re feeling or what you’re experiencing. This way, you can take your mind off things and receive the support you needed the most. If you’re not sure who to call, pick at least three persons in your life that you can trust. It can be your best friend, partner, family member, or parent. 

Manage Stress Properly

Stress is a risk factor for developing many health conditions, especially depersonalization/derealization disorder. To cope properly with this disorder, avoid stressful situations and manage stress properly. How can you do this? 

Get enough sleep, exercise, eat a well-balanced diet, do not overwork yourself, take some time off, do the things that make you feel happy, and seek support. If you can’t get away with stress, especially in the workplace, at least learn how to manage it to avoid episodes of depersonalization/derealization disorder. 

How Can I Prevent Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder?

It is uncertain how a person can prevent depersonalization/derealization disorder. But it may help if you seek support right away when you experienced trauma (e.g., accident, abuse, death of a loved one). It’s also may help if you recognize the symptoms of the disorder, once you feel like you have a symptom, seek professional help right away. 

Seek Treatment for Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder

Don’t let this disorder take over most parts of your day. Talk to mental health counselor at Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) and book a session for Psychotherapy. The sooner that you seek help, the sooner you can overcome depersonalization disorder.

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