Depersonalization can occur when you feel detached from your thoughts and body. In this HelloGiggles article, Mindpath Health’s Rashmi Parmar, MD, explains what causes this disorder, its symptoms, and potential treatments.  

Many of us have found ourselves going through the motions and lacking a sense of presence at times. But if you experience these feelings of confusion about what you’re doing, where you are, and maybe even who you are frequently, it might mean you have a dissociative disorder.  

According to the Mayo Clinic, dissociative disorders are “mental health disorders that involve experiencing a disconnection and lack of continuity between thoughts, memories, surroundings, actions, and identity.” 

Depersonalization is when you feel detached from your thoughts and body. Depersonalization disorder often gets confused with derealization disorder, yet while the two are similar, there are key differences. Ahead, learn what those differences are, including more about the symptoms of depersonalization, what causes it, and how to treat it. 

What is depersonalization disorder?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, depersonalization is a dissociative disorder described as a persistent or recurrent feeling of being detached or estranged from oneself. Board-certified psychiatrist Rashmi Parmar, MD, explains, “a person might feel like they are an outside observer of their thoughts, feelings, actions, or body.” 

Depersonalization disorder can cause significant distress and impairment because a person is living in an altered perception of their own life. However, it isn’t a psychotic illness or delusion because they are aware of these disconnected feelings.  

What causes depersonalization?

There can be many causes of depersonalization disorder. Dr. Parmar says that depersonalization disorder can be caused by physical changes or disruptions in your body, like neurological illnesses such as epilepsy or complicated migraines, drug or alcohol withdrawal, or side effects from certain sedative medications. 

What are the symptoms of depersonalization disorder?

The Mayo Clinic notes that it’s common to feel a sense of emotional and physical numbness, detachment from your memories as though they aren’t your own, and a distorted perception of your body, like your limbs are enlarged or shrunken. 

What’s the difference between depersonalization and derealization?

Both derealization and depersonalization involve feelings of disconnect, but depersonalization is how you view yourself, while derealization involves how you view the outside world.  

“In essence, depersonalization directs the unreal perception towards the inner self, whereas the other involves projecting this feeling on the environment,” says Dr. Parmar. 

Symptoms include feelings of being in a dream, like you’re living in an unreal or artificial world, distorted perceptions of sound, and feelings of time passing too fast or too slow. 

What is the treatment for depersonalization disorder?

According to Dr. Parmar, most people will experience depersonalization or derealization at some point in their lives. However, if it begins to interfere with your ability to function or seems like it doesn’t go away, it’s necessary to seek help. The most common way to treat depersonalization disorder is through psychotherapy. 

Dr. Parmar says reducing stress levels can also play a vital role in treating depersonalization disorder. “Use of stress reduction techniques like relaxation skills, mindfulness, and distraction can be quite effective,” she notes. “Maintenance of a well-structured routine with adequate nutrition, hydration, sleep, and exercise may also help in reducing symptoms.” 

If you’re having an episode of depersonalization, distracting yourself by throwing cold water on your face, doing sudden quick movements like jumping jacks, or engaging in deep breathing can help bring your awareness back to reality, says Dr. Parmar.  

In addition to psychotherapy, both experts say prescribed medications, like antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs, can be helpful.  

Read the full HelloGiggles article with sources. 

Rashmi P Parmar, M.D.

Manteca, CA

Dr. Parmar is a double board-certified psychiatrist in Adult and Child Psychiatry. She earned her medical degree at Terna Medical College & Hospital in Mumbai, India. Thereafter, she completed general psychiatry training at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center program, TX, followed by the Child & Adolescent Psychiatry fellowship training at Hofstra Northwell Health program, NY. Her training has equipped ... Read Full Bio »

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