Updated 27/06/2018

What causes Depersonalisation and Derealisation?

Depersonalisation is not just a symptom of anxiety. It can affect those who have been through a traumatic episode, like war or abuse of some kind. There are also cases of people having a bad experience with a drug and those who have lost a loved one can also suffer temporarily from it.

The person who has been to war and seen things that he would rather forget may suffer. The DP is his mind’s way of shutting down and protecting him from these harrowing memories. This is the same as someone having been through some trauma or abuse of some kind; the DP can be present to protect them from past painful memories.

Also, those who have recently lost a loved one can suffer from temporary DP and have that blank look, as though they are somewhere else. Again it is the mind’s way of protecting them from all the pain, shock and worry of their recent loss; it becomes a coping mechanism for them. Once the pain and trauma of the loss begin to weaken, then they tend to revert to their old selves again.

Why can people with anxiety develop the symptoms of Depersonalisation and Derealisation?

I suffered from anxiety for about two years before I developed any symptoms of DP. It first developed due to my excessive worry and concern over how I was feeling. I would spend hours thinking deeply about my condition, continually trying to find a way out of my predicament.

This deep thinking and concern went on for weeks until I began to feel more and more detached from the world around me. Then one day I was stroking the family pet when I suddenly had this out of body experience, it was like I was snatched from reality and was now part of some dream, the action of stroking my dog no longer seemed real.

What happened that day was my mind said, ‘Enough is enough, I cannot take this worry and deep thinking anymore and to protect me, and you, I have to shut your emotions down’. And it did, I could no longer feel any emotions, there was no happiness, no joy and the whole world just appeared grey and lifeless. I just resembled a walking shell that felt detached from my surroundings and felt nothing.

Understanding is key to recovery

If I had known at the time what was going on, I would have heeded the warning, stopped worrying and would have taken the mental break I needed. But I was clueless as to why I was feeling this way I took on these new symptoms as something else to worry about, figure out and defeat and because of this, I fell deeper into the condition.

And the deeper I fell, the more worry and concern was present and so I entered into the full Depersonalisation cycle. Everything I was doing to try and get better was the exact things that had brought the feelings on in the first place, talk about being blind !!

If I had been more educated on depersonalisation before I suffered, then I would have known the reason why it was happening and would not have wasted years trying to fight it, figure it out, worrying about it daily and so prevented myself from sinking deeper and deeper into the condition.

So the above explains why people with anxiety can go on to develop Depersonalisation. It is all the concern and deep thinking about the initial anxiety that can lead to the first signs of depersonalisation and then they can spend years sinking further due to them now worrying and thinking deeply about the DP itself.

So how did I come through my Depersonalisation?

Recovery from Depersonalisation

Well, before I give a list of things that helped me through, I will be honest with people and say that it did take a while for me to recover and that there are no quick fixes.

Depersonalisation left me when it realised that it was no longer needed.

I finally understood that recovery would only occur when I stopped all the worry and deep thinking over how I felt and so that is the approach I now took. The symptoms, although scary, no longer had my constant concern and attention and so my mind started to get a break.

It was the constant barrage of concern and worry that had put me in this position in the first place, so it made total sense to me now that if I wanted to recover, then this had to cease and only then could a process of healing begin.

While I was in the previous cycle, then nothing was going to change. While I continued to worry and obsess about my predicament, then my mind would carry on protecting me, and no progress would be made.

Allowing the presence of these symptoms is easier said than done after you have spent years worrying and battling with yourself. So to suddenly step back and do nothing is like having an itch and no longer being able to scratch it.

But the whole process of recovery now made sense to me, I knew what was needed, and so I had to accept that I would feel like this for a while and be OK with it. I would have to allow its presence and live alongside it the best I could.

Recovery from Depersonalisation takes time

Recovery takes time

What I had learned was not going to eliminate it straight away, there was still a process of healing that I needed to go through, and I had to allow that process to happen with as little fear and concern as possible.

I would have to accept that things would still feel like a dream, that my emotions would still be switched off and that the world would continue to appear grey and one-dimensional until my mind healed enough to turn this protection off.

Through a habit of constant self-concern, my attention was still continually on me, and the symptoms of DP were still extreme. But I decided, and I mean from the pit of my stomach to live with this for the time being and no longer try and fight, worry, or think my way out. The last thing my mind needed now was more deep thinking and more worry.

With all the knowledge I had now gained all the actions that were keeping the condition alive soon stopped, and I TRULY accepted this feeling and fully understood that it was my mind’s way of protecting me and that I had no power over it. I finally realised that I had no control over its presence and it was going to be there for a while whether I liked it or not. That this constant battle to defeat it was not only pointless but also counterproductive.

Don’t be impatient with recovery

It is due to impatience and the need to step straight out of this condition that a lot of people may allow themselves to feel this way for a short period and then become frustrated with it and so fall back into the cycle of questioning and fighting its presence once again.

Once my attitude and approach to it changed, I never even thought about recovery, I just gave up the whole battle with it, allowed its presence without any concern and then improvement came to me. I didn’t DO anything; it was the non-doing that brought about my recovery, as it was the non-doing that finally gave the mind the space it needed to heal.

Here is a list of other things that helped me recover from Depersonalisation and Derealisation

Exercise and the outdoors

Exercise is an excellent way of clearing the cobwebs and giving you another focus towards your day. Exercise, especially when done outdoors, is also very good for healing the mind, so try having a real dose of nature.

When you first start venturing out, the world may still seem distant and flat but don’t let this put you off, just get your coat on and go. It is vital at this time to look after your mind and body and be kind to yourself, so make sure you practice self-care.

See each day in which you allow yourself to feel this way as another step nearer to freedom.

Keeping away from forums and studying the subject daily.

I run this blog as I like to think the advice is helpful and people do need that initial guidance and support. I will be honest though and say I am not a fan of forums, as people on there tend to drown themselves in the subject, logging on day after day asking more questions, and seeking more reassurance while trying to find that miracle answer. Many on there can then end up feeling worse as the subject becomes them, and they feel like they can think of nothing else.

Forums also tend to be full of negative stories and people struggling on for years without any real progress, reading all these stories can lead to a negative mindset and have the sufferer feeling more bewildered than ever as recovery seems so far away, for so many and so they lose hope themselves.

I remember going on many years ago to support people and found I had to come off. I found the whole experience very depressing and draining and saw a lot of poor advice being given out to people by others who were still suffering themselves.

For me, once you understand the process and what’s needed to recover then you don’t need to be logging on to forums talking about your symptoms and predicament every day, thinking this will lead to anywhere positive. The best course of action is just to go back out there and live again.

I knew to begin to feel like my old self again, I had to pack in as much normal living as possible. Doing normal everyday things makes you feel part of the outside world again. I always tried to live as normal a life as possible and never let how I felt stop me.

Stop obsessing/worrying about this feeling of detachment and trust in yourself.

Pay this feeling no mind, and this means just get on with your day; however, you feel. You are not going crazy, and this feeling will pass when your mind heals and realises that it no longer needs to protect you or itself from this constant barrage of worry and overthinking.

When the whole obsession and deep thinking cease, then the brain will begin the healing process. This process can be a slow and frustrating one and there will be days where you feel you are really making strides and days where you feel engulfed again.

It is very important to allow this up and down process to happen without being too impressed by it. Don’t ever gauge progress by how you feel. If you have a few good days and then suddenly feel worse than ever, don’t think anything has gone wrong.

This back and forth is all part and parcel of recovery and something you have to accept. Progress is gauged on how allowing you are and not on how you feel. So don’t get too excited on the good days and don’t get too disheartened on the bad.

No matter how long you have suffered from this condition, when you apply the above and be patient, then full recovery is there for everyone. Just have faith in your body’s natural healing system, the best healing system in the world, left alone it knows exactly what to do.  Also, remember that what you have been through has done you no long-term harm.

My Depersonalisation was so extreme that I could not even hold a conversation and completely lost who I was. For years life just felt like one constant dream that I was no part of and yet I came through without a single symptom left.

Recovery from depersonalisation is there for everyone

We all work and heal the same, the only ones that find themselves still stuck are those who don’t understand what is going on, and so they stay in a constant cycle of recreating it, or those who want that quick fix and refuse to be patient.

Someone once emailed me and said ‘I have read your book, but my Depersonalisation is still there’ I mean did they read the same book that told them it would take time? No, again they wanted the quick answer, the miracle cure that does not exist.

Recovery requires an understanding of what is happening and then a lot of patience so the mind can recover. If you have both these then recovery is inevitable.

If you would like to read my personal story of how I overcame anxiety then you will find this and much more in my best selling book ‘At last a life’. The book has sold over 100,000 copies and is recommended by many therapists and is now on prescription at many doctor’s surgeries.

Paul David
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