Recovery From Depersonalisation and Derealisation
“Understanding Feelings of Unreality”
Sufferers of Depersonalisation or Derealisation feel divorced from both the world and from their own body. Often people who experience depersonalisation claim that life “feels like a dream”, things seem unreal, or hazy; some say they feel detached from their own body to the extent that they may look in the mirror and not recognise the reflection toking back at them. Another symptom of this condition can be the constant worrying or strange thoughts that people find hard to switch off.
People often say that no matter how hard they try, they don’t feel like they can interact with others and the world around them. They feel a sense of detachment from their surroundings, finding it hard to talk and connect with others. Also that they feel there is a perplex screen between them and the outside, like the world is just going on around them and they feel no part of it.
Also, they feel no love for the people closest to them and even question if they did a certain task or had a particular conversation. The most upsetting thing is they lose a sense of who they are and can’t seem to perceive themselves as being normal.
Depersonalisation is a common and understandable offshoot of the anxiety condition. Before going further into how to overcome depersonalisation, let me clear up one thing that I get asked often. “No, you are not going mad.” This feeling comes from being constantly worried about your own problems or your inner state, it is not serious or harmful in any way and has a totally logical explanation. It is temporary and, with patience and understanding, eventually passes like any other symptom.
Symptoms of Depersonalisation and Derealisation
- The feeling of detachment from the world around you
- Complete lack of feeling and emotions
- Feeling no love for the people closest to you
- Blurred or cloudy vision
- The world looks one dimensional and has no depth to it
- Difficulty communicating with others, you feel like you have to think of each word and that your speech is robotic
- Everything appears flat and grey
- You feel bound within yourself, feeling very self-aware of yourself and your actions
- You feel no happiness or joy in anything you do
- Feeling like you are in a dream, that the world is going on around you, without you being part of it.
- Feeling like you are in a constant fog
- Feel mentally tired
Depersonalisation occurs with anxiety because you are so used to watching yourself, questioning your illness, day in, day out, that you start to feel detached from the outside world. Your mind has become tired and less resilient through watching and worrying about your symptoms. It has been bombarded with worrying thoughts and becomes fatigued.
When our limbs tire, they ache. When our mind tires, we feel these strange feelings of detachment from the world around us, experiencing an almost dreamlike state, convincing ourselves that we are going mad or losing it. You are not; your mind is just so very tired and just craves a rest from all this introspection of oneself.
When people are caught up in the worry cycle, they begin to think deeply and constantly. They study themselves from deep within, checking in and focusing on their symptoms. They may even wake in the morning only to continue this habit, “How do I feel this morning? “I wonder if I will be able to get through today”. What’s this new sensation I feel?” This may go on all day, exhausting their already tired mind further. This constant checking in and constant assessing of their symptoms then becomes a habit, but like all other habits, this one can also be changed.
All this worry is bound to make your mind feel dull and unresponsive, You are so concerned about how you feel, that you are letting nothing else into your day, is it any wonder you have come to feel so distanced and detached from your surroundings? Is it any wonder you find it so hard to concentrate? Some people, when studying for exams for hours on end, get to the point where they can no longer take information in, so they take a break and carry on the day after. For you, there are no breaks and no timeouts.
What a lot of people don’t know is that depersonalisation can occur in people without anxiety or panic issues. This can occur when someone has lost a loved one, been involved in an accident or maybe a recent shock. It is the body’s way of protecting you from all the worry or hurt you may be feeling. This is normally temporary and when say the person grieving overcomes some of the hurt, the depersonalisation will fade.
The trouble with anxiety is that people suffering have a tendency to worry and the depersonalisation comes along to protect you from all this stress and daily worry, it is the minds build in protection system, to protect itself as it wasn’t built to take on this onslaught.
The mind protects itself from this onslaught by using its own built-in system, like a trip switch, because it has been pushed way beyond what it was built for and so then like a computer goes into safe mode, where it allows you to function, but switches a lot of other things off, like emotions, certain senses and perceptions etc. Because of this, the person can then feel detached, empty or emotionless.
What happens then though is people begin to then worry and obsess over this new feeling, thinking it’s something serious or they are going mad. They may even forget their anxiety and focus solely on this new feeling, this can lead to these feelings increasing.
The unreality grows, as we enter a cycle of worry and fear and so your mind protects itself, even more, increasing the feelings of unreality, making you feel even more distanced and detached and so you worry and think even more deeply and then fall into a never-ending cycle. It is the very worry and fear over this condition that keeps you in the cycle.
The way to move forward out of depersonalisation is not to worry and obsess about it, but to work with it there, to give it as much space as it needs and not be too impressed by it. To see it as your intelligent mind protecting you and not a sign that something terrible is happening or that you are going mad. This symptom is like any other and the more you worry or obsess about it, the bigger the problem can become and the longer you stay in the cycle. Below is one of many emails I receive from people who were convinced they would never find a way out of this condition.
I took some convincing that this was just an off-shoot of anxiety at the time when I was suffering, I thought this must be more serious. Now I know that it was caused by nothing more than an overworked, exhausted mind protecting itself because I am living proof. I felt so detached that I could not read a book or follow a conversation. It was like taking part in some sort of movie, having to act my way through the day. I just could not connect with people or anything outside of my own little world.
I now know that I was just in the habit of worrying and watching myself all day and was so concerned about how I felt and how I could get better. I had no interest in the outside world; my condition consumed me, I was constantly in my head, trying to make sense of what was happening to me and how I could be free, no wonder I had no connection with the outside world, as the only world my attention was on, was my inner world.
Helpful tips on overcoming Depersonalisation and Derealisation
- Carry on with your normal daily life the best you can, whilst taking how you feel with you.
- Try and mix with others, even if you feel odd and detached from the conversation, see this as normal in the circumstances and do the best you can.
- Don’t over think the condition, the more you think and obsess about it, the more you overwork the exhausted mind and so it never gets the break it needs to heal.
- Don’t spend all day watching and worrying about how you feel, checking in constantly to monitor how you are doing. Your attention needs to start to become external, not more internal.
- Don’t become impatient, recovery from this condition takes time, give yourself as much time as you need.
- Don’t try and force normal feeling, fully accept your condition and admit for the time being that you won’t have the clarity you once had, but in time with true acceptance, this feeling will start to lift and you will once again be the person you were.
- Realise that this condition is temporary and not harmful in any way, understanding this will take so much worry and fear away.
- Take breaks from the outside and others if you need them, but don’t isolate yourself. It is fine if you feel mentally exhausted to take things easy, but don’t ever use it as an excuse to isolate yourself from the outside, this can send you into a spiral of deep thinking and self-pity.
- Go out in nature and take up some form of exercise. This was probably the number one thing for me. Not only did it get me out and engaging with the outside world and give me another focus. But also the fresh air and exercise is a great healer for the mind and body.
- Don’t be impressed by how you feel at any given time, see all your symptoms as part of the condition, don’t be impressed by any of them. If you had a cold you would not be impressed by a runny nose or a sore throat, so why be impressed by your own symptoms, they are all perfectly normal when suffering from this condition.
- Don’t get angry or frustrated by how you feel, true acceptance of this condition is the key to recovery.
This condition, like many others, relies on your fear of it to keep it alive and it is the subject I have been asked about most over the years. I do go into far more detail in my book and explain how I was able to recover from this harmless, yet disturbing condition. This condition can really throw people into thinking it is something far worse than it really is.
I myself found this feeling of detachment very hard to accept and understand, but when I fully understood what was happening and why I was keeping myself in the loop, in time I was able to heal myself and become back to the person I once was.
Tarmo was someone who came to me for help and here you can read his own personal story of how he overcame depersonalisation or if you found this page helpful and would like to read my own full story of recovery from anxiety and depersonalisation, then I have written it all down in my best-selling book ‘At Last a Life’