Recovery From Depersonalisation and Derealisation
“Understanding Feelings of Unreality”
What does depersonalisation feel like?
Sufferers of Depersonalisation or Derealisation tend to feel disconnected from both the world and their own body. Often people who experience depersonalisation claim that life “feels like a dream”; that things seem unreal or hazy, like their brain is in a fog. Some say they feel detached from their own body to the extent that they may look in the mirror and not recognise the reflection staring back at them. Another symptom of this condition can be the constant worrying or strange thoughts that people find hard to switch off.
Those suffering from Depersonalisation 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 other people.
A lot of sufferers also report feeling as though there is a perspex screen between them and the outside world. It’s like the world is just going on around them, but they no longer feel a part of it.
They may also experience little no love for the people closest to them and even question if they did a particular task or had a specific conversation. The most upsetting symptom for many is that they lose a sense of who they are and that they feel like their personality has gone forever.
Depersonalisation is a common and understandable offshoot of the anxiety condition. Before going any further into how to overcome depersonalisation, let me clear up one thing that I get asked often. “No, you are not going mad.” This condition mainly occurs through being constantly worried and preoccupied about your own problems and 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
- A sense of detachment from reality
- A total lack of emotions, feeling empty
- 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
- The world appears flat and grey
- You feel bound within yourself, becoming very self-aware of yourself and your actions
- Your speech is laboured and robotic
- There is no happiness or joy in anything you do
- Feeling like you are in a dream and the world is going on around you, without you being part of it.
- Feeling like you are in a constant fog
- Feeling mentally and physically exhausted
Depersonalisation occurs with anxiety due to you being so preoccupied with yourself, questioning your current state, day in, day out, worrying about how you are feeling and mentally trying to find a way out from your inner prison.
This constant worry and introspection is the reason you start to feel detached from the outside world as all your awareness is now focused inwards instead of outwards. Your brain has also become tired and less resilient due to this persistent onslaught.
It has been overloaded with constant thinking, worry and concern and so becomes incredibly fatigued and the reason thinking can become confused and laboured, and why you experience a sense of detachment from your surroundings.
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 and convincing ourselves that we are going mad or losing it. You are not; your mind is just so exhausted and craves a rest from all this introspection of oneself.
The effects of constant worry and concern
When people are caught up in the worry cycle, they begin to think deeply and continuously. 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 pattern 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 reversed.
All this worry is bound to make your mind feel dull and unresponsive. When you are so concerned about how you are feeling, then you are letting nothing else into your day while keeping the brain constantly active. Is it any wonder you have come to feel so distanced and detached from your surroundings and why you find it so difficult 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 is the cause of Depersonalisation and Derealisation?
What a lot of people don’t realise is that depersonalisation can occur in people without anxiety or panic issues. It can happen when someone has lost a loved one, been involved in an accident, gone through past trauma, had a bad reaction to a recreational drug, or maybe suffered a recent shock.
It is the mind’s way of protecting you from all the worry, concern, or hurt you may be feeling, like a safety switch that has been triggered. This feeling is usually temporary, and when, for example, the person grieving starts to overcome the initial shock and deep thinking about their loss, then the mild depersonalisation they are experiencing will begin to fade.
The problem with some anxiety sufferers is that they always tend to worry and overthink about everything and so then the mind defends itself from this onslaught by using its built-in system to protect itself. This safety switch kicks in because the brain has been pushed way beyond its limit of what it is designed to cope with, this is what depersonalisation is, the mind saying enough is enough.
It’s like a computer that goes into safe mode. It allows you to function but switches a lot of other functions off, such as emotions, certain senses and perceptions, etc. Because of this, the person can still get through the day but may feel detached, empty and emotionless while doing so.
When initially feeling this way, most people then begin to worry and obsess over these new symptoms of depersonalisation, thinking it’s something serious or that they are going mad. They may even forget their initial anxiety and focus solely on these new feelings.
The unreality increases for many as they enter into a cycle of worry and fear over their new symptoms and so the mind continues to protect itself, increasing the feelings of unreality. They then begin to feel more distanced and detached and so they worry and think even more deeply, falling into a never-ending cycle. It is the very worry and fear over this condition that keeps you in the loop.
How do I recover from Depersonalisation?
The way to move forward out of depersonalisation is not to worry or obsess about the disturbing symptoms you are currently feeling, but to work with them there; to give them as much space as they need without being too impressed by how you feel.
Begin 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 becomes and so 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.
Hi there Paul,
I just wanted to thank you. After countless doctor’s visits, I still never knew what I suffered from until I found your website!! I have suffered from terrible anxiety for the last year following a panic attack I had back in February. After finding you for the first time back in November and following your advice, I am making huge strides every day to recover. I suffered terribly from depersonalisation and these strange, scary thoughts. The depersonalisation was so frightening and even more so as no one ever explained to me what it was until your book talked me through it. I saw a social worker for six months, and she let me suffer for so long without one explanation of my symptoms. I honestly and truly thought this was me forever. With your advice, I am getting better every day, the depersonalisation is completely gone, and now I am working on letting go of these crazy thoughts!!
God Bless you and thanks for everything you do
I took some convincing that this was just an offshoot of anxiety at the time when I was suffering. I was convinced that this must be far more serious and I was finally on my way to losing my mind. Now I know that it was caused by nothing more than an overworked, exhausted mind protecting itself from what I was putting it through.
At one point, I felt so detached that I could not read a book or follow a conversation. It was like taking part in some movie, having to act my way through the day. I could not connect with people or anything outside of my inner world. I even remember one day walking down the road counting cars to try and feel part of my surroundings. I had no idea at the time that I was doing this to myself.
I now know that I was just in the habit of overthinking, worrying and obsessively watching myself all day. I had no interest in the outside world; my condition consumed me. I was stuck 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. With all the constant thinking and worrying about my condition, it is any wonder I fell deeper into this condition? I never gave my poor, overworked mind a single break, no wonder it had, had enough.
Helpful tips on overcoming Depersonalisation and Derealisation
- Carry on with your normal life the best you can, while taking how you feel with you.
- Try and mix with others, even if you feel odd and detached from the conversation. Accept 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, always checking in to monitor how you are doing. Your attention needs to start to become less internal and more external.
- Don’t become impatient. Recovery from this condition takes time. Give yourself as much time as you need.
- Don’t try and force normal feelings. Fully accept your condition and admit for the time being that you won’t have the clarity you once had. 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 detach yourself from the outside world.
- Go out in nature and take up some form of exercise. Getting out more was was probably the number one thing for me. Not only did it give me another focus but also the fresh air and exercise were great for my mental health.
- Don’t be impressed by how you feel at any given time. See all of your symptoms as part of the condition but don’t be concerned by any of them. If you had a cold you would not be bothered by a runny nose or a sore throat, so why be impressed by your 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.
- Take a real look at your life and find as many ways to cut down on stress and worry as you can, the less you put your mind through the sooner it will heal. The mind needs a rest now more than ever. So learn to just be, instead of always worrying and stressing over things. Maybe take up a daily meditation practice or a daily walk in nature.
The symptoms of Depersonalisation can throw people into thinking it is something far worse than it is. I found this feeling of detachment very hard to accept and understand, but when I fully realised what was happening and how I was keeping myself in the loop, I was able to heal myself and revert to the person I once was.
The real key to recovery and the whole point of the post is you need to allow yourself to fall into this condition without continually trying to escape or fix it; it is this approach that will give your mind the break it needs to slowly heal. Fighting with it, worrying about its or trying to solve it just requires you to use more brain energy, creates more inward thinking, concentrated focus and so has the opposite effect.
So, allowing is not some technique; it is a common-sense approach to healing. It stops the mind from fighting against the mind; it ceases all the overthinking of the condition. Allowing cuts down on all the struggle and constant mental activity, it is just a complete surrender of all techniques and effort that allows a process of healing to take place.
The condition, like many others, relies on your fear of it to keep it alive and the reason you struggle with it as you do, always obsessing and trying to do something about it.
It is the subject I have been asked about more than any other over the years. For those who want further reading, then I do go into far more detail in my book ‘At last a life‘ and explain how I was able to recover from this harmless, yet disturbing condition. You can also read my own story of how I recovered from depersonalisation.
Tarmo was also someone who came to me for help when he suffered terribly from this condition and thought there was nowhere out. Here you can read his story of how he overcame depersonalisation.