Derealization: Anxiety’s Strangest Symptom

This…thing used to happen to me.  I started noticing in junior high, but it might have been there all my life.  It would start as a moment of intense deja vu.  As the deja vu faded, a dreamy feeling would overtake me.  Then, for a few minutes, I’d feel totally detached from the things I identified as my “self.”  The entire episode would be over in under ten minutes, and it wasn’t exactly unpleasant.  More just…strange.  I tried to explain the symptoms to my parents, but they weren’t sure they understood.  “I think that sort of sounds familiar,” my mom said.  “Maybe I had it when I was a kid.  I can’t remember.”

Later, I noticed a similar phenomenon: a feeling of unreality, of dreaming, of separation from real life and all its trappings.  That feeling could last all day.  After 9/11, I had it on and off for months.  And, though it may sound kind of fun on paper, this feeling was awful.  I knew it related to anxiety, but I didn’t understand it and couldn’t think clearly while experiencing it.

During these episodes, it felt like anything could happen, and not in a good way.  Aliens might invade.  Dinosaurs might wake from beneath the earth and eat us.  During these episodes, nothing could surprise, but everything could terrify.  I suspected that I might be developing schizophrenia.

When I first heard the terms “depersonalization” and “derealization,” I nearly cried.  I wasn’t developing psychosis, I was experiencing a relatively common symptom associated with anxiety disorders.

Depersonalization is the feeling of being attached from one’s self.  Sufferers sometimes feel like robots, going through motions without thought or feeling.  Some feel like they’re watching themselves from a distance.  For me, depersonalization was simpler–just the complete feeling of detachment.

Derealization is almost impossible to explain, I think.  Wikipedia says “[d]erealization… is an alteration in the perception or experience of the external world so that it seems unreal,” but nothing in that description indicates how truly terrible this experience can be.  Derealization is the feeling of dreaming while you’re awake.  Derealization is unshakable deja vu or jamais vu.  Derealization is uncrossable distance between you and the things and people you care about.  In my opinion, derealization is hell on Earth.  Nothing I’ve experienced, except for the apex of a true panic attack, is as awful or crippling.

It’s very common to experience depersonalization and/or derealization during periods of intense stress.  I certainly experienced some degree of both during panic attacks.  In a horrifying situation, the feeling of unreality can be a comfort.  “Spontaneous” derealization, however, offers no benefit.  And, though we know episodes of derealization are related to mental illnesses such as Panic Disorder, doctors don’t know exactly what’s happening in the brain during an episode.  People who suffer from epilepsy also sometimes experience derealization, and derealization does not cause hallucinations or delusions.  I know that I can trigger derealization by sleeping too many hours or being alone for too long.

The best–maybe the only–way to fight an episode of derealization is to practice mindfulness.  Sufferers are encouraged to pay close attention to their surroundings.  When I have an episode, I go outside and just observe.  I touch trees and walls.  I count hats or coats or people who seem happy.  I don’t think about life’s big questions or my place in the world, because I know that I need to be present in order to regain my feeling of reality.

If your child may be suffering from depersonalization or depersonalization, explain that it’s related to anxiety and not psychosis (“going insane”).  Give your child an age-appropriate vocabulary to describe his experience.  Encourage him to stay in the moment by making a game of observation: how many things in this room are purple?  Go outside with your child and make him touch the real world.  


60 thoughts on “Derealization: Anxiety’s Strangest Symptom

  1. Thank you for this.
    It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one who experiences this.
    A terribly horrifying, persistent, foggy, faded feeling.
    Sleep deprivation or extended periods of isolation usually cause this.
    When it occurs, I focus on my hands.
    I stare at them, reminding myself that it is merely caused by anxiety and will pass.
    Once I relax, and close my eyes for a while, the feeling fades.
    Try something new, thrilling or spontaneous. It will make you feel ALIVE.
    And this will prevent it from returning.
    Stay positive!

  2. Hello, I really appreciate this blog post. Coming out of a divorce and the passing of my father, I struggled with feeling of derealization. I actually just published a short film attempting to illustrate the feeling to other people. This is an abstract non-narrative piece.

    Check it out and let me know what you think.


  3. I don’t know if my experience compares, exactly. Decide for yourself….
    A quarter century ago, derealization latched onto me at puberty and hung on ever since. The world’s depth and substance drained away to imprison me in a dull, matte-finish painting. A non-stop flood of thoughts took over, dissecting life into sterile bits and pieces. From inside a hollow, eerie shell, I could no longer feel the waves of psychic energy cascading off of others. People merged with the background scenery, their souls blown out into the void. Even family became little more than figments and echoes of people I once knew, people since transformed into fetid, flesh-only enigmas. The only thing worse than physical isolation in the absence of others is emotional isolation in the presence of others. The constant, tantalizing reminder that understanding, friendship and intimacy will forever remain just out of reach, somewhere beyond the sensory shell.
    There’s nothing obvious about this condition, though. It has taken me a quarter century to figure out what went missing. Therapists are still scratching their heads over the cause. By golly, if there is a way out, I surely don’t see it.

    1. That’s a great description of how I feel- have felt for the most part of the last 12 years. It’s discouraging to hear that you’ve suffered like this for 25years and still don’t have much hope of an end to it. Don’t know if you’re religious but praying and reading really help me.
      All the best

    2. David, I think you point to the very thing that could save you. “The only thing worse than physical isolation in the absence of others is emotional isolation in the presence of others.” That feeling is not necessarily something caused by the disorder, although the disorder may make it more true and harder to break through. I believe that the emotional isolation caused by my emotionally unavailable parents is the root of my episodes of derealization. The way out, I believe is learning to have SAFE and emotionally intimate relationships–which a good therapist can help with. (I haven’t had an episode in years.) Based on your words, it sounds like you’re a writer at heart. Make sure you are writing, too. I have a lot of hope for you.

  4. I get this every year. It’s around the time I was kidnapped & my father was murdered. It’s getting worse & lasting longer. I thought I was going crazy – it’s so terrifying. But I’m on anti-anxiety meds which helps me to sleep. I’m using some cognitive behaviour therapy & yes going outside & visiting seem to be my biggest helps.
    Thank you everyone, it’s good to know I’m not alone.

  5. This is exactly how I feel and yes it does feel like I’m going crazy! It’s terrifying especially since my fiance works out of town and I’m alone alot of the time. I have this anxiety that hasn’t gone away for over a month. It’s CONSTANT. Has anyone else experienced constant anxiety and was there something you did to alleviate it? I don’t eat/drink any stimulating things with caffeine so I have no basis for why it creeped up on me a month ago and won’t go away. If you have any insights it would be appreciative. Thanks.

    1. Specific habits, thoughts and suppressed emotions trigger episodes of derealisation that can linger and intensify if the underlying problems are not addressed.

      I find the major perpetrators to be sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, suppressed anger, relationship breakdowns, substance use, over-working, low self-esteem and constant work-related or domestic-related stress.

      It’s just the body’s way of saying “hey, I’m a little overwhelmed here, you need to wake up to yourself and sort some stuff out!!! Time for a lifestyle change!!! Time for a new outlook!!!”. Whatever emotions, fears and thoughts you are suppressing let them SURFACE. Face them. DEFEAT THEM.

      You are certainly not going crazy. Relax your body. Listen to your mind.

      Take up new hobbies, go for regular spa treatments, distract yourself with sport, music, yoga, dance. GO VISIT FAMILIAR PLACES, that you love, even ones associated with your childhood, I found that to be MOST beneficial. It provides a sense of comfort and familiarity, which will help you overcome feelings of being “unreal”. START LIVING and you’ll begin to FEEL ALIVE!

      It takes time though. I struggled immensely for almost a year – I delayed my progress by ignoring my issues. FACE THEM NOW. But keep in mind, sometimes, the derealisation returns. Don’t fight it. Let it reveal to you your inner apprehensions. LEARN TO LOVE EVERY FIBRE OF YOUR BEING. It is all about controlling your mind by COMBATING YOUR FEARS. Dig deep. Really deep. Find out what is really bothering you. And once it disappears, so will the detachment.

      BEST OF LUCK! Stay positive.

  6. I’ve experienced derealization/depersonalization for some time now.
    My earliest memory of it is in 3rd grade, though I’m almost certain I had it before that.
    I found out what it was called and that others experienced it on a website, but I looked it up on Wikipedia and found
    “Derealization (DR) is a change in the way someone views the world so that it seems unreal. Derealization can also make someone feel as if their environment does not have emotion or depth. This is a symptom of other problems, such as sleeping disorders, schizophrenia, and other mental disorders”

    I thought I had schizophrenia or another mental disorder and it scared me. But reading this, I found that that wasn’t necessarily true. Thank you.

  7. I happened across this entry on Fearless Learning today, and I have to thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge about derealization. I developed severe generalized anxiety disorder starting in 1999. On top of the feeling of impending doom, I felt like I was in a vivid dream almost all the time, which would compound the anxiety. For years, I kept asking friends or family if the light looked strange, because everything looked normal, but not quite. Finally, I described the sensation to my therapist. She said, “Oh, that’s called derealization. It’s quite common with anxiety.” Those two sentences changed my life. I still get it occasionally, but I know what it is, so it doesn’t freak me out anymore.

  8. I started experiencing derealization, along with depression and anxiety, almost ten years ago around the time I first left home to go to college. I had never had any mental health issues until then, and I had lived a very happy, carefree, stable existence for all of my childhood and teenage years. I attribute the change to, well… change. I had grown up in suburbia, had lots of close friends, a great family, and was always involved in sports. Naturally, I grew antsy and wanted to try new things. So, my senior year of high school I quit volleyball, got a boyfriend (lost my virginity), and eventually went off to college in another state. All of these changes, which I had thought were going to be exciting and harmless, turned out to be very traumatic for me. I have struggled with derealization, depression, and anxiety ever since. I have tried many different things to combat them, including medication, acupuncture, and lifestyle changes. Over the last couple years, I have gradually started to come out of the “fog”. As far as I can tell, it is key that I have stability and comfort in my life in order to feel better. Things that have helped are: surrounding myself with close family and friends, not spending too much time alone, talking about my feelings, exercising regularly, and a steady job that keeps me accountable and challenges me. It is also key that I feel like I am a part of something greater – that I can rely on people outside of myself and they can rely on me. Other things that help: pets and sex (not together of course!). Cute, cuddly animals = happiness. And, sex releases lots of positive chemicals in your body. If you’re feeling down – do something about it! Go for a walk in nature, hug someone, listen to/watch a comedy skit, masturbate (seriously!). This is often easier said than done, especially for those with depression who feel tired and unmotivated (believe me, I’ve been there). It also helps to find someone or something that inspires or motivates you. This could be a higher power, a person in your life, a mantra that you repeat to yourself. Whatever works for you.

    I like to think of derealization as one of my body’s defense mechanisms. Everyone says it is really scary, and it is. But don’t forget to think about why it’s happening. You probably have anxiety, and your body/brain are in fact trying to help you by mentally “checking out”. Same reason why people drink or do drugs – to escape emotional pain. The weird thing with derealization is that it sometimes makes the emotional pain worse. It’s a vicious cycle. So…work on treating your anxiety and the underlying causes. Get to the root of the problem and you will be able to treat the symptoms. Realize that derealization is a natural chemical response, and that others are experiencing the same thing. It’s okay, the world is not ending – you’ve just taken a little mental vacay to escape your stress. You can try looking at the positives too. For me, derealization has helped me to be more outgoing. When I was young, I used to be very shy and softspoken. Feeling detached from the world around me actually allowed me to feel less scared about speaking my mind and having attention focused on me in social/group situations. I’m not really a religious person but I’ve kind of come to the conclusion that there’s a reason for everything, especially if you open your eyes to it. If you think what I’m saying is cheesy bullsh*t, just try thinking that way for a couple days for a new perspective. It can’t hurt, and even if it is bullsh*t it might in fact work for you. And finally…don’t give up! Just a teensy bit of hope is all you need. If you’ve ever felt “normal”, then you know it’s possible for you to feel “normal” again, right?

    I would say I’m about 75% “cured”. Interestingly, it’s been kind of scary for me to come out of feeling derealized. I actually got used to the feeling, and it’s kind of weird to be experiencing things in a normal and very real way again. I have to keep telling myself to let it happen gradually and naturally, because a big part of me wants to feel 100% better instantly. But, I’m letting my body/brain do what it needs to do and heal how it needs to heal. It’s a process and it’s probably something that you will always have to work at. Remember there is no silver bullet, there are many lifestyle choices that, in combination, will help you to feel better and ultimately become happy and healthy and the best version of yourself! Hope this helps!

    1. Amy, I feel that you have given me something to really think about. I have severe sleep apnea and also suffer from anxiety, depression and ptsd. I came out of an home filled with verbal/emotional abuse and then married into the same thing. After about 12 yrs of dealing with it in a marriage setting, I had my ex removed from our home and filed for divorce with me having sole custody of our 3 children. The only difference between my parents and my ex was my ex became physically abusive at the end. Also, I developed ptsd after being in a house that was hit 2 times within 15 min with 2 different tornadoes. This was the eve of my 19th birthday.
      With all of that stress along with raising a child with Asperger’s alone, I have developed what might be derealization. I have noticed during stressful times at work, I have “zoned” out at different times while working. I do this and don’t even realize it has happened. It usually lasts no more than 45 seconds. I don’t even realize it has happened until someone points it out!! It is extremely embarrassing! I am seeking counseling and have been off and on for a number of years.
      What you have described, feels like the closest description so far.

  9. Honestly the best way out is a fake it till u make it mentality. Force yourself to laugh and smile even when u don’t feel like it, it’s scientifically proven to improve your mood and health. Do things to get ur mind off of ur troubles like watching a funny movie, serial watching a gripping drama on Netflix, watching videos on YouTube, looking up things u want to buy online. Temporarily shifting focus to shallower and more materialistic things may sound negative, but for us deep thinking anxiety sufferers it can b exactly what we need. U just have to find something to break focus from the detached and negative thoughts n feelings. Just know what your experiencing is normal, not harmful, and makes u a lot tougher than most regardless of how u feel. Ur kind of a badass to be feeling this and continuing on, so know how tough u really r n use it as motivation to keep going and get what you want out of life!! The Bible says to think only on things that are pure, lovely, and true… which is good advice no matter ur beliefs. You may not be able to control every thought that pops n ur head, but u can shift ur thinking to happier thoughts! Good luck and God bless!!

  10. just pray to god even if you are not religious i have had it too and i am glad i am not the only one like this in the world and also if nothing was real couldn’t we do anything we wanted? thank you for support

  11. I used to describe it as a “dolls in a dollhouse” feeling when I was littler. It started for me around the age of 7 maybe even younger. I just had this feeling that I was only a doll, not someone real, and neither was anyone else and we were all being played with. It would get so intense that I would be still and letting whatever happened take over because I wasn’t in control of myself. I would completely zone out and not hear my surroundings but others could ask me things and I would respond normally. It was all in my head. Now that I am older it’s more of an extreme hollow feeling in which I do not feel present with myself. I’m here but I’m not here. I am here physically but mentally I am gone. I don’t know where I am but for short OR long periods of time, depending on the episode, I am unaware of myself. Sometimes these episodes lead to extreme paranoia or anxiety. It’s not uncommon and for people with anxiety it is normal and something someone can easily develop. It’s also the hardest thing to try and explain because there simply are no words.

    1. I have been dealing with anxiety and think that i have developed depersonalization and derealization as a result. Sometimes when im looking around it almost feels like im not REALLY looking at it…like if im holding something in my hands it sometimes feel like IM not actually holding it…and like things around me IM not actually looking at it. The other night, i was walking down the street and this feeling just came over me, where i felt really withdrawn from my surrondings and had to question myself if i was really there and looking at everything…does this sound like DP/DR??

  12. im really suffering from derealization everything looks like im in a dream,just looking the sky makes me feel im psychosis. i also suffer with depersonalization. did somebody woke up ever from this dream.

    1. Yes. People do get better. I did. It took a while. I was in therapy and on medication for anxiety and depression for a few years before it completely left. I used to be particularly disturbed by the daytime sky as well–I don’t know why. I got better. When my therapist told me it was common in people with anxiety it really helped. Educate yourself as much as possible about anxiety/depression and derealization/depersonalization and remember you’re not crazy, but you are disturbed and frightened by this phenomenon, which is totally understandable. Get professional help if you can, pray, and keep reminding yourself that this is something that is probably a natural reaction to stress or trauma that has gotten completely out of whack and won’t subside like it’s supposed to. And get in touch with people that have suffered from this and have gotten better. Don’t despair, things can change.

      1. I have been dealing with anxiety and think that i have developed depersonalization and derealization as a result. Sometimes when im looking around it almost feels like im not REALLY looking at it…like if im holding something in my hands it sometimes feel like IM not actually holding it…and like things around me IM not actually looking at it. The other night, i was walking down the street and this feeling just came over me, where i felt really withdrawn from my surrondings and had to question myself if i was really there and looking at everything…does this sound like DP/DR??

  13. Jesus
    .. Ive been wondering what this ‘thing’ was for months and months, you described it so accurately. The first time I experienced it was horrible because it felt like nothing in the world mattered, not in a good, carefree way, mean in this empty, i havs no attatchment to any person, place, event or thing and O was scared i would never feel normal again but it only lasted for maybe a minute or two thank god. I think this is also one of those things that you cant understand unless you experience it, no english words i can think of can do the explanation justice, this is the best description ive read and im glad i came across it cos i was beginning to think i was mad, thanks

  14. I’m 17, and I’ve been suffering for the better part of a year. I believe it all stems from a chronic ear issue I have, which I’ve pretty much now accepted that I’m stuck with. Getting these feelings of unreality is terrifying – I’m writing this after waking up, and I’m currently calming down after a particularly bad episode where I felt like I was still dreaming. Most of the time, it doesn’t bother me, and I notice that the only real time it does is when I’m alone, when I have my thoughts to myself. I’m considering getting professional help to try to combat the issue, as it’s starting to interfere with my life in a negative way. Again, I’m aware that whilst it may be caused by my ear problem, I should try to deal with the one thing that I do have control over; my mind. It’s really reassuring to see other people in the same situation, and I hope the best for you all in tackling DPD.

  15. I have derealisation and my main thoughts are about how we exist, how does our brain work, what are thoughts, how do we think, etc, etc…. It is awful and I feel trapped with these thoughts inside my head which is very frightening. I understand these thoughts are connected to the derealisation disorder. Does any feel like this and have these thoughts?

    1. You just described what I feel perfectly. I get obsessed with how my brain works, how thoughts and memories are invisible yet somehow we see them. How do we think ect… it gets scary because how do i change what im thinking about when im thinking about thinking. I know that it might not make sense to most but just know you are not alone.

      1. Yes it is really scary and I know it is a symptom of derealisation. Hopefully it will pass soon. I have had these feelings and thoughts before, caused by anxiety, which can last quite a while but they do subside in time. Just have to try to distract ourselves.
        At the moment though I do feel trapped by these thoughts …. it is horrible! Thank you for responding to my message. X

  16. I’m not sure if derealization describes how I get because if I do have it then it is very mild. I sometimes just feel disconnected from what I am doing. I can do everything I’d normally do and I never do anything weird, but I just don’t feel like I’m there. In these short periods, I can talk to people and make jokes. I laugh and think it’s funny. Yet, at the same time, I just don’t feel anything. It’s like I’m a spectator in someone else’s life. These periods last for maybe an hour at the most. They come and go. Sometimes they come more often than others. I guess it’s derealization, but either way, I’m not afraid of it. I just wait until I can go home and by then it might be gone OR I just relax. I find that I can’t get out of the dream periods unless I focus on ONE thing. So, I play a computer game for a couple of hours. I snap right out of it. I hope this works for you guys. It does for me.

  17. This has been useful……but i still wonder if this is what i have as……when this happens to me i feel i have been in a totally unconcious state and the only way i can describe this is complete shutdown. I have no warning that it is going to happen….and the first i am aware is when i am leaving this state in an extreamly confused state….a state of what i can only discribe as:- like being newborn….not knowing what anything around me is….or who or what i am…accompanied by terror….total confussion….and major panic attack! Does this sound familiar to anyone… i have been diagnosed with DP/DR but having read this it doesnt seem to fit? I am at the moment having therapy for severe repeated PTSD and anxiety disorder.

  18. I used to experience this a lot as a child and in my pre-teens (I was – and still am – a very anxious person, prone to depression). All of a sudden I’d be struck with a feeling of complete unreality: it was a bit like being in a glass cage or a translucent fog. Time seemed to act very strangely: I’d have a feeling of it passing very quickly, in odd jerks, and at the same time it would seem to stand still. I felt like I was almost out of myself, or existing only in the moment: I had no past or future, I was not coherent at all. People and surroundings seemed strange, remote and unfamiliar. I got very tired. It was extremely disorienting, unpleasant and scary. These episodes got less frequent as I got older, and it is only in recent years that I, like you, have started to read about dissociative states and derealisation. It is comforting to know I’m not alone in having had these frightening experiences.

  19. I have had derealization since I was 16 years old, after a bad experience with pot. I’m now in my mid-50’s. It has kind of gone away for a few seconds three or four times over the course of my life. I function fairly well having completed a graduate degree, maintaining a good career, and owning my own home.

    The area I have not done well in is regarding my relationships. I have been divorced two times. In both instances I was not in love with my partners. I don’t know how to love because I don’t know how to feel that particular feeling. I can express affection, I’ve been told I’m great in bed, I say and do the right things (most of the time) but, there isn’t a real connection to any of it. It’s like being wrapped in gauze and relating to the world. Missing people, jealousy, possessiveness are feelings alien to me.

    Three years ago I met an amazing gal that lives in South America. At first I was really into her and then started backing away because she was kind of high maintenance. However, I have made it a point to see her periodically because for some reason I did not want to not have her in my life. We always have had a great time, but I’ve been on medications to relax so I can be around her. If I don’t take something, I start feeling very anxious, like I’m trapped. Intellectually I know I am not trapped, but emotionally I feel like I am.

    A week ago she was pistol whipped and robbed. Within four hours after I heard what happened, I was on a plane to see her. I was there for five days. The first two I tried to just be in the moment with her, and my anxiety came and went throughout the day. The only time I didn’t feel anxious was when we were intimate. The following two days I drugged myself up so I could feel normal. The last day, I only took 1/2 of a 0.5 of Xanax in the morning. Even after it wore off I felt so happy to be with her. I had my derealization like I always do, but without the accompanying anxiety. We had a great day and evening. I felt so close to her. The next day I did not take any medication. She went with me to the airport and below my derealization I could feel something, but it was just out of reach. When I got home I felt great for about four days.

    I had sent her something in the mail to share and she instead made a bunch of suggestions on how to “improve” when I sent her. Rather than just see the gesture for what it was, her way of helping, I started getting really anxious about it. I started feeling suffocated and trapped and wanting to run away. Why do I need to run when I live 16 hours by plane from her?

    I want so much to just feel normal. I don’t care if I have derealization the rest of my life if the anxiety would just leave me alone so I could have a chance of loving this woman and creating something positive out of the experience. She loves me so much. She knows everything about me and she still loves me. Unconditional love is the purest love there is. Between my derealization and my…….relationship anxiety….I feel like I have no hope.

    We are going on a trip for three weeks in December and instead of looking forward to it, I’m dreading it. How can I feel at the airport less than a week ago so close to her and now when I think of her, I want her to disappear? Is it the derealization, relationship anxiety, a combination thereof? I feel such a sense of hopelessness. I don’t want to wind up by myself simply because I couldn’t figure a way out of my own mental health issues.

  20. I don’t think this is as severe, but whenver I’m out with friends or at a football game, or just having fun. I start to zone out and then I feel like I’m not there. It’s been happening since I was around 12.

    1. I can relate to that. When I’d go to football games for band, I’d start to feel like the lights above me were too bright, and that the world was slowly turning inside-out, like it was just some kind of mirage hiding the truth behind it.

  21. There are a few really good things you can try.

    This by far helps me the most.
    1. Cold water on a small hand towel rung out , placed over face or neck.
    2. Reminding yourself, your not stuck like this.
    3. Caffeine. It’s strange because caffine usually triggers anxiety, but if you are having DR/DP it can bring you out of it.
    4. DON’T GIVE IN. DONT, think wow, my body and hands look seem/ strange. Say NO! I AM HERE NOW. In reality this is a symptom of anxiety not going nuts.
    5. Engage in small talk w a stranger at store or at doctors or ?. This is buy far the best for derealization, it really snaps you out of it. If your able to chit chat.

  22. Thank you the entirety of the world for that post! I cannot say how much this makes me feel better, less alone. So the most I can say is that I think your solution to these utterly strange, odd experiences is a brilliant response. Thanks again!

  23. Thank you for your post. I am suffering with derealization and visual (lights) disturbances. I have gone through major depression/anxiety and have sleep apnea. I feel trapped by this horrific symptom. Sometimes I can barely cope with it.

    1. I’m finding that refocusing is the best way to cope for me. If I’m out somewhere & it’s happening I try to zone into something else as a distraction like counting something, trying to figure out how something around me works, or getting into a conversation, etc. The more positive the better! If I’m really struggling I start counting my blessings or think about those who have it a lot worse & give myself a pep talk to help change my perspective. I have found that getting sucked into a tv show, working on a project I enjoy, looking up funny videos or jokes online & doing something to help others are always good options for pulling me out of the derealization mode. It’s like u have to fake it & go on about life as if it’s normal & it’s starts to fall into place, it’s just a bumpy ride. It comes & goes, but slowly u realize ur getting better & that u can enjoy things everyone else totally misses & takes for granted. 🙂 Hang in there, this too shall pass I promise!!! Try to find little things that u can enjoy even if it’s just moments here & there it heals u… Ur not alone & U can kick this!!! I pray u find joy & peace… God bless!

  24. Three years ago when I was 43, I had my first random panic attack and since then have struggled with general anxiety and later depression. But the most difficult symptom is the derealization which has accompanied me constantly for over two years now. Currently not on any medication as I am able to function normally but feel like shit all the time due to DR. Was seeing a shrink for a year when I took SSRI medication.. He told me it was a normal symptom and I should pretend i am stoned or drunk all the time and actually enjoy it.. Yes he said that..My biggest struggle is debating whether I should simply ignore it and carry on (however crappy that feels) or should I fight it somehow.. As of now I am losing hope I will ever be my good old normal self again..

    1. I tried a couple different SSRI’s…neither of which helped. Following my diagnosis, I was prescribed Zoloft. It made me completely emotionless, and at first it seemed better than experiencing uncontrollable emotions. Luckily I decided numbing myself wasn’t the answer. Earlier this year, I tried Celexa. I woke up every morning wishing that I hadn’t, and I constantly had thoughts of suicide. There are other types of medications that aren’t SSRI’s to treat anxiety with depression as a symtom. There are anxiolytics, as well as mood stabilizers that may work for you. It definitely changed my life. I feel more like myself than I have since I was diagnosed. Hope you find something that works!

  25. Derealization is by far the scariest symptom I’ve experienced during a panic attack. For a long time I was terrified of developing schizophrenia; a family member I was close to committed suicide after suffering from schizophrenia for 15 years. I find it reassuring that other people have experienced similar symptoms that I have faced. People who don’t understand anxiety disorders tend to think one of two things: I’m being “dramatic,” or worse…I’m a “psycho.”

  26. If one is crys alot and feels a deeper love towards their love ones, but yet things feel unfamiliar/sort of unreal is that Dr? I heard that many with this sort of detach and I don’t.

    Not sure but I think I went through this or similar as a teen while smoking lots of weed and doing lots of wild things. It never actually bothered though and I even actually enjoyed the feeling, as long as I was laughing a lot and feeling GOOD, and being not afraid to express yourself because that’s what makes you feel alive, strong, clear, and in control.

    But yet here recently I have to say that I had several family events happen all at once, it seemed to pile up, and it scared/worried me really bad, and it did a big time number on my nerves. I woke up shortly thereafter feeling like I was not feeling awake, sort of in a sleep mode, can’t seem to really ever focus in, vision dim, things like food, or the TV, looked dull/different, it’s a very off/unsafe feeling, and made me feel uncomfortable.

    And what I do is try to hold my children longer and open
    Up and tell people how I feel. Tell them you love them, things like that, and try to relax, get and give massages, release built up tension, and do as many pleasurable things as possible.

    But, I will say it’s hard to swallow that anxiety can do such a thing to people. It’s one thing if you see something, or go through something super crazy, for something like that to happen temporarily and fade off. Or do something obvious such a deprive yourself of sleep. But for those who go through this day in and day out is ridiculous. It’s simply not normal. I wish there was a better explanation than just ‘anxiety’ so that it would “click” – because those in this boat just want to feel normal again and compassion is key.

    1. Exactly. When my small town doctor tells me this is an anxiety attack, I look at him and say “nearly every day? Sometimes for as long as 6 or 8 hours??? Don’t tell me that’s normal”

  27. What I can not understand though is how can one feel- feelings this bizarre and feel “divorced” from ones self, but yet still function, work, etc? If some one feels this way do they still fully remember themselves? Their past?

    This is what drives me a little nuts about these terms. They can be vague, and all the symptoms can relate, to other so called “disorders”

    Like for example: one person could say they “dissociate” which to some is simply zoning out (which we all do) and that could easily be coined ADHD.

    Its could just be good old fashioned day dreaming from time to time. Doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong with you.

    Another example is symptoms of dr could easily be from sleep deprivation or constant sleep that interrupted due to several things.

  28. Thank you so much I’ve been feeling Depersonalization for about 3 years now and had no idea exactly what I was going threw and now I understand it makes me cry to think about. I thort I was the only one like I was going crazy, thank you for taking the time to rite this post without you I would be lost forever.

  29. Ahh your notes on this made me cry. It is hell on earth and I’ve been in it almost every day anywhere from 1 hour to 8 hours a day. I’ve been to my doctor countless times. The amount of stress I’ve endured in the past 2 years has apparently been too much stress. So now derealization. It’s a nightmare. Literally.

  30. I’ve had an anxiety disorder since I was a child, and derealisation episodes since then too, but only in recent years has it gotten crippling. In my last year of school I would say I made it to about 30-40% of classes that year. I couldn’t sit in certain classrooms because of it. Everything from my own mind to the way the room was lit affected it. I recently just started ignoring it about 2 years ago, which helped as I just didn’t care anymore, but it has come up again in one specific area, not really anywhere else. I rarely get episodes of anxiety anymore, but this one walk to and from college affects me every day, I’m even thinking about it now. I shouldn’t have to worry about a 15 minute walk home, but I do. I found that doctors don’t really understand it and it’s very difficult to describe as I believe it comes differently for everyone. I personally feel like I am watching a film around me, I am ‘aware’ of my body but also feel an odd lightness, so any change in footwear even can set it off, my head sometimes feels as though it’s a foot above my body and the desire to just panic and turn around is unavoidable sometimes, sometimes to people who don’t have it I will describe it as ‘vertigo without any height’ or that feeling you get when you zone out and ‘wake up’. The walk is on a busy main road so I am literally on a long stretch with nothing to grab onto or run to. I found that using an umbrella as a ‘shield’ so that I don’t look up and phase myself out helps. Not exactly facing the problem head on, but if it gets me to college, then so be it. Strangely, I was fine walking in and out up until the end of January/start of February. Don’t know what set it off.

    1. I’ve had a similar issue since I lost my part-time job about two months ago – I started having it maybe 2-3 weeks into this unemployed phase. For me, I’ve had it most acutely while driving on the highway, which even made me have a panic attack at one point. But, I’ve just made myself keep driving on the highway, and, of course, nothing’s ever happened externally – I’ve never lost control of the car, I’ve never swerved, nada. It’s a terrifying sensation though, as you say, that sense of “vertigo without any height”. It’s like you’re floating along in a dream, except you’re simultaneously aware that it’s real and that anything that happens has immediate consequences. You keep kind of “startling” yourself awake, except the borderline between that zoned-out state of consciousness and feeling awake and present is much subtler than a true dream.

      Like you, the best solution I’ve found so far is to just ignore it, or, failing that, just tolerate it. It’s reflective of a more general sense of being unmoored in life or perhaps not trusting your ability to handle what happens, so it’s a trust issue (I think). Dp/dr, when viewed that way, is sort of like your body/mind feeling anxious about something that’s actually pretty concrete, like career anxiety or social anxiety, and trying to escape from it by turning it into something a lot more existential and nebulous because you feel like the best solution is uncertain or perhaps will require tolerating a sub-optimal living situation for a long period of time (in my case).

      It’s instructive that dp/dr most often happens to people in their mid to late twenties, so it’s thought to be often (though not always) reflective of an underlying developmental issue, i.e., our ability to cope with the adult world and make the transition to being true, self-sufficient adults.

  31. It’s been two days of this dream feeling. Will it go away soon? It always goes away overnight but didn’t this time.

  32. Thank you for sharing this. I simply could not comprehend what was happening to me when I experienced these symptoms as an 11-year-old. Thank you for helping me realize that I was not alone in my inexplicable, incommunicable suffering during that time. I am not afraid to say it now: I suffered from mental illness as a middle schooler.

  33. M also suffering from the same problem since my childhood days….itz really terrifying…during did I feel like I’ll shout loudly or behave in an ackward way …I usually control myself at dat time by closing eyes..I usually experience dis during my travels…n one day even when i was walking on the road..itz worst feeling ever!!

  34. “Derealization is the feeling of dreaming while you’re awake.”

    This. It’s good to be reminded that at least are many other people, from all walks of life, suffering from the same thing.

    For me it’s this almost subliminal feeling as I go through the day, but it always does have that kind of dreaming quality. It does recede almost totally whenever I’m actively engaged in something more intellectually challenging or physically demanding – say, pushing myself while jogging or coding. There’s an uncanny separation between what I’m actually doing – just going about my day, taking tests, learning programming, having conversations, etc. – and the feeling of my place in existence. That sounds so weird to say, when I actually type it out, but it’s almost like I feel I could fall out of existence somehow, almost like turning transparent and falling through the earth. I wonder oftentimes if dp/dr really does have something to do with Buddhist enlightenment, since I’ve read that some teachers think it has similarities to insights gained through meditation, except, as one teacher has put it, “it’s like enlightenment’s evil twin”. I wonder if the same neural changes that are blissful for some people result in dp/dr for other people; maybe the Buddha’s path is great for a subset of the population, but not so much for people like us. I don’t know, though – I agree with what the author of this post commented near to the end of the post, that trying to be mindful and present is one of the only ways to combat the strange sense of separation that dp/dr brings with it.

    I remembered I’d read about jamais vu, but upon reading its definition again, that is surprisingly accurate for what I experience at times, usually in flashes and totally at random. Places around my neighborhood or elsewhere that I’ve walked or driven past a thousand times suddenly seem different somehow; the angles and the cohesive spatial representation of a building or patch of land suddenly seem alien or “off” somehow, but of course it’s difficult to point out exactly how. The most compelling theory I’ve yet read for the mechanism of dp/dr in the brain is that the pre-frontal cortex goes into overdrive and partially interrupts the limbic system’s continual, behind-the-scenes processing of the environment, so the emotional cues and familiarity that we rely on in large part to navigate and feel at ease are suddenly flickering, and we’re seeing the world perhaps somewhat devoid of emotional coloring.

  35. ! just now found this internet search result : WOW ! … ( after 5 years of college which did include non-active-lifestyle physical maltreatment with smoking & drinking, mine began a decade ago & I thought it was related to my intense attempt towards doing a 180 turn away from alcoholism, social amateurism, & poor diet, while afterwards, distrust might had begun developing ) BUT, it actually “germinated” from a moment almost a decade BEFORE that, when I suddenly had severe sinus drainage in winter & I took 2 benedryl, while at the same time waiting for a phone call during laying down on the couch. As soon as the phone rang, it woke me up & I ended up experiencing what some people have claimed to be similar to what happens when someone takes LSD ! ( It lasted for 5 whole days & went developmentally-dormant after 4 years ) I am NOT happy about this being a “negative” symptom. Ive been to multiple health practioners regarding my complete state of health & so far there has been no resolution. So I guess maybe I will have to find a way to “distract”(protect) myself ??? ( This can not be good for the body to constantly be exposed to !!! ) I hope I can integrate knowing now I’m not “alone”

  36. Wow, good to read this article and these comments. I view my passed, past timeline in life as if it were separated in two parts/chapters; one which ‘was’ my reality, where I felt IN MY BODY up to a point, around 16 years of age, on a motorway when suddenly I got this MASSIVE tunnelvision and desaturation and what sort of feels like ‘memory-loss’. My first episode of Derealization. I had a test in a hospital, it was an epilepsy test (staying awake for days, then going to a chamber and told to fall asleep, which happened instantly and then waking up to strong, flashing lights, with sensor-pads hooked up to my head; a brain test. ‘Nothing’ came out of that (they should’ve tested further). It was when I had a random conversation with a good friend at the age of 18/19 when he answered quickly “ah, depersonalization” and I went “that’s it!”. He recommended Numb (2007) which is a (true?) story about a writer who goes through the same thing.

    In the earlier years of my DR journey I was massively afraid and scared of it, each time it happened I would get scared. Later on I thought, well if this is it, why not just embrace it with open arms and try to work with it somehow? I noticed a change in my thinking and in my awareness of my surroundings during my episodes. Later on I’ve connected it to my hunter-gatherer genes and I believe it is to be Über-Conscious. Too conscious at times, really. It must be a safety mechanism kicking in in the brain, instinct. Almost like allergies (which are a overreaction to Histamine) but in the mind, psyche and possibly invoked by a chemical imbalance.

    This thing also got triggered when I’d go to large public spaces and hear too much (people talking all around and noises) that’s an overstimulation of the senses.

    Now, 15 years later, I’m 31 as I’m writing this, it has been with me ever since, I’ve learnt to be calm during it and the times vary; sometimes it’s 15 minutes and I’m back on track (almost always between ‘focus-sessions’ when I’m working on something important) and sometimes it’s hours, but rarely days.

    HERE is my main gripe with this DR ‘thang’: it’s not the time that it takes to pass it’s the DEPTH it’s reaching now, the unfamiliarness, the alienation and this form of ‘memory-loss’ is getting too much for me. So much that I’m considering therapy (first thing) and even some form of medication.

    I’m a loner by nature and in the past 15 years, when this would happen, I’ve always retracted myself into my zone, at home, safe and sound and having something to do, that always helps.

    My mother, very enlightened spiritually and with an incredible insight into the mental side of life told me to count things and focus on something small and just look at that for some time. Reading that comment up there confirmed that, but you have to be brave and strong and do your best to retain and revive your positive and loving attitude. It’s probably good to become extra aware of this Über-Consciousness and realizing that it’s a state of being and not to think too much about it and just try acting inside it, no matter how hard it is.

    I’ve also experienced horrible things in the past that I’ve never gone into detail with anybody, I made my mind up and looked those experiences in the eye and made up for them, I forgave the culprits and these terrible events and moved on. But they might reside inside me still and might be the cause of DR, I’m willing to bet on it, I want to dig up my past and get these blocked emotions and memories out of my system and I hope that will release me from DR.

    One good thing I can leave here is an expression my friend had about allergies (I had dangerous nut allergies at the time). He said “people always look at ailments and allergies and that alike as a curse. An unliftable curse. And they don’t even try to lift that curse. But it is not. It’s a chemical imbalance in the body, like your nut allergy; maybe you had not enough substances in the body to break down and deal with the substances and chemicals in the nuts and that’s why you had a shock/allergic reaction”.

    That stuck with me for a long time and I reconsidered the whole thing later in my life and thought to myself: “I must have, at least once, eaten nuts without knowing it, accidentally” so I decided to give it a shot. I ate some nuts and nothing happened, been eating them ever since (after boycotting them for almost 10 years). I have regained the chemicals needed to break down those substances in the nuts and my body/system does not panic or overreact to those nut substances anymore.

    That is hope. There definitely is an undiscovered therapy, a way of life, thinking pattern, solution, heck even medication for DP/DR out there, we just have to keep on trucking, do some awesome things and not spend our lives thinking and basking in this, even though it’s hard, it’s not worth giving DP/DR all of our energy and time! We can do it! We are brave human beings.

  37. Oh my gosh I thought I was developing schizophrenia or epilepsy because of this! I have never been diagnosed with schizophrenia or epilepsy but I started having these feelings of deja vu about a year ago after a friend and I had a falling out. They would scare me every time it would happen. Sometimes I would get 3-4 times a day and every time it scared me. Once about a month ago I even got a panic attack from it, thinking to myself “this is it I am having a seizure.” when I have panic attacks I want/need human contact so I don’t feel like im being sucked into the floor or its just comforting really. Whenever I get this feeling I feel kinda like I am floating, I actually can’t really remember what the deja vu was about, by that I mean like I saw something, my brain went “OH this is deja vu” and it reminds me of some thing that happened from my childhood. Like I don’t even remember what a lot of the memories are! I just know I had deja vu. My mom and therapist and old homeroom teacher (who is a psychiatric ER nurse) all told me that it was just part of my anxiety and that I would be alright. Which…I’m guessing that if it were seizures I wouldnt have the ability to stop the deja vu feeling by occupying myself with something else while the seizure was going on.

  38. Good article, this will help eveyone here, desrralization can happen because of anxiety but for me and most of us is cause by candida yeast overgrowth look up on google, type “candida feeling discontented”, candida is very controversial but this symthom is couse by the toxis released by the yeast and feeding or dying,
    Candida is natural in out gut flore but can broke loose with antibiotic abuse or other illness, it is not easy to treat and the medical community dont know how to do it, google is your friend now hope this helps

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