How is it Like to Have Derealization Disorder?

In this article, we will be answering the questions “How is it like to have Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder?”. We will also discuss further about the disorder, its signs and symptoms, other disorders associated with it and how long it is experienced by an individual. Frequently asked questions about the subject will also be answered in the content. 

How is it like to have depersonalization/derealization disorder? 

Feeling surreal is like being in a dream while you are in the here and now. There is awareness that what you are experiencing is not exactly your reality. It can either be a dream-like experience being detached from one’s own self or their surroundings. It can feel literally like “Being outside one’s own body and mind”. This may feel disturbing and maladaptive behavior may manifest due to the disturbance.

What is Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder?

Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder is a disorder under the umbrella of Dissociative Disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 or DSM 5. Dissociative Disorders, furthermore, are disorders that let one experience being separated from one’s own previous feelings, sensations, body, actions or thoughts with conscious awareness.

Dissociative Disorders come in many forms and these are the following:

–          Dissociative Identity Disorder or previously known as Multiple Personality Disorder

–          Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder (which we will be focusing on)

–          Dissociative Amnesia

For someone who has Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder, they can experience recurrent depersonalization (experiencing detachment from one’s own thoughts, body and actions) or derealization (experiencing detachment of one’s own environment or surrounding) or both.

This may also significantly disrupt one’s areas of psychological functioning.

How is it like experiencing depersonalization?

Experiencing depersonalization may feel like one is detached from their own body or self. Some may experience numbing, other sensations may be diminished and may cause one to feel robotic or lacks control of one’s speech or movements.

In its most extreme form, some may also feel like having an “out-of-body-experience” as one part is observing and the other participating.

How is it like experiencing derealization?

There is no significant distinction between derealization and depersonalization except the former is experiencing a detachment with their environment or surrounding.

It may feel like looking down from where they are positioned or looking at their surroundings from above, that there is some sort of a glass or mesh, looking from the inside to outside, inanimate objects may be observed, the flatness of their surrounding so others may deem the floor deeper than it actually is.

Signs and Symptoms of Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder?

The following below are the symptoms of someone diagnosed with Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder.

a.      One should have recurrent experience of depersonalization, derealization or both:

• Depersonalization – experience of being like an observer of one’s own self, being detached from one’s own previous feelings, sensations, body, actions or thoughts (e.g., alterations on perceptions, sense of time is distorted, unreal or absent self, there is numbness or physically or emotionally).

• Derealization – experience of detachment of one’s own environment or surrounding (surrounding seems and feels like a dream, vague and distorted).

b.     When depersonalization or derealization is being experienced, reality testing is intact.

c.      There should be clinically significant distress or impairment on one’s occupational, social or other important areas of functioning when depersonalization or derealization is experienced.

d.     Neither effects of a substance or another medical condition is causing the disturbance.

e.      Another mental disorder such as schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, panic disorder, acute stress disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, or another dissociative disorder should not better explain the disturbance.  

One may experience either or both. However, evaluating these and confirming it by your own does not guarantee that you have this disorder once you perceive this occurring to yourself. If you deem so, it is always best to seek assistance with a mental health professional as they are the only ones who are authorized to make a diagnosis of this condition or any other psychological disorder.

There are no lab tests for one to be diagnosed with Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder, however, a physician might ask their patient to undergo diagnostic tests to rule out other medical conditions before they recommend them to a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Note: Experiences of depersonalization/derealization may be culturally-related or relevant in some culture and religions meditative practices and are intentional. As this is so, it should not be diagnosed as a disorder. However, there are others who lose control over them over time that can lead to fear and aversion of the practice.

What are other disorders associated with Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder?  

Depersonalization/Derealization is sometimes associated with disorders under anxiety, mood, and psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia and neurocognitive disorder like dementia. It may also be associated with brain seizures or brain diseases.  

How early does Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder develop?

Usually, it occurs during adolescence to early adulthood. It is unusual as well to develop Depersonalization/Derealization during the fourth decade of one’s life. It may also develop gradually or extremely sudden.

How long does depersonalization/derealization last?

Experiencing depersonalization/derealization may also last from hours to prolonged periods (weeks, months, or years) and may manifest in a certain interval or continuously.  Aggravations may be triggered due to stress, other physical factors, lack of sleep, mood or anxiety symptoms that are worsening and novel or overstimulating settings.


Do we all experience dissociation?

At some point, yes we all do. There are different reasons why a person may dissociate and a few would be because of significant stress or a traumatic experience.

Can you have both depersonalization and Derealization?

Yes, a person can have both depersonalization and derealization. For others, only one is experienced. At some point in our lives, we all will experience a degree of depersonalization and/or derealization. However, studies suggest that for those who experienced or witnessed a traumatic event in their lives, such experiences will be felt between 31% And 66% at that time.   

Who should I go to if I am experiencing depersonalization/derealization?

If you are under medications or have another medical condition, you must go first to your physician so they can run tests and see whether the experiences of depersonalization/derealization are caused by your medications or health condition. Once the physical conditions have been ruled out, either the individual will be recommended to go to a psychiatrist or psychologist for thorough assessment and evaluation.
Mental health professionals will not diagnose their clients immediately. However, the individual will have to undergo interviews, assessments, tests and other forms of evaluation before they are diagnosed (if the mental disorder is present in the individual) with Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder.  

Is Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder a psychosis?

No, it is not. Most people mistakenly think Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder is a brain dysfunction that will lead to psychosis. The difference between them is that there is presence or reality testing in the former, while it is absent in the latter. However, this is caused most likely because of traumatic experience and maladaptive coping behavior of an individual.

What causes Depersonalization/Derealization?

Little is still known about what causes depersonalization/derealization Disorder. However, biological, psychological and social factors must be considered for it may cause and play a role in it. Moreover, similar to other Dissociative Disorders, Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder may be triggered by strong traumatic events such as abuse, war, disasters, extreme violence, accidents that an individual witnessed or experienced.  

How do I get rid of depersonalization/derealization?

As of now, there are no guaranteed ways to get rid of depersonalization/derealization. However, for others who experience it, it diminishes in time by itself. There are also few ways to relieve one from these experiences. Here are as follows:
Reading aloud – analyzing and controlling pronunciation of what you are reading makes your brain busy. It redirects you to focus making this a good practice in reducing intrusive thoughts of anxiety.
Avoid caffeine – Stimulating the central nervous system by consuming caffeine will make you more alert, jittery, less tired and will reduce your GABA’s calming effect in your CNS. Low levels of it in your CNS causes anxiety. The neurotransmitter GABA also contributes to control of motor and vision.  
Listen to soothing music and podcasts – Select ones that help you keep calm and focus. Idleness and downtime may lead you to think about anxiety or the next occurrence of depersonalization/derealization.
Avoid drugs – Substance use or abuse may exacerbate experiences of depersonalization/derealization and of remember that one of the causes of it is substance use.
Get up early – Practicing good sleep hygiene will help alleviate the experience. This should help promote a healthy sleeping pattern. Once you are up, avoid scrolling on your phone and lying down for a few minutes as this may lead you to negative thoughts. Practice a heroic minute and start your day working out or taking a shower!
Go to bed early – Getting up early will also call your body to rest early as well after a day of productivity. Doing both will help you fix you sleeping patterns if you have an unhealthy one. This is crucial to reducing your anxiety as lack of sleep may also trigger it, especially when you have a long day the next day.
Go back to your hobbies – Instead of worrying about the next occurrence of depersonalization/derealization, try to take your mind off it by practicing your hobbies, ones that make you calm, joyful and at peace.
Don’t be too reactive – Try avoiding getting too overwhelmed when you are experiencing depersonalization/derealization or even when you are anticipating or feeling like it is about to  happen. Just go about your current activity and focus on it.   
Just say yes to your activities – In a way, this may be some form of exposure therapy, only it is not aversive. Learn to condition yourself by going about your day like you usually do and try not to limit yourself doing any activities to avoid feeling anxious about it. This sends a message to your brain to focus on the now and think it is not as important as moving forward with your day.
Use your senses – Pinching one’s self, naming the objects that you see around you or holding on to something hot or cold should try to help you refocus and keep in touch with your reality.
Socialize! – Socializing and social support can help you to take your mind off the anticipation and worry about another experience of depersonalization/derealization. Some degree of anxiety while socializing with others might occur, however, this will pass in time.
Seek help – Reach to your mental health provider, they will help and facilitate you on how to cope with the symptoms of depersonalization/derealization. 

Does surreal mean unreal?

Yes, surreal means it is unreal. From its definition from the Merriam Webster, “marked by the intense irrational reality of dream”. However, for a person feeling surreal associated with the disorder, it is a terrifying real experience as it causes discomfort and may significantly impair an individual’s functioning due to the anxiety and disturbance it causes them.  

How do I know if I am dissociating?

You will know when you are dissociating when you feel like you are being detached from your own self or environment, like you are a third person in your own reality. There is also awareness with this experience. One may also not feel what they are actually feeling in reality when they are dissociating or experiencing depersonalization, which we refer to us numbing.


In this article, we answered the question “How is it like to have Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder?”. We also discussed further about the disorder, its signs and symptoms, other disorders associated with it and how long it is experienced by an individual. Frequently asked questions about the subject are answered in the content. 


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 (DSM 5)