What is depersonalization/derealization disorder?

Depersonalization disorder, also called derealization disorder, is when you feel:

  • Detached from your thoughts, feelings and body (depersonalization).
  • Disconnected from your environment (derealization).

People with this condition do not lose touch with reality. They realize their perceptions aren’t real. Depersonalization or derealization disorder can also be signs of other conditions, such as:

Is depersonalization disorder the same as dissociative disorder?

Depersonalization/derealization disorder is a type of dissociative condition. Dissociative disorders are mental conditions involving disruptions or breakdowns in:

  • Awareness.
  • Consciousness.
  • Memory.

Is depersonalization disorder a psychotic disorder?

The difference between depersonalization and psychotic disorders is awareness. People with depersonalization disorder know the feelings of detachment are not real. People with a psychotic disorder believe their feelings are reality.

Who gets depersonalization disorder?

Most people with this disorder develop it when they are young. The average age for developing depersonalization disorder is 16 years. It rarely begins after age 40.

How common is depersonalization disorder?

Transient depersonalization/derealization is quite common. This situation occurs when you experience depersonalization symptoms briefly. You have a fleeting feeling of being detached from yourself or the environment. You may feel like you’re watching yourself in a movie. Experts estimate it occurs in about half of the population.

It occurs in less than 2% of the population. It’s rare for depersonalization/derealization to need treatment.

What causes depersonalization disorder?

Researchers don’t know what causes these disorders. In up to half of the cases, healthcare providers cannot identify what triggers the disorder.

Biological and environmental factors may play a role. Some people may be at higher risk for developing a dissociative disorder due to:

  • A nervous system that’s less reactive to emotions.
  • Certain personality or other mental health disorders.
  • Physical conditions, such as a seizure disorder.

Dissociative disorders can also occur after intense stress or trauma, such as:

  • A parent with severe mental illness.
  • Abuse (witnessing or experiencing it).
  • Accidents.
  • Life-threatening danger.
  • Natural disasters.
  • Sudden death of a loved one.
  • Violence.
  • War.

Other causes include:

  • Certain drugs, such as hallucinogens.
  • Being very tired.
  • Sleep deprivation or sensory stimulation, which may happen in an intensive care unit.

What are the symptoms of depersonalization disorder?

The main symptom of depersonalization/derealization disorder is feeling disconnected. You may feel:

  • Disconnected from your thoughts, feelings and body (depersonalization).
  • Disconnected from your surroundings or environment (derealization).
  • Robot-like.
  • As if you’re observing yourself from outside your body.
  • As if you’re living in a dream world.
  • Depressed, anxious, panicky or like you’re going crazy.

Some people experience mild, short-lived symptoms. Others have chronic (ongoing) symptoms that may last for years. The symptoms may interfere with your ability to function. They may even lead to a disability.

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