What are the most common Depersonalization symptoms? And what causes them?
Here the five most common symptoms of Depersonalization, read on for information on each one or use the links below to jump directly to s specific symptom:
- There's a pane of glass between you and the world
- You're not in control of your thoughts / actions
- Distorted Perception of Time
- Fear of Going Insane
- Visual Disturbances
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Symptom 1. There's a pane of glass between you and the world
Probably the most common symptom of depersonalization is the feeling that there's a barrier, or a pane of glass between the sufferer and reality.
When you go through a traumatic experience (car crash / panic attack / bad drug trip etc), your mind pulls back from the experience, because it simply seems too scary. That’s why depersonalization so often seems as if there’s a ‘pane of glass’ between the sufferer and the rest of the world – it’s not because of any sort of permanent change, it’s simply because your mind is trying to protect itself from anything dangerous and has created a temporary ‘screen’ to keep that stuff out.
Think of it like this: A guy walks down the same street every day, happy and content. Then one day, he gets beaten and mugged. Afterwards, he feels shocked and traumatised. Of course, there is no permanent damage, but for a while he is scared to leave the house. It’s a perfectly natural reaction! And that’s exactly what the mind does with anxiety/dp – it says “I’m staying in the house for a while until I get my confidence back up”.
Of course, getting your confidence back up takes a lot of effort. But it must be done. Otherwise, that man who got mugged can end up stuck in the house for much longer than he ever really should, afraid of going out again.
Symptom 2. You're not in control of your thoughts / actions
The feeling that you're somehow a robot, and that you're watching yourself go about your life. Your movements and interactions are not your own.
This is a totally abstract feeling, is nothing to worry about and has no actual bearing on your actions in the real world.
For example, will the depersonalization ever cause you to do something that you don't want to do? Of course not.
It is caused entirely by a) the anxiety and b) the mind trying to make sense of the feeling of depersonalization, which as we established in Point 1, is nothing more than than a temporary defence mechanism of the brain.
Your movements and thoughts are still very much your own! The condition (temporarily) causes such introspection and concentration on every little action that you are temporarily unable to go about your day with normal ease. The anxiety then takes that to a frightening -- but ultimately ridiculous! -- conclusion, that you must be a robot of some kind.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The weird thoughts are just the result of a temporary condition that's actually a defence mechanism of the brain and that can be switched off with the right method.
Symptom 3. Distorted Perception of Time
The feeling that how you experience time has been altered. You might feel that there are gaps, that you're jumping from one moment to another. You may also sense that events that happened recently feel like a long time ago.
This is very similar to Number 2 and is based entirely on how the brain reacts to persistent anxiety and the defence mechanism of DP.
Of course, there is no actual distortion in time. Everything is exactly as it should be. All that's different is that you are so intensely focused on details and the anxiety itself that the experience can be scary.
I personally remember one particular week during which I had a number of panic attacks because I couldn’t stop thinking about the nature of time, how it worked, could it be changed, etc. It was scary, but it was also totally pointless because – - and this is important! - TIME HAS NOT CHANGED. IT IS THE SAME AS IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN, AND IT ALWAYS WILL BE. The thought habit of anxiety/depersonalization is what makes time seem altered.
It’s the same when you watch a great movie: time seems to fly by, because you are entertained and engrossed in a narrative. But when you are watching a boring film, you are not engaged with it, and are constantly being diverted by your own thoughts. The length of the film doesn’t matter: It’s all about the way you are thinking about it. And the same thing goes for regular life: The anxiety/dp thought habit makes it temporarily difficult to engage with life; your concentration can be intense and all over the place at once, so naturally, time can seem much longer or shorter than normal.
And you know sometimes when you're driving somewhere, you get to your destination and can hardly remember any details of the trip? That's because you focused your mind on other things, maybe you were daydreaming, listening to the radio etc. Does that mean that the time is "missing"? Of course not. It's a totally natural thing that happens every day, you're just focusing on it because of the anxiety, that's all.
Symptom 4. Fear of Going Insane
The intense fear that all of these symptoms are some form of psychotic break, that you might be losing your mind.
Depersonalization is absolutely not any type of psychotic condition. People who suffer from psychoses tend to regress into their own, self-created reality. With DP, reality testing is exactly the same – it just seems too amplified and intense because of the constant anxiety that accompanies the condition.
To have this feeling rush over you and persist, as it did with my first panic attack and thereafter, is a huge, frightening experience and it's not surprising in the least that people interpret it as "going insane".
This is a deeply confusing and scary feeling, and for me at least, it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. People who go through it often decide that they must be going insane.
Why else would this crippling fear of nothing at all come upon them? Of course, they are not going crazy – the body is simply reacting properly to what it perceives as danger. This makes the fear self-perpetuating; there is no threat, so you assume that something is wrong with your mind. This in turn generates more fear, and can quickly spiral out of control into a full-blown panic attack – and the establishment of anxiety/dp thought-habits.
That is one aspect of anxiety/dp that can be particularly frustrating: the fear and anxiety has nowhere to go and nothing to focus on. The result is that more and more fear builds until it even gets projected onto the philosophical thoughts that should inspire wonder rather than alarm – questions like, “Why am I here?”, “Who am I?” etc. The fear can’t find anything to focus on in the environment, so it focuses back on the individual – and suddenly makes regular thoughts seem quite frightening.
All of this contributes to the anxiety/dp sufferer getting caught in a cycle of self-observation and analysis. Every little twitch, itch and movement becomes something to fear. The sufferer becomes overly aware of their body and mind, so analytical of each sensation and movement that the ease of normal functioning is stopped. These analytical thoughts can become very intense, even so much so that they can actually feel like a ‘barrier’ between the mind and body, to the point where the body, or parts of it, don’t even feel like they belong to the person anymore.
Symptom 5. Visual Disturbances
The feeling that your vision has changed, i.e., heightened visual acuity, distortions, altered distance and size of objects.
When your body is anxious, it makes the eyes more sensitive to picking up movements, a perfectly natural reaction that dates back to our evolutionary ancestry. How is this done? By dilating the pupils and letting more light in. When our ancient ancestors were out living in forests and caves, surrounded by danger, they had to be super-vigilant. The smallest movement in their peripheral vision could have meant an lethal attack from a predator. The body would react to this by staying in an anxious state, keeping the pupils wide open and alert for danger.
The exact same principle applies to anyone in an anxious state, including those with anxiety spectrum disorders, who experience it consistently; The brain is on high alert for danger, it tells the visual cortex to be on the lookout, which in turn tells the pupils to stay dilated.
That one little fact actually explains a lot of the whole visual ‘fear’ of anxiety/dp – of why there seems to be too much going on in the visual field. When I had depersonalization I used to constantly question what I was seeing, would keep thinking I was looking at a screen, etc.
In fact, why is anxiety/dp so often described as like living in a movie? Well, picture yourself inside a movie theatre, sitting very close to the front. You can’t see everything on the screen at once, right? Of course not. And it’s annoying and disconcerting to have to keep moving your gaze and your concentration to different parts of the screen. There’s way too much to take in at once.
And it’s the exact same with anxiety/dp –basically, you’ve just been pushed a little too close to the screen. When your pupils are consistently dilated, there’s too much information coming in at once, and your concentration keeps darting around, trying to keep up with all of this (which explains why, for example, reading a book when you have anxiety/dp can be sometimes quite frustrating). The anxiety makes you so keenly aware of your own vision that it becomes almost too much to take in.
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I suffered with DP for almost two years and I kept a detailed diary until I understood what made my symptoms worse, and what made them better. I made a TOTAL recovery, and I wrote the DP Manual to help others start their recovery. The DP Manual Package contains everything you need to know for your recovery from Depersonalization.
The DP Manual is a digital download that includes your guide to recovery, audio book, progress tracker, relaxation guide and more. Pay securely with PayPal and download today to begin your recovery.