The 10 Most Common
(And What Causes Them!)
What does Depersonalization feel like?
Let's take a look at the 10 most common symptoms.
Symptom 1. Feeling Cut Off From Reality
The most common of all Depersonalization symptoms is the feeling that there's a barrier, or a pane of glass between you 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 / Derealization (DPDR) so often seems as if there’s a ‘pane of glass’ between the sufferer and the rest of the world.
This can make you feel floaty and disconnected, like you're living in a dream, that you're high and can't come down, that you don't feel real.
This feeling is not because of any permanent change. Depersonalization is perfectly natural and extremely common. It's your brain's natural defense system, reacting to what it perceives to be danger (even if none is present).
For most of these people it fades away in a few minutes, which is what it's meant to do. It's only when you focus on it and start to worry that you're 'going crazy' or 'don't feel real' that it lasts longer than it should.
Those worries make the anxiety worse, which makes the DPDR worse. It turns into a feedback loop which makes the Depersonalization symptoms persist for days, weeks, months.
When the feeling of being floaty and disconnected last for this long it can lead to frightening questions like 'Why does everything feel fake?', 'Why do I feel like I'm not in my body?', and constant terrifying existential thoughts.
It's also very common for people whose DPDR initial trigger was a bad weed experience to assume that what they now have is a weed hangover. They may feel like they're still high after they've slept, or that the weed hangover has lasted for days or weeks.
But in fact, the feeling of being 'high' is just the natural sense of disconnection that comes with Depersonalization / Derealization.
It's a scary experience for sure, but regardless of how long it lasts, the feeling of being cut off from reality is still a natural symptom of anxiety. It's not permanent and it can't hurt you!
Symptom 2. You Feel Like You're Not Real
The feeling that you're a robot, and that you're watching yourself go about your life. Your movements and interactions are not your own. You might also feel like your arms, hand, legs are not your own. Like you're watching somebody else use them.
This is simply your brain trying to make sense of the feelings of Depersonalization.
As I've said, DPDR is meant to be temporary. It's your brain's reaction to a traumatic situation.
It's the reason that so many people walk out of car crashes and house fires with hardly any recollection of how they did it. Your brain sees that it's in a traumatic situation, switches on Depersonalization / Derealization, and instead of being incapacitated with fear, you calmly do what you need to. But what if you had this feeling in your day-today life?
There's no danger around, nothing threatening you anymore. And yet, you look at your hands, your body and your environment -- and wonder why you feel so distant from yourself.
You feel like you're in a dream and dizzy. You have a strange feeling when looking in the mirror. Your family home seems bizarre and unfamiliar.
I know it seems frightening but again, the feelings of DPDR are a natural defense system. It's only when they last longer than they should that you start to think 'I'm not real / My hands aren't mine / I'm a robot' etc etc.
This is a totally abstract feeling, is nothing to worry about and has no actual bearing on your actions in the real world. Will the Depersonalization ever cause you to do something that you don't want to do?
Of course not! Your movements and thoughts are still 100% your own.
The feelings of Depersonalization + Derealization make you concentrate on every little action, so much so that you're unable to go about your day as you normally would. The anxiety then takes that to a frightening -- but ultimately ridiculous! -- conclusion, that you must be dreaming / unreal / still high / a robot.
But 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.
Symptom 3. Distorted Perception of Time
The feeling that your perception of time has been changed. You feel like time goes by fast, like you're in a time lapse, that there are gaps and distortions, that you're jumping from one moment to another. Recent events can feel like they happened a long time ago.
This is very similar to Number 2 and is based entirely on how the brain reacts to constant anxiety and feelings of Depersonalization / Derealization.
Of course, there is no actual time distortion.
Everything is exactly as it should be! All that's different is that your attention is focused so much on the anxiety and DPDR that the passage of time feels different. Again, this is extremely common with all anxiety-based conditions.
It's basically the same principle as when you watch a really good film -- why does it seem like a 2-hour movie felt like 30 minutes? Because your attention was focused on it 100%.
When you watch a boring film you're constantly being diverted by your own thoughts. And a 90 minute film can feel like Lord of the Rings! The length of the film doesn’t matter: It’s how you think about it.
And you know sometimes when you're driving somewhere, you arrive but can hardly remember 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 time is "missing"? Of course not. And with Depersonalization our concentration can be intense and filled with racing thoughts all at once. This is of course going to affect how fast or slow time feels to you.
During my time with DPDR I had regular panic attacks because I couldn’t stop thinking about the nature of time, could it be distorted, etc. It was scary, but it was also totally pointless.
Of course time didn't change because I developed an anxiety-based disorder. All that was off my attention span. When I recovered, everything went back to normal.
The anxiety is what causes the feeling of time distortions. It's scary but it will pass completely as your recovery continues, along with all the other Depersonalization symptoms.
Symptom 4. Fear of Going Insane
The intense fear that you're going crazy. Or that all of these Depersonalization symptoms could cause you to go insane, have some form of psychotic break, that you might be losing your mind.
This is your brain's natural interpretation of the strange (but totally natural and safe) symptoms of Depersonalization and the feelings of intense anxiety that come with it.
When you suddenly have feelings of being 'stuck in a dream' or 'can't come down', it's understandable to think you must be 'going insane'. Of all the Depersonalization symptoms, this can be the most frightening.
For me, it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. When I first got DPDR I was terrified that I had caused some sort of mental damage to myself, that I had fried my brain somehow and was now going crazy.
I was wrong. Depersonalization will not make you go crazy. It can't make you go crazy. It is absolutely not any type of psychotic condition.
People who suffer from psychoses regress into their own, self-created reality. With DPDR, your reality testing is exactly the same, means that no matter how bad the anxiety and Depersonalization symptoms get, you always know the difference between your thoughts and reality. This never changes, even with the most intense cases of DPDR.
Symptom 5. Visual Symptoms
The feeling that your vision has changed, i.e. tunnel vision, static, distorted and blurry vision, altered distance and size of objects. You may also feel like everything is flat and in 2D vision, or have thoughts like 'my vision feels like I'm in a dream'.
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 constantly anxious state, keeping the pupils wide open and alert for danger.
When you have an anxiety disorder like Depersonalization, you experience this constantly. Your 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 Depersonalization – of why there seems to be too much going on in the visual field. When I had DPDR I used to constantly question what I was seeing, thinking that reality was like looking at at a flat screen, in 2D vision.
In fact, why is Depersonalization so often described as like living in a movie? Well, picture yourself inside a movie theater, 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 Depersonalization – 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.
The anxiety makes you so hyper-aware of your own vision that it becomes almost too much to take in.
This overactivity of the visual cortex also means that DPDR sufferers regularly report vision problems like visual snow, 'floaters and tracers', blurry vision etc. Again, these are temporary symptoms and will pass as you recover.
It's also worth noting that of the most common Depersonalization symptoms, this is one of the few that causes a direct physical effect. But DP can cause other physical effects, such as headaches, exhaustion and muscle pain.
I talk more in depth about DPDR visual symptoms here.
Symptom 6. Existential Thoughts
Constant frightening thoughts of an existential or philosophical nature.
One of the most disturbing Depersonalization symptoms is the existential thoughts that come with it. I hear about these scary, intrusive thoughts from DPDR sufferers all the time.
Here are some of the most common:
Am I Dead?
Am I in Purgatory?
Am I going crazy?
I feel like I'm not real!
Back when I had Depersonalization, existential thoughts like this were a constant part of my daily life. It was terrifying.
But -- don’t worry, because there’s a very simple explanation!
So the experience of Depersonalization, even though it’s perfectly natural and it can’t hurt you, is really bizarre! The feelings of being cut off from reality, like you’re in a dream etc can be so strange and overwhelming.
And in the middle of all this happening, your rational brain is desperately trying to find an explanation as to what’s causing it.
This bizarre feeling must have some huge significance -- maybe you died, you’re in a coma, you’re dreaming and can’t wake up, etc.
It couldn’t just be because of one panic attack, one bad drug experience, right?
But, it is! That’s literally how it happens!
And it’s so simple but our brains have a tendency to want big stories, big explanations, so it jumps to big scary conclusions. It’s called catastrophizing.
Combine racing thoughts - another anxiety symptom - with this tendency to catastrophize and desperately trying to make sense of the feelings of DPDR? Of course you’re going to be jumping to all sorts of scary conclusions.
And this can be particularly tough in the period between getting DP and actually finding out what it is, when you’re frantically looking for an explanation
But the good news is, they’re just thoughts, they’re temporary, they can’t hurt you, and they will fade away and stop as you recover!
I talk more in depth about DPDR and Existential Thoughts here.
Symptom 7. Emotional Numbness
You might feel like your emotions are numb, you can’t feel happy or sad. Or you worry that you can’t feel *anything* anymore.
This is a very common complaint with DPDR sufferers, but again, there’s a very simple explanation.
Like I said before, DPDR is like a temporary airbag between you and the world to keep you safe. So you might feel distant and cut-off. That, coupled with racing thoughts and difficulty concentrating can make things feel worse.
But there’s nothing wrong with your emotions.
Your ability to experience emotions hasn’t been damaged.
And I’ll prove it to you. Are you worried that your emotions and feelings are numb?
Well guess what -- Feeling worried that your emotions are numb -- that’s fear. That is an emotion! If you didn’t feel anything, you wouldn’t care about trying to recover. You wouldn’t even be watching this video!
It’s very simple -- All you’re experiencing are the temporary effects of anxiety and its symptoms. There’s nothing wrong with your feelings, your emotions etc.
And once you recover, you’ll get completely back to normal!
Symptom 8. Blank Mind
This is the feeling that your mind is empty, that your thoughts are gone or that you can’t put a thought together.
This is extremely common with DPDR sufferers. They often worry that they have lost their thoughts, their mind is blank, or feeling like 'I'm not here mentally'.
But again, it’s nothing to worry about. And here’s why:
With DPDR, or any anxiety-based condition, one of the most commonly reported symptoms is an inability to focus. It can feel frightening but it makes perfect sense -- when your fight-or-flight system is on the alert, it's essentially asking "are you sure you're not in danger?", over and over.
Having that type of thought on repeat throughout the day can make it (temporarily) very hard to just relax into your normal, natural day to day thoughts that occur when you're in a non-anxious state. And that can make you can feel like you're 'not here mentally' or that your 'mind is blank'.
But just because you're finding it tough to focus away from the anxious thoughts for the moment, doesn't meant that anything is actually wrong. It's just a habit of thought, a protective mechanism.
It will fade away and stop as you recover, and you will get 100% back to being here mentally.
Also: Having a Blank Mind is often described as the feeling that you’ve "lost your inner monologue".
But here’s the thing -- when does your inner monologue happen? When you’re not thinking about it! If you’re constantly checking to see if your inner monologue is there, you’re constantly interrupting your inner monologue!
I understand that this can be a frightening experience, but it’s nothing to worry about and it will fade away and stop as you recover.
It’s perfectly natural for anxiety to make you jump to scary conclusions about the condition but just as it can’t affect your memory, or stop your emotions, it can’t make your mind go blank.
There’s nothing cognitively wrong with you and your brain is working just fine.
And if you’re thinking ‘But I can’t put a thought together’ -- guess what?
You just put a thought together!
I talk more in depth about Blank Mind Syndrome here.
Symptom 9. Memory Loss
You might feel like you’re losing your memory, short term or long term, or worry that you’re developing Dementia or Alzheimer's.
I hear it from DPDR sufferers all the time --
“I keep forgetting what I’m doing.”
“I forget what I’m saying, mid-sentence…”
“It takes me so long to remember what I was doing yesterday…”
When I had DPDR I experienced this myself and it was very frightening. I would try to read a page of a book, and by the third paragraph I could hardly remember what had happened in the first paragraph!.
This scared me so much. If DPDR was affecting my short term memory, could it affect my long term memory aswell? Was I developing some horrific form of amnesia?
It was terrifying. So, as someone who has recovered 100% from Depersonalization and with the benefit of hindsight -- Does Depersonalization actually cause memory loss?
The answer is NO!
I had chronic, intense DPDR for two years and believe me, there are no memories missing from that time. I can remember everything that happened.
If there were missing memories, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to write a book about it!. Not just that, but if anyone brought up an event from around that time, there would be lots of blank spots in the memory -- and that’s absolutely not the case.
So -- How is it possible that you have the sensation of memory loss… but it’s not actually happening?
It’s very simple: The anxiety is not affecting your memory -- it’s affecting your concentration. That’s all!
It’s well known that anxiety temporarily affects your ability to concentrate and stay focused. It can make you feel like your mind has gone blank and makes it very difficult to pay attention to the tasks at hand.
That’s why I forgot Paragraph 1 by the time I got to Paragraph 3!
But what it’s not doing is affecting your memory. Depersonalization, anxiety and memory loss are not connected.
So don’t worry. Your memory is fine, and your concentration will get back to 100% as you recover!
I talk more in depth about DPDR and Memory Loss here.
Symptom 10. Strange Fears
Strange fears about things that shouldn't be frightening at all
It’s very common for people with DPDR to develop intense strange fears about specific things. I hear these from sufferers all the time:
Fear of looking up at the sky,
Fear of driving
Fear of mirrors
Fear of supermarkets and malls
Back when I had DPDR, I developed a crippling fear of travel. Of being in cars, airports, planes. I genuinely thought that I would never be able to go abroad ever again.
The scariest thing about these thoughts is often that they make no sense. You know there’s no reason you should be afraid of going outside, of looking in a mirror etc.
But here’s the good news -- that’s exactly why you don’t need to worry about it. Because what’s the common denominator between all of these fears?
There is none. It’s just anxiety, that’s all.
Your brain is in fight or flight mode. It’s like an alarm going off, that keeps saying you’re in danger.
Of course, there is no danger around when you’re in the bathroom, at the supermarket, driving, wherever.
And here’s even more good news: You don’t have to address these fears one by one. All you have to do is address the anxiety that’s causing.
Once you do that, all of these strange fears, even the ones you think you’ll never get rid of, will disappear as if they had never been there!
And yes, I completely overcame my fear of travelling and have travelled to many places around the world since!
Don't Worry, You're Safe!
These Depersonalization symptoms can be tough to deal with, especially when you're experiencing them 24/7. But just remember they're caused by anxiety, and they're part of your body's defense mechanism to protect you from a traumatic experience.
They can't hurt you!
DPDR is meant to only last a few minutes, and believe it or not, it's trying to keep you safe! And remember, it's incredibly common and you're not alone. 75% of people will experience Depersonalization at some point in their lives, and The Guardian newspaper estimates that 1 in 50 people have Depersonalization Disorder.
It can be caused by any traumatic experience: a car accident, losing a loved one, or as is very common, a bad drug experience. But it doesn't matter how you got DPDR, it's temporary and the road to recovery is always the same. Depersonalization symptoms are frightening but you're not in any danger.
You're safe and YOU CAN RECOVER!
Start your Recovery from DPDR Today!
Hi there! My name's Shaun.
Back in 2005 I suddenly developed chronic Depersonalization Disorder. For almost two years my life, my career, everything went on hold. It was a living nightmare. But through much trial and error, I began to understand what was happening, and how to stop the Depersonalization symptoms, including all the terrifying thoughts and feelings. I made a TOTAL recovery, and I wrote the DP Manual to help others do exactly the same. The DP Manual Package contains everything you need to know for YOUR recovery from Depersonalization.
The DP Manual package includes 65+ mins of exclusive video, the complete DP Manual book including audio book, progress tracker, relaxation guide and much, much more. Download instantly to begin your recovery TODAY!