Can You Get Back To Normal After Depersonalization?
Depersonalization and Derealization tend to have lots of scary thoughts and fears associated with them. But one of the most frightening prospects of all is that the condition has somehow changed you fundamentally, and irreparably, as a person.
You might worry that:
You’ve flicked a switch in your brain
You’ve opened a door you can’t close
You’re seeing reality differently and you’ll never get back to normal
You’ve been traumatized for life
You’ll never get back to thinking like everyone else does
Back when I had Depersonalization Disorder, those types of thoughts used to terrify me.
I genuinely felt like something inside me had changed, that some part of me was broken forever. And I felt like the evidence for that was all around me.
For example - Before developing DPDR, I was a happy, active, sociable and creative young man. Life was good!
But when I developed Depersonalization / Derealization, my whole life stopped in its tracks. I was terrified, all the time. I felt physically and mentally cut off from the world, like I was living in a dream.
I had constant existential, philosophical thoughts about the nature of reality, of consciousness. This was non-stop, and I felt like I couldn’t control any of these thoughts or feelings.
Everything I used to enjoy doing suddenly seemed terrifying. And all I wanted to do was stay in my room all the time and avoid the world.
My dream in life had always been to make films, but that now seemed totally impossible.
How could I possibly direct a crew and actors, if I couldn’t even walk from my bedroom to the bathroom because I was so frightened of the thoughts or panic attacks I would have on the way.
I was 100% sure that I had fundamentally changed as a person. I even remember looking at old photos of myself and hardly recognizing the happy, confident person in those pictures.
I was sure that I had been struck down by some bizarre, mystery condition that nobody could ever fully explain.
I was also convinced that if by some miracle I did somehow manage to recover, I would be so affected by the experience, so traumatized that I would still be fundamentally changed.
At one point I remember grieving for the person I used to be, and thinking, I’ll never get that back. It was a terrifying and depressing prospect.
Now - I know that all sounds pretty frightening, and you might very well be going through something like that yourself.
But coming from someone who went through all of that, and fully recovered, and who has spoken to thousands of people who have done exactly the same -- The question is:
Can you get back to normal after Depersonalization / Derealization? And will you *really* be the same person when you recover?
The answer is: Yes!
You will 100% get back to being the same person you were before DPDR.
And I’m going to tell you why, in four simple steps.
1. Depersonalization Can’t Change You
At the core of the fear that you might not be the same after DPDR, is the mistaken idea that Depersonalization / Derealization can actually change you.
Or that it can damage you. Or that it’s dangerous at all.
It can’t, and it isn’t!
Let me put it to you like this.
Take the example of someone who has a panic attack, and let’s say that it lasts for 10 minutes.
Now, in that 10 minutes, what is the person experiencing? Fear, racing thoughts, catastrophizing -- It’s pretty intense, right?
They might even be 100% certain that they’re dying, that they’re having a heart attack, going crazy etc.
Now, are any of these things actually happening? Of course not. But the intense anxiety makes it feel that way.
And what happens after 10 minutes? The panic attack finishes. The person might be a bit shaken, but that’s about it.
And that same person who, just a few minutes ago was 100% certain that they were going crazy or going to die?
They go back to work, or they pick up the kids from school, or finish doing their shopping, or whatever!
And ok, they might be a bit shaken, but are they fundamentally damaged? Are they seeing reality differently?
No, of course not!
All those fears about going crazy or dying were harmless, temporary, and caused entirely by anxiety. That’s all.
And it’s the exact same thing with DPDR. You might be jumping to all sorts of scary conclusions about how you’re going crazy, how you’re seeing reality differently, stuck in a dream, etc etc.
None of it is true. None of it’s even close to being true. Because it’s just anxiety.
And I know it can seem like it’s much bigger and more scary than that -- but you know what?
That’s what anxiety does. That’s what it’s supposed to do! In order to protect you, anxiety makes everything seem bigger and scarier than it is.
And sometimes, that reflects back on the anxiety itself and its symptoms. The feelings of Depersonalization / Derealization, as scary as they may seem, are a perfectly natural response to stress and anxiety.
It’s super common; in fact 75% of people will experience it at some point in their lives. Why? Because it’s part of the brain’s normal defense mechanism.
And a defense mechanism is not going to hurt you, or damage you, and it’s certainly not going to traumatize you or change you irreparably.
2. You’re Not Seeing Things Differently
So, one of my biggest worries was that I had somehow flicked a switch in my brain, and I was now seeing reality differently. I had constant scary existential thoughts about consciousness, the nature of reality, etc etc.
I felt like I was seeing things differently now, and I was terrified that I would never be able to get back to normal. Or that even if I did, I’d always be haunted by my experience, and never quite the same.
So again, as somebody who has recovered, after years of chronic Depersonalization / Derealization and intrusive and existential thoughts -- Did it really flick a switch in my brain?
Does DPDR really make you see things differently?
The answer is: No. Absolutely not!
You’re not seeing things differently and when you recover, you are 100% back to normal.
Let me explain:
So if you break down what’s actually happening, it’s quite simple. Again, the actual feelings of DP are part of your brain’s natural response to anxiety. It’s super common, it’s temporary and it’s harmless.
But still, the sensation of being cut off from reality can feel really strange, right? Of course!
Of course you’re going to jump to all sorts of scary conclusions about those feelings!
So you worry that you must be seeing reality differently, or that you’re still high and you can’t come down, or that you’ve damaged your brain etc etc.
Now -- Having those types of thoughts is scary, for sure. But is there any actual evidence for any of those big scary things happening?
No, of course not! And why not? You guessed it -- because they haven’t happened.
All these worries, all that catastrophizing, all these weird sensations -- they’re all caused by anxiety. That’s all they are, that’s all they’ve ever been.
The feelings of Depersonalization / Derealization are a weird sensation, for sure. But you are absolutely not ‘seeing things differently’, and you never were. It’s just anxiety, and when you recover you will get 100% back to normal.
What you’re experiencing are actually pretty normal and common symptoms of anxiety: Racing thoughts, feeling of unreality, catastrophizing, inability to concentrate.
And the thing is, if you were actually in physical danger, say getting chased through the jungle by a wild animal, these thoughts and feelings would be super useful. They might even save your life!
But when you’re experiencing them in your normal day-to-day life, say when you’re having dinner with your family, those exact same symptoms can feel intrusive and frightening.
You combine that with the tendency to catastrophize, and of course you’re going to jump to scary conclusions that you ‘flicked a switch in your brain’, or you’re ‘seeing reality differently’. You didn’t and you’re not!
Again: What you’re experiencing are normal, common symptoms of anxiety. Your body and brain are doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re just doing them at the wrong time. That’s all!
So don’t worry -- You haven’t flicked a switch in your brain, and you’re not seeing reality differently!
3. What If I’m Traumatized?
This was another huge fear of mine. I worried that the experience of Depersonalization / Derealization was so huge and overwhelming that it must be a traumatizing experience. I was terrified that I would be traumatized and anxious for the rest of my life.
But there’s a very simple reason why you don’t need to worry about that happening:
Anxiety and DPDR are a reaction TO perceived trauma. They are NOT the trauma itself.
Again: DPDR is part of your brain’s natural and correct response to stress and anxiety. I know that it can feel bizarre and frightening, but it’s part of a defence mechanism and a defence mechanism cannot hurt you.
Going back to the example of the panic attack. When you’re going through it, it certainly feels like you’re being traumatized, right? But in actual fact, it’s your body and brain’s natural defence mechanism.
Now, that’s not to say that it’s not deeply unpleasant -- it is! -- but panic attacks don’t traumatize people. In fact, most people have at least one or two panic attacks over the course of their lives -- and they’re certainly not forever traumatized by them!
So don’t worry. I know it can be a scary experience -- But what you’re feeling is actually your body and brain’s natural response to stress and anxiety. Trauma is something that hurts you, that damages you.
Depersonalization / Derealization, as frightening as it can seem, is a defence mechanism. It’s there to protect you. It can’t hurt you, and it certainly can’t traumatize you!
4. I Can’t Remember Being Normal
What really used to scare me was that I felt like I couldn’t even remember the person I used to be before Depersonalization / Derealization. I couldn’t remember what it felt like to not have anxiety.
And if I couldn’t remember what it felt like to not have anxiety and DPDR, how could I ever get back to it?
So at first glance, that might seem scary too, but as usual, there’s a very simple explanation. It’s called state-specific (or state-dependent) memory. Basically, this means that when you’re feeling a certain way, it can be very hard to imagine what it feels like to be any other way.
This is why they say to never go shopping on an empty stomach. Why?
Because it’s pretty much impossible to imagine a future you who isn’t hungry -- and you invariably end up buying way too much, right? I know I do!
And it’s the same thing with moods, with anxiety, with Depersonalization / Derealization. When you’re feeling DPDR and your thoughts are racing, it’s really hard to imagine a future where that’s not happening.
One more time, let’s use the example of the panic attack. In that 10 minutes of panic, if someone tries to calm the person down by saying: “It’s ok. You‘re not dying and you’re not going crazy” -- it will be hard for the person to absorb that information.
Why? Because in a state of panic and anxiety, it’s very difficult to imagine a future state where you’re not panicking and worrying that you’re going to die, or go crazy.
Even though that calm state is just minutes, even seconds away!
And the only difference between those two states is what? That’s right -- the person’s levels of anxiety. That’s all.
And the exact same goes for Depersonalization / Derealization.
The worries that you’ll ‘never be the same’, or that you’ve ‘flicked a switch in your brain’ etc -- have no basis in reality, and are all essentially driven by anxiety. That’s all.
When you turn off the anxiety that’s driving them, all of these thoughts and fears will fade away and stop as if they had never been there. You’re not changed, you’re not damaged, you’re not seeing things differently.
Why? Because you never were any of those things. It was just anxiety and its symptoms. And yes, when you recover -- you will be 100% back to normal, the same person you were, with all the same interests, dislikes, dramas, hobbies etc that you used to have.
Why? Because you never really changed!
Recovery is recovery, and it doesn’t mean 95% or 99%.
Worrying that you’ll somehow never fully recover from DPDR, or any anxiety-based condition, or that you’ll be somehow changed forever -- is not a rational thought about anxiety.
It IS the anxiety!
I know it can feel scary at times but always remember that it’s temporary, it’s harmless, and you can and will recover completely. And when you do, you will be 100% back to normal.