One of the most common questions people have about DP is:
What's the difference between Depersonalization vs Derealization?
Are they totally different symptoms? Can they happen separately from one another? And do they have to be treated separately too?
First, let's look at both symptoms:
1. Depersonalization is a feeling of disconnection from yourself.
You feel as if you’re separated from your body, your senses etc. You may feel like a robot, as if your body isn’t your own, that you’re watching the movements of another person. You may also feel a separation from your memories, as if they're somehow not your own.
“I know I’m here, but I feel as if I’m not in my body. Like I’m watching it happen.”
2. Derealization is a feeling of disconnection from the world around you.
This can feel as if reality is a dream, a TV show, or that it’s fake and could cease to exist at any moment. It can feel like you're seeing the world from inside a glass bubble. You can feel a disconnection from the people around you, as if they're actors or robots. Colours , objects, the whole world can look like it's flat, 2D and unreal.
"I'm afraid that I'm cut off from reality... or even that reality itself is fake."
Depersonalization vs Derealization
Most people typically report feeling one more than the other, but virtually everyone experiences a mixture of both.
Depersonalization and Derealization can both be extremely distressing. And the nature of both, which cause the sufferer to experience doubts about the reality of their selves and the world around them, can lead to frightening and intrusive existential thoughts.
So: Depersonalization vs Derealization -- what’s the actual difference?
Are they separate conditions or symptoms that need to be dealt with individually?
The short answer is: NO.
As somebody who experienced chronic anxiety-driven DP and DR for two years, I constantly experienced a MIX of the above list of symptoms, as does virtually everyone who develops the condition.
In terms of the Depersonalization symptoms, I hardly recognized myself in the mirror and my body felt like it was belonged to someone else. Seeing photographs of myself was really strange -- I knew that I was the person in the images, but I couldn’t connect to them emotionally.
I also experienced constant issues with my memory and concentration and felt like time was being distorted.
But I ALSO had strong Derealization symptoms.
The world constantly felt strange and unreal, as if I was looking through a pane of glass all the time.
And added into the mix, I had constant, terrifying existential thoughts about both myself and reality that were overwhelming to the point of being crippling.
So -- coming from somebody with extensive personal experience of both Depersonalization vs Derealization:
Which was more important to address first?
Which was more persistent?
Which should you focus on to recover as quickly as possible?
The answer is NEITHER.
Two Sides Of The Same Coin
The entire argument about whether you have DP or DR is basically pointless.
Debating the difference between Depersonalization and Derealization is like debating which flu symptoms bothers you most, the cough or the running nose! Sure, you can argue about them all day, but it’s not going to help with your flu.
It doesn’t matter if you’re experiencing more Depersonalization or Derealization. They’re two sides of the same coin and they’re both caused by the same thing: ANXIETY.
You're just overcomplicating them by trying to break them down into separate conditions or trying to fix one before the other.
Think about it -- is there any possible way to draw a clear line between feeling
a disconnection to yourself and a disconnection to the world?
Of course not. This is a mental reaction to trauma. You can't talk about the difference between Depersonalization and Derealization like one's a broken arm and the other is a broken leg!
Not Separate Conditions
Fussing over it, researching it, trying to decide which you have?
That's just going to focus your mind completely on the feelings, at a time when you should be on the road to recovery!
It's picking at the scab when you should be allowing it to heal.
Remeber, this is a condition that’s based on anxious thinking.
And constantly analyzing, defining it and arguing on websites and forums about the difference between Depersonalization and Derealization -- will only make things worse.
As the Wikipedia entry for Derealization says:
“Derealization is a subjective experience of unreality of the outside world, while Depersonalization is sense of unreality in one's personal self, although most authors currently do not regard derealization (surroundings) and depersonalization (self) as separate constructs.”
And that’s the most important part. They're NOT separate conditions!
I don’t mean to suggest that there is no difference between these conditions. And in certain other circumstances, for example with cases of head trauma, it can be important to distinguish between them.
The Key To Recovery
But with anxiety-based conditions, the difference is irrelevant. Because when you address the underlying condition that’s causing it -- the anxiety -- both the DP and the DR will become less important, less noticeable, and eventually stop completely.
In one of my other articles I talk about how DP can seem like an impossible mountain of symptoms to get over: Anxious thoughts, feelings of unreality, muscle pain etc etc.
But the key to recovery is realizing that you don’t have to deal with these symptoms one by one -- All you have to do is address the underlying anxiety and the symptoms will stop on their own.
Focusing on the difference between Depersonalization and Derealization is just another part of that anxious thinking. Why?
Because you don't need to 'figure out' the difference between DP and DR to be able to recover from both of them.
And there's no amount of thinking about Depersonalization and Derealization - or the difference between them - that will help your recovery!
There is no practical difference between Depersonalization vs Derealization.
They are both symptoms of the same condition and are both caused by anxiety.
They don't need to be addressed separately.
It's far more beneficial to focus the mind AWAY from the condition, as that's what will overwrite the anxious thought patterns that are causing the Depersonalization and Derealization in the first place.
Understanding that is the first step towards understanding how the condition works -- and how to recover.