Understanding Depersonalization

I look down at my hand, but it’s not my hand. Someone speaks to me, I answer. But it is not me answering. Everything is a dream, I am not me, and the world around me passes slowly. This experience, called depersonalization, possessed me for three days, during the early period of my psychotic break. It is a feeling indescribable, to watch your body speak, move, all from the outside. In this article, I will be talking about the state I was in during this time.

What is Depersonalization?

Depersonalization is the feeling that you are not yourself. That your experience is not real, and that you have no identity. It has often been described as an out of body experience. Many say it feels like a dream. It is a dissociative symptom, a class of symptoms which include depersonalization and derealization (which I will cover in a later article).

Who Gets It?

Depersonalization has a prevalence rate of around one to two percent in the population¹.  While healthy people can experience depersonalization, it is often found comorbidly with other disorders or states, such as anxiety or psychosis. Trauma is also a big factor when it comes to depersonalization, and depersonalization is especially likely to occur at the time of the traumatic event. Derealization may also occur as an after effect of substance abuse, or during a seizure.

Anxiety and depression, while possibly the source of depersonalization, may  also be caused by depersonalization itself. The feeling of depersonalization is not a good one, and many who experience it feel as if they are “losing their mind”. This sentiment can lead to anxiety and depression within those affected.

While depersonalization may be transient, or associated with some type of mental illness, sometimes it is persistent and interferes everyday life. Some episodes may last months, even years. In some cases, these more severe episodes cannot be pinned on other physical or mental disorders. People fitting this criteria are given a diagnosis of depersonalization disorder.

Treatment

Treatment for depersonalization includes psychotherapy (talk therapy), CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) which focuses on identifying and changing thought patterns, and medication.

There is no specific medication for depersonalization. For people with an underlying disorder, treating the disorder may alleviate symptoms like it did for me. For others, antipsychotics may help address strange thought patterns and perceptions that sometimes accompany depersonalization.

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