What is depersonalization, the condition that’s so confusing you might not know you have it?

This condition doesn't affect anything other than your subjective experience of the world which makes it quite difficult to explain and diagnose.

depersonalisation mental health dissociation
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depersonalisation mental health dissociation

While some conditions affecting one’s mental state can easily be seen from the outside as they induce symptoms that reflect on behaviour, others can be much more difficult to spot as they only affect the person's subjective experience of the world around them. This makes it extremely difficult to know that something is wrong or even attempt to put it into words.

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One such condition is DDD or depersonalization-derealization disorder which, according to the MSD Manual, involves a persistent or recurring feeling of being detached from one’s body or mental processes, like an outside observer of one’s life or a feeling of being detached from one’s surroundings. People often describe it as their actions being robotic or feeling like their own life is like a film they are watching. They note a sensation that they are on autopilot as decisions, actions and emotions seem completely unreal going as far as feeling like strangers to themselves.

The cause of depersonalization

The medical community doesn’t precisely know what causes DDD which is part of what makes it so hard to diagnose. The condition is intimately connected to trauma and extreme stress as some experts believe it happens to shield or protect from perceived injury according to Psychology Today. Depersonalization is believed to reflect an impairment in emotional processing. The person becomes extremely overwhelmed when put in situations of heightened stress or trauma thereby triggering symptoms as a defence mechanism. Extreme fatigue, anxiety, childhood trauma, depression, PTSD or intoxication are a few predisposing factors for experiencing a depersonalization episode. These episodes start relatively short and begin to last longer and increase in severity with time. This is why it is important to always practice introspection and make sure to seek professional help should anything feel different within.

Depersonalization treatments

According to Jacques Ambrose, senior medical director at ColumbiaDoctors Psychiatry:

DDD can cause significant distress and morbidity to the affected individuals, but it often goes undetected or misdiagnosed. Delays in treatments also prolong the course of DDD.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to depersonalization. By first establishing a diagnosis, people can begin to understand their condition and make adjustments that help them navigate it. They can then work on overcoming it, though this may be different on a case-by-case basis.

According to Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center, treatments involve talk therapy or psychotherapy and could also involve medication such as mood stabilizers and antidepressants depending on the patient. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has also been known to successfully address the issue by helping patients understand their experiences, and manage their symptoms. This is achievedthrough behavioural techniques to remain grounded, present and calm to not trigger anxiety or erratic reactions that could make their situation worse.

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Cleveland Clinic: Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder

Psychology Today: Depersonalization / Derealization Disorder

MSD Manual: Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder

Columbia University Irving Medical Center: Depersonalization: Everything You Need to Know

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