You work alone in a big house. You clean all of the rooms and keep up all the mechanics of the house yourself. Since you’re alone, you can never leave the house because someone has to be watching it at all times. Yet, sometimes you need a break. You walk out the front door with some cigarettes or a glass of wine or maybe a favorite book. Then, suddenly you realize you’ve locked yourself out. Now all you can do is stare in the window at the front table where the keys rest in the key bowl and your phone next to it.
That big house I had you imagining earlier is your sense of self—both body and mind. Walking out the front door without the keys is similar to what depersonalization-derealization can feel like. According to the Mayo Clinic, depersonalization-derealization disorder is defined as, “persistently or repeatedly [having] the feeling that you’re observing yourself from outside your body or you have a sense that things around you aren’t real, or both.” 50% of all adults in the United States will experience 1 or 2 episodes of depersonalization-derealization during their lifetime or 200,000 on any given day (“21 Interesting Depersonalization” 2015). Like many other illnesses, the persistence of the phenomena is what makes it a disorder (Mayo Clinic Staff 2014).
What causes depersonalization-derealization disorder? Experts aren’t sure. However, it seems that an imbalance of neurotransmitters can make the brain more vulnerable to the disorder (Mayo Clinic Staff 2014). They also believe that a number of events may be related to the illness. For example, childhood trauma, severe stress, or severe physical trauma like a car accident may contribute to the disorder (Mayo Clinic Staff 2014).
What are the symptoms of depersonalization-derealization disorder? Some common symptoms of depersonalization are described as: feeling like an outside observer to your body, feeling like a robot, feeling like your head is wrapped in cotton or that your body is somehow distorted, emotional or physical numbness, and a sense that your memories are not your own. Some common symptoms of derealization are as follows: feelings of alienation to your surroundings, being unable to recognize oneself in the mirror, and distorted surroundings. For a fuller list of symptoms please see Mayo Clinic (link in the bibliography).
Could it be a sign of something serious? Yes. Depersonalization is commonly linked to other mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. It could also be a sign of illnesses such as epilepsy or migraines (Schoenwald 2016). Also, there have been reports that those who experience depersonalization take part in self-harming activities in order to feel normal again. Thus, it could lead to something more serious.
If you’ve experienced the above symptoms persistently and it’s affected your daily life you should see a doctor and mental health care specialist right away. If you’re interested in learning more about depersonalization disorder join our email list below.
Mayo Clinic Staff (2017). Depersonalization-derealization disorder. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depersonalization-derealization- disorder/basics/causes/con-20033401.
Psych Central. (2016). 6 Warning Signs You Suffer from Depersonalization Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 16, 2017, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2016/04/09/6-warning-signs-you-suffer-from- depersonalization-disorder/.
HealthResearchFunding.org. (2015). 21 Interesting Depersonalization Disorder Statistics. Retrieved from http://healthresearchfunding.org/21-interesting-depersonalization-disorder- statistics/.