When going through depersonalization, our minds can become infested with a lot of scary intrusive thoughts. Let’s look at a couple of strategies to deal with these kinds of thoughts.
When I was going through severe depersonalization, my mind would not rest. It was filled with so many scary and intrusive thoughts. It felt overwhelming.
I remember how I thought I was definitely on the verge of insanity. I would often wonder if depersonalization can drive me crazy. If not that, then I imagined vanishing into nothingness or completely losing my understanding of reality. Such thoughts are hard to put into words here, but their effects were real. I felt unsafe and was afraid for my well-being at all times.
These intrusive and scary thoughts would bring a lot of anxiety, fear, and panic into me.
Anxiety, fear, and panic are on the same spectrum. Anxiety is general unease, fear can be more immediate and intense than anxiety, whereas panic is at the extreme end of the spectrum. They are all reactions to the thoughts and feelings you experience.
When you imagine that something bad might happen to you, you feel anxious. When you think there is danger lurking, you feel fear. When you feel certain of that danger, your fear becomes panic.
Sensitivity to Fear
Our brains are extremely sensitive to fear. This is what helped us survive in the dangerous wild when we were cave dwellers and hunter-gatherers. Even after conquering nature and building civilizations, we are in many ways similar to our troglodyte ancestors. We run on the same hardware (our genetic makeup hasn’t changed that much over time).
Our nervous system responds to threats, perceived or real, in the same way it did thousands of years ago.
When we go through depersonalization, what happens is that we become hypersensitive. Our threat detection apparatus, the amygdala, goes into overdrive. This puts us in a hypervigilant mode where we are always on the lookout for threats. Basically, our body and mind think our survival is in great danger, and survival trumps everything else, including feeling relaxed, feeling positive emotions, feeling connected to yourself, and even feeling real.
During this hypersensitive phase, our brain comes up with all sorts of thoughts about potential danger. It wants us to be ready and be able to find our way through any danger. This is why it comes up with so many scary thoughts. The brain is trying to depict a scary scenario in the form of a what-if thought.
The brain is quick to come up with such thoughts as “What if I’m going insane?”, “What if I have a panic attack”, “Will this condition ever end?”, and “Is this person walking down the street a threat to my survival?” It’s constantly trying to pose to us a potential problem that we should be ready for.
But here’s the issue. These thoughts are helpful only when there is a real threat. In the case of depersonalization, there is no real underlying threat. The issue is that our emotional and primitive brain perceives a threat even when there is none.
The opposite of feeling threatened is feeling safe. So, the more we create a feeling of safety, the less scary thoughts we will experience.
In addition to that, there are also two strategies you can use to handle scary thoughts when they take over your mental space.
Analyze and Diffuse
When fear takes over, it compromises our reasoning ability. Our emotional (limbic) brain makes all the rules when we are in a state of hypervigilance. We get overwhelmed with fear. Fear suppresses rational thinking and instead makes us impulsive.
This can be a real boon when there is an actual threat. You can’t be sitting there and thinking in the face of real danger. You must act quickly.
However, where there is no imminent threat, as in the case of depersonalization, such emotional responses can cause more harm than good.
So, what can we do at such times? The first strategy that I propose is called Analyze and Diffuse.
Here’s what it entails: whenever a scary thought pops into your head, instead of immediately reacting with fear, try to analyze it and see if there’s any validity behind that fear. By using our rational intellect instead of our emotional thinking, we try to diffuse the power of this fear thought.
For example, one of my fear thoughts was “This is not depersonalization, it’s just a precursor to something more dangerous like schizophrenia.” This thought caused a lot of panic in me. My brain was trying to put this thought in front of me so I could be better prepared.
But when I put it under the microscope of my intellect and analyzed it, I saw that it was not based on any truth. I found out that there was no real connection between depersonalization and schizophrenia. I did not have anyone in my family that suffered from it (genetics play a very important role in its development). I was able to diffuse the intensity of this scary thought by examining whether it had any validity in the first place.
Here’s an exercise I propose to you. Write down all your scary thoughts and concerns. Now go through each one and try to use your rational thinking and come up with at least one reason why that fear thought is invalid.
Maybe you’ve written it down on a piece of paper, or it’s on a note-taking app on your phone. Ensure that this note is accessible to you at all times.
Whenever a scary thought pops up in your head, refer to this note and see why it’s not true. If it’s a new scary thought, then add it to the list and use the same process to refute it.
Accept and Allow
Sometimes, these scary, intrusive thoughts can be overwhelming. So much so that you cannot think straight or use the rational part of your brain to analyze and diffuse them. We sometimes get overtaken by our emotional brain.
When that happens, you can follow a different strategy: accept and allow.
When thoughts get overwhelming, we try to accept and allow them through.
In practice, this is what it looks like. Simply agree with the thought. Do not fight it or try to suppress it.
For example, you get overtaken by a scary thought that says, “I am going to completely lose touch with reality!” Just tell yourself, “So be it!” or “Let it happen!”
I know, I know, this sounds really scary. You may feel that if you accept and allow such thoughts and agree with them, then they are definitely going to come true. But you’ve got to understand that a thought does not have the ability to make anything happen to you.
By accepting and allowing, you take away the power this thought has over you. You are not offering any resistance to it. Without resistance, such scary thoughts tend to weaken gradually.
It’s like a game of poker. Your opponent might act as if he or she has a great hand and try to intimidate you into folding and walking away so that they can pocket the entire pot. But when you call their bluff, you find out that all they had going was a pair of 2s. You actually have the better hand.
Similarly, by saying to that scary thought, “So be it, let it happen,” you are calling its bluff. These scary thoughts only have power over you when you resist them and beg them to stop. The minute you accept and allow and say, “Yes, do what you want,” their power over you diminishes.
That doesn’t mean such unwanted thoughts will go away immediately. They’ll still keep coming back. But every time you analyze and diffuse or accept and allow, they will have a little less power over you.
When you couple these strategies with creating an underlying sense of safety, you’ll start to notice a real drop in scary and intrusive thoughts.
What are some of your fear thoughts? Drop them in the comments. Let’s try to analyze and diffuse them. If the accept and allow strategy works for you, then let me know about it.
My scariest DP-thoughts are…
– deep philosophical thoughts and am I able to react with peace to them some day?
– will I be able to feel “normal” ever again?
– what am I doing wrong when these feelings linger still here?
– is this DP or am I just feeling reality as it really is?
@Inna this is EXACTLY how I feel!
I definitely relate to this. Especially the philosophical thoughts, about time and space and conscious.
And the question “Will I be able to feel normal again?”… I have imagined many scenarios where I live with this for the rest of my life. I have to stop thinking about this, as the post showed us.
My thoughts are
Will I be stuck like this
There’s no way to escape
I have no thoughts
I have stretching in my head
Will I ever feel normal again
I have panic attacks how do I get them to stop and heal from dp
Is there medication that will help heal me?
I am going to harm myself
Why am I alive?
I dont remember what I did yesterday or the day before it.
Will my memories come back
I’m not present in life
There’s something wrong with me
I’m depressed, have anxiety, ptsd, post partum depression which is true.
My thoughts get jumbled up
Will I connect with family, friends and co workers again like I did before dp
Ashutosh Sharma says
1. Sir existential thoughts and questions of existence scare me a lot.
2. I think one day I would be a great burden for my family.
3. Past memories even yesterday’s memories seem fake to me. Friends and family members seem unfamiliar to me.
Swamy G says
“One day I will be a burden..” you are trying to predict the future. You can’t. When such future worry thoughts come up, feel free to dismiss them. Think about your present moment and think about how to improve that.
DP does affect the perception of memories. They do seem to have a dream-like quality to them. When DP goes away, they’ll start to feel more real.
My scariest depersonalization thoughts are:
1. I will end up killing myself.
2. I will end up hurting someone else.
3. I will never be able to finish school or achieve my dreams of being a doctor.
4. I will never be completely independent, fully functioning member of society.
5. I will never be able to experience the beauty of here and now with family and friends.
6. I will never have meaningful relationships.
7. I will have schizophrenia or psychosis. (I have family member who is schizophrenic… they are on my dads side. My dad also has mental health issues but doesn’t seek help)
8. I won’t remember who i am.
9. I will experience a violent supernatural event.
Swamy G says
Your first two thoughts are classic “what-if” thoughts (more here: https://acoachcalledlife.com/anxiety-thought-patterns/), they can be ignored and dismissed right away.
I will never thoughts are self-defeating thoughts. You’ve to recognize that they are automatically coming up. Also, your brain thinks that it can predict the future (“I will…”). No one can predict your future. Your DP may be gone in the coming months. You just don’t know.
Have you tried using analyze and diffuse or accept and allow strategy for the rest of thoughts? What were the results like?
Mine are very similar to the ones above, esspecially Inna’s.
Mine too Mel, how are things with you now?
My thoughts are almost always about the immediate present:
-“I looked forward to meeting friends but now that i’ll be depersonalizated and empty our meeting for sure is gonna end up sad instead of happy.”
-“I have an important meeting with a psychologist and i need to be able to explain myself as well as possible since this is a rare chance”
-“i wanna vent my negative feelings into my diary, i absolutely can’t depersonalizate and lose my feelings, making me unable to vent”
All of the above are things that happen all the time, every day, so the negative experience scares me.
I basically just want to be able to be myself, good or bad.
I have been dealing with OCD for a while now and am in therapy for it. But I have been going through dpdr for about 4 months now. For some reason, I’m not having thoughts about how weird humans are. Like how we are just flesh and organs controlled by electrical impulses in a brain. It scares me for some reason and makes me feel like I don’t even know who I actually am. When I look at other people, it’s all I can think about and it causes me anxiety. Has anyone else ever dealt with this? It’s thoughts like this that make me feel like I’m actually going crazy.
“Im going to kill myself” – this one has stuck for so long. I let it come in and pass through but I get so frustrated it still is here. It’s probably been in my mind for at least 6 months. At times I can let it come and others times I feel hopeless because it’s still there. Thankfully it has lessened and is not an all day thing, possibly 10 times a day now.
I’ve been on this journey for 4 years. I’ve had A LOT of healing. I’ve had massive anxiety attacks, general anxiety, and panic attacks. I have befriended them. I think from all this that I have been through is why I’m having DP, going on 7 months but I just let it be with me because I keep having Hope it’ll be gone just like every other symptom.
Just need help pushing past this last intrusive thought.
Swamy G says
As long as you don’t have the desire to self-harm, then these are just repetitive OCD thoughts. Your thoughts don’t have the power to make you do anything, without the help of desire.
Oh Amanda this is my number one ☝🏻 intrusive thought! It scares the hell out of me at times… like where does it come from. I’ve been struggling with DP for about 4 months now. I’m definitely a lot better since joining Swamy’s course!
Sabrina Pina says
Last year, I tripped out HARD on smoking dab with a guy I had just met hours prior in the middle of the night up the peninsula in MI. When it hit me, I had my very first panic attack, and in the moment, I was severely traumatized. Ever since that day, I’ve been dealing with episodes of derealization. Last year, I had panic attacks a handful amount of times a week, and derealization episodes basically every day. From January this year, I rarely have my episodes, but I still have panic attacks here and there, but more so “almost” panic attacks because I’m able to turn my mind around without fully going into one. It’s changed me so much. I never drink alcohol because it’s similar to feeling dissociated from reality, God forbid I ever smoke for the next several years, and I’ve avoided certain activities and places because they became triggers. It’s a lot better than it used to be but I’m waiting for that year in the future when it all goes away, and the only anxiety I feel is just general anxiety.
Ryan Hunt says
My thoughts are all paranoid thoughts about the nature of reality.
-What if the whole world is just something I’m experiencing and everybody else aren’t real?
-What if anyone’s attempt to help me is just the “simulation” or “dream” trying to make me forget again?
-What if there was just nothing, no universe, nothing.
-Can I ever return to the way things were?
-Can I trust my reality?
I’ma philosophy student so DP has alot of cannon fodder in my head.
Kelsey Hafkesbring says
I am the exact same way. I kid you not. I think about the simulation thought on a daily basis and it terrifies me so much. That the world is a big joke and the lights are just going to turn out at any given moment.
That I could possibly be in a coma and or dead already just reliving my memories over and over.
Omg! I have the same thing right now. The thoughts are, what if I’m the only one that exists, and everybody else is not real. Everything else it just my imagination. This scared me so bad, but I’m trying my best to myself, it just thoughts. I’m praying to God and Jesus Christ that we heal from this immediately. 🙏🏾
Hi everyone, im 23 and i’ve been dealing with it for 7 years.
The real problem with me is that I managed to recover during theese years, but now it seems different.
I came back from vacation just a week ago and during theese days it got worse.
I’m having different thoughts like:
– I don’t recognize me, it seems like I’m a protagonist of a first person movie
– Why I am me instead of someone else?
– I try so hard to imagine others people pov
When I hang out with my friends, I can finally feel a little bit more comfortable but when I’m alone all the thoughts are back.
I’m worried for my parents, I wish they could see me happy and grateful.
I’m fighting against it I promise it will be ok.
I saw your comment and just wanted to say that I have had the same exact thought about the nature of consciousness, and feelings of not knowing who I am. I have OCD as well. So no, you are NOT going crazy!!!!
hi everyone 🙂 first of all i want to send you a lot of strength and energy, cause it sucks to have to go through this condition. however, soooo many people have it and so many recovered from it, that i am super certain all of us will recover too very soon <3
i have been having dpdr for a couple of months now (even though i know so many people only have had it for days or weeks), and it sometimes gets really hard with the intrusive thoughts. I fear the following:
– that suddenly my reality will disappear
– that i might have something worse than dp like some kind of brain injury
– that i will never be able to escape this dreamlike sensation
– that i will start having hallucinations
– that time has stopped and i can't understand its meaning
– that we're in a world we know nothing about and we're suspended in the universe
– that i won't be able to recognize the people around me (especially my family 🙁 )
– that nobody will be able to help me
– that i will forget all of my memories
…it's hard, i'm not going to lie. It's a constant battle. But as Swamy says, we NEED to let go. It doesn't have to feel like a battle. It needs to feel like full acceptance and love towards our body and our mind that are somehow hurt for different reasons. My reason was prolonged anxiety and a bad experience with weed in the past that activated my fear. Everything started when I had a panic attack in which i though i was literally slipping away from reality and falling into the void. It was awful.
But I'm learning to overcome that fear.
We need to understand that they're just FEARS that come from an agitated mind. I remember a few years ago I had a similar experience. it also lasted for some time, but as i engaged with daily activities, friends and plans, i forgot about it until it went away. And trust me, when it goes away it REALLY goes away, like i remember reading my own notes when I was feeling the dp and i couldn't relate to any of it. I was connected again <3
So i can assure you you will get out too!! And we'll experience reality again, with more intensity than ever. I read this in a book once:
"It's like you're walking down the road and you're trying to find your house. The house is just around the corner, at the end of the street. It's just there, but as you walk you can't see it because you haven't reached the corner yet. And you wonder if you're ever going to find it and feel safe again."
We need to trust and let time heal us, like it has healed sooooo many people <3 We can do it 🙂
Swamy G says
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Kat, appreciate it.
Oh my!!! How is this possible? I have the exact same fears and intrusive thoughts you have. You put all my fearful thoughts I have everyday into words. This is crazy. Even this scares me. How can someone have such a similar experience? Especially the things about reality and the universe are extremely scary to me. I fear that at any given second the world’s and reality is just gonna end.
I don’t know if it’s relieving that someone has the exact same fears and thoughts. It’s seems too go to be true.
What if this is not real? What if I’m putting so much effort in this.. and I’m only dreaming?
Just imagine waking up.. after all this. It would break me. Because if this is really a dream or I’m in coma, and I’m waking up anytime soon, I would be insane.
This thought kills me. It’s my biggest fear and no one can help me with it.
I’m a little late to the party, but i have a hard time putting my fears into words. I feel trapped in my head and worry I’ll never forget that I’m trapped in my body and go insane. I worry I can’t unthink these thoughts and return to normal! Hard to calm down because I keep over analyzing the act of even thinking. Anyone else? 🙁
I have no idea what is happening to me . If anyone can relate , please help .
I hear my thoughts audibly – new to me. Been 2.7 years now .
I get thoughts looping that I am going to die , I should ( do bad things to myself ) , call my self names in my head ( very bad ) , thoughts tell me to do things . Non stop chatter and awareness and what’s if I die .
What if I am stuck like this forever . I miss my life . I don’t know who I am . I have brain damage , I can’t think , I can’t make a thought , why can’t I relax , what have I done to myself . I will never see my daughter again … all day .
What is this? Same thoughts for that long with zero respite . And I shake .