Cracking the DP/DR Code: Decoding the common symptoms of depersonalization and derealization and finding relief from them. Clear explanations of each symptom and instructions on how to recover from them.
Imagine a world where everything around you feels strange and unreal. Your own thoughts and feelings seem distant, as if they don’t belong to you. This is what people with Depersonalization and Derealization Disorder (DP/DR) experience every day.
DP/DR is a condition that affects how the sufferers perceive themselves and the world around them. It can be confusing and isolating, but it’s important to understand it and support those going through it.
Depersonalization (DP) is when someone feels disconnected from their own thoughts, emotions, and body, almost like watching themselves from afar. Derealization (DR), on the other hand, is a sense of detachment from the world around them. It’s as if the things and people they see are not quite real, as if they’re in a dream or a movie.
I’ve covered various aspects of depersonalization & derealization before. In this blog article, we’ll explore the symptoms of depersonalization and derealization disorder so that the sufferers can better understand why they experience certain DP/DR symptoms.
If you’re someone who is trying to help someone with depersonalization and derealization, this article will help you develop empathy and offer support to those who might be struggling.
I have already discussed in detail some of the causes and triggers of DP/DR symptoms, so we will not be covering them here.
Most common DP/DR symptoms
Before we delve into the specific symptoms of Depersonalization and Derealization Disorder (DP/DR), it’s essential to understand that these experiences can vary from person to person. The manifestation and intensity of symptoms can differ among individuals, making it a complex and unique condition for each and every person.
While Person A can experience five or six symptoms from this list, Person B might experience just three or four. Because of how different the symptoms of the sufferers can be, many feel confused and start to wonder whether they are suffering from DP/DR or not. In these cases, a simple DP/DR test or questionnaire can help educate them.
First, let me list the most common symptoms and we’ll go over them one by one in detail.
Feeling Detached from Oneself
Feeling as though Living in a Dream World
Detachment from Others
Fearful Intrusive Thoughts
Distorted Sense of Perception
Philosophical and Existential Questions
Auditory and Visual Disturbances
Experiencing Somatic Symptoms
1. Feeling Detached From Oneself
One of the hallmarks of depersonalization and derealization experience is feeling disconnected from oneself. A sufferer feels like they’re watching themselves from far away, as if their thoughts, emotions, and even their own body don’t feel quite real. In some cases, they may feel like they’re on autopilot or feel like a robot.
While this feeling of detachment can be really confusing and unsettling, in reality, it is simply a natural reaction to chronic stress. When we go through a lot of stress, dissociation can occur as a way to shield us from the additional strain.
Think of dissociative disorders like DP/DR as an airbag in a car. When you’re in an accident, the airbag inflates to protect you from getting hurt. But you can’t drive around with the airbag always inflated because it would get in the way.
Similarly, when stress levels get high, the brain uses dissociation, like DP/DR, to protect us from too much stress. Unfortunately, this dissociation can sometimes make us feel more impaired, like we’re not fully functioning or present. Though dissociation is a way for our minds to cope with stress, the mechanism is not perfect, leading to the dissociation itself becoming stressful.
The subject of depersonalization and how to recover from it goes into more detail about this.
2. Feeling as Though Living in a Dream World
Another common symptom experienced by individuals with DP/DR is the sensation of living in a dream world. Everything around them feels unreal, as if they are watching life through a hazy filter or living in a movie. This dreamlike quality can be disorienting and make it challenging to fully engage with the world.
In this state, the individual may feel detached from their surroundings, as if they are an observer rather than an active participant. It can feel as though they are moving through life in a foggy and surreal state. They may also experience audio-visual disturbances (more on that below).
The exact mechanisms behind this symptom are not yet fully understood, but it is believed to be linked to how the dissociation experience can turn off certain sensory processing functions in the brain.
One should understand that this is not due to any irreversible brain damage or anything like that. When the dissociation goes away, the feeling of unreality also lifts. It’s also important to note that while the experiences may feel strange and unsettling, they are not indicative of any DP/DR-induced schizophrenia or psychosis.
The terms dissociation, depersonalization (detachment from self), and derealization (detachment from reality) can be confusing. Here’s a link to learn more about depersonalization vs derealization.
3. Emotional Numbing
Some DP/DR sufferers can’t seem to fully experience or connect with their emotions. It’s as if their emotional world is muted or dulled, leaving them feeling disconnected and unable to respond to situations in the way they used to.
This emotional numbness can manifest as a diminished range of feelings, a sense of apathy, or difficulty in expressing emotions. The vibrant colors of joy, sadness, and excitement may fade away, leaving a monochrome landscape of emotional emptiness.
It is thought that a mind overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, or trauma may employ this numbing as a way to shield the individual from overwhelming emotions that could further stress the sufferers. Emotional numbing is a coping mechanism that temporarily shields them from emotional pain, but can leave them feeling detached and unable to fully engage with life.
I’ve covered emotional numbing due to depersonalization previously in a separate article, which also offers information on how to bring back emotions.
4. Detachment From Others
DP/DR can lead to a profound sense of detachment from others, including close friends and family members. Sufferers may struggle to connect with others on an emotional level, feeling like they are distant observers rather than active participants.
A young mother once wrote to me explaining how her depersonalization prevented her from forming a deep bond with her newborn baby. Despite wanting to connect with her newborn badly, she was unable to experience the joy and attachment typically associated with motherhood.
Additionally, individuals with DP/DR may struggle with maintaining eye contact or have trouble engaging in social interactions. They may find it difficult to empathize with others’ emotions and often feel a sense of disconnection with others. This symptom and its causes are closely linked to the symptom of emotional numbing covered above.
5. Fearful Intrusive Thoughts
Depersonalization and derealization can bring about a racing mind filled with intrusive thoughts, which are distressing, unwanted, and often fearful. These thoughts can be difficult to control and can cause a great deal of distress and anxiety for individuals with DP/DR. You may consistently feel like you’re on the edge of a panic attack.
Most DP/DR sufferers have intrusive thoughts of going crazy, losing control, or harming themselves or others. Such thoughts can be graphic and vivid, leading to heightened anxiety and panic. It’s important to note that experiencing these thoughts often does not mean that individuals with DP/DR want to act on them. They are intrusive, involuntary, and inconsistent with their true values and intentions. They may experience such intrusive thoughts, but they might not have any desire to act on them.
When we go through DP/DR, we are in a state of hyper-vigilance. Our mind truly believes that we are in danger, even when there’s no real danger around. Once you understand the harmless nature of DP/DR and establish your foundation of safety, such thoughts will become less intrusive.
6. Distorted Sense of Perception
DP/DR can give rise to a distorted sense of perception, affecting various aspects of an individual’s experience. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
1. Distorted Sense of Time: Some people may experience time as warped or fragmented. Even recent events may feel like something that happened in the past. Minutes can feel like hours, or hours can pass by in what feels like seconds, leading to a disorienting feeling and a sense of detachment from the flow of time.
2. Vague and Dreamlike Memories: Individuals with DP/DR often describe their memories as vague, hazy, or lacking emotional depth. Recollections of past events may feel distant as if they were experienced in a dream. This blurring of memories can contribute to a further sense of disconnection from one’s personal history.
3. Altered Body Perception: Some sufferers may feel a distorted sense of their own body. They may experience sensations of floating, as if they are detached from their physical form. Limbs may feel light or weightless for some, while for others, they may feel heavy, leading to the perception of the body feeling unfamiliar or disconnected.
These distortions in perception can arise from disruptions in the brain’s processing of sensory information and self-awareness. The exact reasons behind these experiences in DP/DR are not fully understood, but they are thought to involve alterations in brain regions responsible for integrating sensory input and constructing a coherent perception of one’s body self.
7. Philosophical and Existential Questions
Some people with DP/DR grapple with profound philosophical and existential questions all the time. These questions can be deeply introspective and may include questions like:
“How do I exist?”
“What is the nature of reality?”
“Is everyone else just a figment of my imagination?”
“What is the true nature of time?”
“Is anything in the world real?”
“Am I dead or alive?”
Even someone who was previously uninterested in philosophy might now experience such non-stop, unwanted questioning.
It’s believed that such thoughts and questions arise as individuals attempt to make sense of their new experiences and reconcile their altered perceptions with their pre-existing beliefs and understanding of the world. They may seek answers to find meaning, stability, and a sense of grounding amidst the confusion and uncertainty of depersonalization and derealization.
It’s important to note that these philosophical and existential questions do not indicate a philosophical crisis or indicate a departure from reality. They are a natural response to the unique challenges posed by DP/DR.
These DP/DR-induced philosophical and existential thoughts have previously been covered in great detail.
8. Blank Mind
While some DP/DR sufferers experience a lot of intrusive thoughts, other people may experience a sense of “blank mind” or cognitive emptiness. They may struggle with a lack of thoughts, difficulty concentrating, and a feeling of mental fog or emptiness.
It is believed to be a result of alterations in brain functioning and the effects of chronic stress, anxiety, or trauma on cognitive processes.
Remedies for a blank mind often involve a combination of therapy and strategies for improving cognitive focus and attention.
9. Auditory and Visual Disturbances
Individuals with DP/DR may experience one or more auditory and visual disturbances, further contributing to their fear of the DP/DR experience. Here are a few examples:
Visual Disturbances Experienced By DP/DR Sufferers:
– Floaters: Some individuals with DP/DR may experience floaters, which are specks or shapes that seem to float in their visual field.
– Visual Snow: Visual snow refers to a phenomenon where individuals see tiny, flickering dots or static-like patterns overlaying their vision.
– Heightened Brightness: The world may appear overly bright or glaring to individuals with DP/DR, causing discomfort or a sense of visual overload.
Here’s my article that goes in-depth on visual disturbances caused by depersonalization.
– Tinnitus: DP/DR and Tinnitus can sometimes go hand-in-hand. Tinnitus involves perceiving ringing, buzzing, or other sounds in the ears, even when no external sound is present.
– Altered Sound Perception: Others may find that sounds are distorted, muffled, or seem louder or softer than they are.
These auditory and visual disturbances can further contribute to the disorienting and unsettling experiences of individuals with DP/DR.
10. Experiencing Somatic Symptoms
Somatic or physical symptoms are very common with DP/DR. This further adds to the overall distress experienced by individuals. Let’s look at a few examples:
– Forehead Pressure: Some individuals with DP/DR may experience sensations of pressure or tightness in the forehead or head region. Some have claimed that this is a precursor to enlightenment or a spiritual emergency, though there’s no clear evidence connecting these two experiences.
– Chest Compression: A feeling of compression or tightness in the chest area can be present, causing discomfort or a sense of restricted breathing.
– Knots in the Belly: Individuals may describe a sensation of knots or tension in the abdominal area, often accompanied by digestive disturbances.
– Weightlessness: A feeling of lightness or weightlessness in the body may be experienced as if the body is detached or floating.
– Fatigue and Lack of Energy: People with DP/DR may often feel exhausted, lack energy, and find it difficult to engage in daily activities.
– Inability to Sleep: Many sufferers are unable to fall asleep easily from DP/DR. Or they could sometimes wake up in terror in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back to sleep.
These somatic symptoms are closely linked to the stress, anxiety, and overall dysregulation experienced in DP/DR. It’s important to recognize that these physical sensations are real to the individual, even if there is no underlying medical cause.
Addressing somatic symptoms in DP/DR involves a holistic approach that includes therapy, stress reduction techniques like massages, self-care, and lifestyle adjustments to manage stress and promote overall well-being. Working on getting 7-8 hours of sleep can also be essential to health and recovery.
Help Is Around the Corner
In this article, we have explored ten common symptoms associated with DP/DR, shedding light on the challenges faced by those experiencing this enigmatic condition.
If you are interested in delving deeper into each symptom, I invite you to explore the other articles on this website. Each article provides detailed information, personal experiences, and coping strategies related to many symptoms of the depersonalization and derealization experience.
Also, I have created DP No More, an online program to fully recover from depersonalization and derealization. If you want a step-by-step guide to helping you reach the path of recovery, considering checking it out.
The DP/DR disorder can really shake up someone’s life. My intention with this article is to create awareness and not to scare the sufferers. You may also be someone looking to help a loved one with depersonalization. In this case, I hope this information has made you more empathetic and supportive of those affected by DP/DR.
If you want to hear something hopeful, let me tell you this, I went through years of this torment before I successfully recovered from DP/DR. During my DP/DR phase, I experienced most of the symptoms above. But after recovering, I am free from these symptoms. This could be you as well, so don’t lose hope.
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