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Depersonalisation

CONTENTS

  SECTION 1        Introduction

  SECTION 2        A Symptom of Panic Disorder

  SECTION 3        A Symptom of Drug Use

  SECTION 4        Depersonalisation Disorder

  SECTION 5        Comments and Feedback

SECTION 1                Introduction

This can be a very disturbing experience, even frightening.  It is however very common: the third most frequently diagnosed psychological symptom (after Anxiety and Depression) and reckoned to be experienced by up to 70% of people at some time in their lives.

Most commonly, Depersonalisation and Derealisation are experienced together, to a greater or lesser extent, and many experts prefer not to separate them, for both diagnostic and even philosophical reasons. Technically, Depersonalisation means a subjective experience of unreality in one's sense of self; Derealisation a sense of unreality of the outside world.

Sufferers of Depersonalisation frequently have feelings that they are living in a "dream", that they are watching and hearing themselves as though they are a character in a movie, that they or the world around them have become less real, or even that they are having an "out of body experience".

The following three Sections deal with: Depersonalisation as a symptom of Panic Disorder; Depersonalisation as a symptom of Recreational Drug Use; and Depersonalisation Disorder (DPD).

In comparatively very rare circumstances, however, Depersonalisation can be a cognitive symptom of a neurological disease, so if your experience of Depersonalisation is more than occasional or temporary, and is not the consequence of an already diagnosed Panic/Anxiety condition or of Drug Use, then you should visit your Doctor and seek their advice.
SECTION 2                A Symptom of Panic Disorder

Panic Disorder, which includes all the different forms of Anxiety, is by far the most common background cause of the often deeply unpleasant and even frightening symptoms of Depersonalisation.  For those of us who experience severe and/or prolonged Anxiety at any point in our lives (70% by some reckonings) it is a very common symptom, so much so that doctors will often regard it as "normal".

As such, you should not regard it as yet another reason to feel anxious.  Try to recognise it for what it is: a kind of defence mechanism where our minds and bodies try to protect us from harm, producing a kind of barrier between our conscious minds and the turmoil going on in the deeper parts of our minds, allowing us to "carry on" as normally as possible in the present circumstances.

We can soon be rid of these unpleasant feelings of Depersonalisation if we concentrate instead on the root causes of our Anxiety: tackle and reduce those and the Depersonalisation symptoms will disappear.

Note: Depersonalisation, as a symptom of Anxiety/Panic Disorder, can be exacerbated quite significantly by the use of stimulant drugs like caffeine, and also by other drugs like alcohol, cannabis, etc (see next Section).

SECTION 3                A Symptom of Recreational Drug Use

The purpose of this Section is simply to highlight the often ignored fact that all recreational drugs, whether legal or illegal, are known to exacerbate, or even in many cases lead to, symptoms of mental illness.  Symptoms made worse or even caused by the use of recreational drugs can include: Depersonalisation, Anxiety, Depression, Paranoia, Schizophrenia and Dissociation.

Here is a shortlist of the most popular recreational drugs, worldwide, legal or illegal:-

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Cannabis
  • Theobromine (similar to caffeine, found in chocolate)
  • Opioids
Some of these act as stimulants, some as depressants, and some will do both; all of them are capable of having a detrimental effect on a person's mental health.  They can also all produce adverse effects, mentally as well as physically, when a user attempts withdrawal.

(Medically prescribed drugs can also produce symptoms of Depersonalisation in some cases.  If this may be the case, see the doctor who prescibed them to you.)

If you feel you are experiencing severe or prolonged effects on your mental health from either taking or withdrawing from recreational (or medically prescribed) drugs, please make an appointment to see your doctor and ask for advice and help.

SECTION 4                Depersonalisation Disorder (DPD)

As was pointed out in the preceding Sections of this page, it is not a good idea to jump to the conclusion that you are suffering from a severe disorder like DPD when you already know that you have Panic/Anxiety or if you believe that the symptoms of Depersonalisation you are experiencing are most likely due to the use of recreational (or medically prescribed) drugs.

In the United States, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV) of mental disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, defines DPD thus:-

  • There is a lasting or recurring feeling of being detached from the patient's own body. The patient feels like an outside self-observer, as if in a dream.
  • Throughout the experience, the patient knows this is not really the case (reality testing is intact).
  • This phenomenon causes clinically important distress or impairs work, social or personal functioning.
  • This experience doesn't occur solely in the course of another mental disorder such as Acute Stress Disorder, Panic Disorder, Schizophrenia or a different Dissociative Disorder.
  • The disorder is not directly caused by a general medical condition or by substance use, including medications and drugs of abuse.
If you feel that you may fulfil all of the above criteria, make an appointment to see your doctor and seek their advice.

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