We all experience depersonalization and disassociation at some point in our lives.
It’s that feeling you get when you look up at the milky way and suddenly realize how small you really are. It’s when you attended your first day of high school and you had to pretend that you were not afraid. It’s the face you put on at church or at family reunions just so nobody will ask you what is wrong. It’s when you read an entire book and then completely forget that you ever opened it.
So when does it become a disorder? When it affects your relationships and ability to function from day to day.
What is Depersonalization Disorder
Depersonalization is a health condition. It is a type of disassociative disorder. Dissociative disorders are mental illnesses which cause disruptions or breakdowns of awareness, identity, memory, consciousness, awareness, and/or perception.
How Prevalent is it?
According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Health), almost half of adults will experience a depersonalization/derealization episode in their lifetime. However, only 2% of the population experiences it chronically. It can occur for any amount of time and may reoccur after years.
The primary symptom of depersonalization disorder is a distorted perception of the body. It’s a nagging feeling that your body is not really your own. It’s when you experience events in your life “out-of-body,” as if you’re watching it all on a movie screen.
It’s when life happens around you, but not to you. You think about these things all day long. You know it’s not normal. You wish you could feel normal. The paranoid voice inside your head never stops evaluating or contemplating or criticizing. You are never comfortable in your own skin. Although, it is experienced differently by each individual.
It can be worse for some of us.
For me, it’s like walking down a hallway in a museum. All of my life happenings are on the wall. I see myself doing things, but I am never really there. I’m not really doing those things. And I can’t help it. It’s like living in a dream. The persistent feeling that you are not real- that life is not real. It’s exhausting.
Have you ever been driving and you suddenly realize that you don’t remember the last five minutes? You really hope that you didn’t run a stop sign back there and you wonder how your body got you there safely in your vehicle- even though you can’t even remember any of it.
This happens to me throughout my day. Sometimes I “wake up” after days or weeks or months and wonder, “Woah, how did I get here?” I can sort of recall facts and events, but there is no connection emotionally. I don’t remember what it felt like. This happens when I watch movies or read books. I lose that knowledge, somewhere. I don’t know if it falls out of my ears or if it is repressed in some deep corner of my brain.
Sometimes it affects my day to day activities. My husband will ask me to do something “in five minutes,” but I get around to doing it an hour or two later. I find it very difficult to explain how two hours could feel like five minutes to me, but it just does. I will walk around aimlessly at Target for three hours and not buy anything. But it really feels like 15 minutes to me. I will catch myself zoning out for no apparent reason at all. It is difficult to maintain friendships because sometimes, months feel like days and days feel like years. I can’t keep track of other people. They live on a different plane of reality.
The Worst Part
I feel like my body is a foreign entity. I look at my body as a stranger. Consequently, I have a difficult time investing in my body. I have dealt with eating disorders all my life. Additionally, I struggled with self-harm for many years. I just wanted to feel something. Anything.
It makes it difficult to want to be alive. It makes it difficult to make myself invest in people, education, or even food. It turns happiness into a rare butterfly that is only seen once or twice a year.
Sometimes, nothing makes me feel positive or happy. I just can’t emotionally connect to things. Not food, not shopping, not music, not yoga, not even nature. Sometimes nothing can break through this foggy haze that I am in.
I rarely feel truly alive.
If you feel this way, I urge you to talk to someone about it. Find at least one person who can be there for you. Sleep-walking through that foggy haze alone is terrifying. Finding connections to the real world can help you thrive and will throw some color into the wasteland.
Please contact a doctor, parent, or friend if you feel you may be dealing with an undiagnosed mental illness.