Depersonalization disorder occurs when you persistently or repeatedly have a sense that things around you aren't real, or when you have the feeling that you're observing yourself from outside your body. Feelings of depersonalization can be very disturbing and may feel like you're losing your grip on reality or living in a dream.
Many people have a passing experience of depersonalization at some point. But when feelings of depersonalization keep occurring, or never completely go away, it's considered depersonalization disorder. Depersonalization disorder is more common in people who've had traumatic experiences.
Depersonalization disorder can be severe and may interfere with relationships, work and other daily activities. Treatments for depersonalization disorder include medications and psychotherapy.
Depersonalization disorder symptoms include:
Other symptoms can include:
While episodes of depersonalization may last only a short time, some people with depersonalization disorder have episodes that last hours, days, weeks or even months at a time. In some people these episodes turn into ongoing feelings of depersonalization that may periodically get better or worse.
When to see a doctor
Feeling of depersonalization may:
With depersonalization disorder, feelings of depersonalization aren't directly caused by drugs, alcohol or a medical condition. However, depersonalization may be triggered by stress or trauma, and it often occurs along with other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression or schizophrenia. In some cases, it starts suddenly without an apparent cause.
While the exact cause of depersonalization disorder isn't well understood, it appears to be linked to an imbalance of certain brain chemicals (neurotransmitters).
While anyone can develop depersonalization disorder, you're at increased risk if:
Episodes of depersonalization can be frightening. They can cause:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by first seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner.
If a clear diagnosis can't be made by your family doctor, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in brain and nervous system disorders (neurologist) or a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating mental disorders (psychiatrist).
Your doctor or doctors will want to make sure your symptoms aren't caused by an underlying neurological condition such as epilepsy or another disorder. Because depersonalization disorder sometimes occurs along with depression or other psychological disorders, your doctor may also want to investigate whether you may have one of these conditions as well.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor may be limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To be diagnosed with depersonalization disorder, you must meet the symptom criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is used by mental health providers to diagnose mental conditions. To be diagnosed with depersonalization disorder, you must have the following signs and symptoms:
Your doctor will want to make sure your feelings of depersonalization aren't due to some other disorder, such as depression, schizophrenia or epilepsy. You may need further evaluation or tests to rule out these and other causes.
Treatments and drugs
Treatment of depersonalization disorder may include:
Coping and support
While depersonalization can be frightening, it isn't necessarily harmful. Realizing that you don't have some major neurological problem or serious mental illness can be very reassuring, and may help you cope with depersonalization.
Last Updated: 2011-07-07
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