Constantly Feel Like You're Living In a Dream? That Might Be Derealization Disorder
Experts explain what causes it and the best treatment methods.
Living with dissociative disorders can be one of the most disorienting experiences one could have. Usually, symptoms include feelings of disconnect between yourself, your thoughts, and the world around you. However, there are different types of dissociative disorders that are more nuanced. For example, derealization disorder, which is feeling disconnected from only your surroundings.
Derealization gets lumped in with depersonalization disorder because the two are admittedly similar. However, if you're someone who struggles with derealization, it's important to understand the key differences to find the best treatment plan for you. Here, we tapped a professional mental health expert to learn more about derealization disorder, including what it is, its causes and symptoms, and the best treatment methods.
What is derealization disorder?
"Derealization refers to the sense of feeling detached from one's surroundings," says Dr. Leela Magavi, M.D., psychiatrist and regional medical director of Community Psychiatry and MindPath Care Centers. "Individuals may perceive their world as unreal, which could cause distressing anxiety and depressive symptoms." Derealization can happen to individuals of all ages, including children.
Derealization often gets confused with depersonalization, which is feeling detached or estranged from one's self. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the two are very similar, and one person can experience one or both of these disorders at once.
What causes derealization?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the exact cause of derealization isn't well understood. However, there is a relationship between mental health disorders and the occurrence of derealization. Those with PTSD, panic disorder, or other anxiety disorders commonly experience derealization, explains Dr. Magavi. "Individuals with head trauma, epilepsy, and other neurological conditions as well as depression and other psychiatric disorders can also experience derealization," she says. Additionally, using recreational drugs can trigger episodes of depersonalization or derealization.
What are the symptoms of derealization disorder?
Symptoms for derealization vary in severity and duration. "Mild cases may feel like daydreaming, while severe cases could feel like a loss of connection with reality," says Dr. Magavi. "My patients have described derealization as feeling like there is a glass wall between themselves and their surrounding life," she adds. One might also feel like they're living in a movie or dream that they can't escape.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it's also common to experience your surroundings as blurry, distorted, colorless, or seem fake. Similarly, your perception of time and distance may be off. Episodes of derealization can last anywhere from hours, days, weeks, or even months at a time.
When should you see a doctor for derealization disorder?
It's okay and completely normal to experience passing feelings of depersonalization or derealization from time to time. However, when these feelings become so severe and frequent, it disrupts your ability to function and live a productive and balanced life then it's necessary to seek professional help for a proper treatment plan.
What is the treatment for derealization disorder?
Treatment for derealization involves psychotherapy. According to the American Psychiatric Association, therapy helps people gain control over dissociative symptoms and teaches how to cope with past traumatic experiences or other disorders contributing to derealization.
Currently, there aren't any medications specifically for derealization, but if your feelings are due to another disorder such as anxiety or depression, medication, like anti-depressants, might be helpful. It's important to always consult with a professional to discuss the best treatment plan for you.
"I have had patients with severe cases of derealization improve considerably over time," affirms Dr. Magavi. So, if you are experiencing derealization, trust that there are options that can help.