Your Guide to Depersonalization Disorder

Medically Reviewed By Kendra Kubala, PsyD
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Depersonalization disorder is a type of dissociative disorder wherein an individual feels detached from their own feelings, thoughts, or actions. Symptoms can last for a short time only, or episodes may recur for years. Depersonalization disorder can occur alongside derealization disorder. Depersonalization disorder typically begins at around the age of 16 years, though it may begin in early childhood. Fewer than 20% of people with the condition start experiencing symptoms after the age of 20 years.

Symptoms of depersonalization disorder are common, with up to 75% of people experiencing one episode in their lifetime. However, only around 2% of people meet the full criteria for chronic episodes of depersonalization.

Read on to learn more about depersonalization disorder, including its symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

What is depersonalization disorder?

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Depersonalization disorder is a type of dissociative disorder. Dissociative disorders affect memory, identity, perception, behavior, and sense of self.

Someone with depersonalization disorder may feel as if they are watching events happen to them from outside of their body. They are usually aware of reality, and they understand that the experience is unusual.

Vs. depersonalization-derealization disorder

Depersonalization disorder is frequently known as “depersonalization-derealization disorder.” An individual may experience both depersonalization and derealization at the same time, or they may only have symptoms of one condition.

Symptoms of derealization disorder include feeling detached from your surroundings and feeling as if the world around you is not real.

Vs. anxiety

Dissociative disorders such as depersonalization disorder can be linked to anxiety. Some people with anxiety may experience depersonalization.

If you are able to manage your anxiety, such as with therapy or medications, it can reduce the likelihood of symptoms of

depersonalization occurring.

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What are the symptoms of depersonalization disorder?

Some people may experience symptoms of depersonalization disorder for a few hours only. However, for some people, episodes can come and go for many years.

Depersonalization symptoms can include:

  • feeling detached from your own body
  • a sense of your body being distorted
  • an emotional detachment or numbness
  • not feeling in control of your actions
  • feeling as if you are watching your own body and actions from an outside perspective
  • feelings that your memories are not your own

These symptoms can occur alongside symptoms of derealization. Derealization symptoms can include:

  • feelings that your surroundings are part of a dream or film
  • a sense that the things around you are obscured by fog
  • a feeling of disconnection from the people or things around you
  • a distorted sense of time

What causes depersonalization disorder?

The exact cause of depersonalization disorder is not known. However, it may occur as a result of one of the following:

  • the death of a loved one
  • severe stress
  • abuse
  • torture
  • natural disasters
  • a life threatening experience
  • having a parent with a mental health condition
  • recreational drugs, including hallucinogens such as ketamine
  • other mental health conditions, such as a seizure disorder or depression

Is depersonalization disorder genetic?

Depersonalization disorder is not an inherited condition. However, some scientists believe that genetics may make some people more susceptible to the symptoms of dissociative disorders than others.

More research into the relationship between genetics and depersonalization disorder needs to take place to determine any direct link.

When should I contact a doctor?

Contact your doctor if you feel that you are experiencing depersonalization disorder or have any related symptoms. They may refer you to a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist for assessment.

Diagnosing depersonalization disorder

In order to diagnose depersonalization disorder, your doctor will work alongside your mental health team to rule out any other possible causes of the symptoms and to confirm the diagnosis.

Steps your doctor may take to diagnose depersonalization disorder include:

  • Medical history analysis: Your doctor will look at your medical history to see if there is a record of any problems that could be triggering your symptoms.
  • Physical exams: These will look for any underlying neurological or physical problems that may be responsible for your symptoms.
  • Blood and urine tests: These tests will help detect any substances that may be contributing to your symptoms.
  • Imaging scans or an electroencephalogram: Your doctor may arrange for imaging scans or an electroencephalogram to look for any brain anomalies or physical conditions, such as seizure disorders.

Treatment options for depersonalization disorder

You may be offered several different treatment options, which will focus mainly on therapy and medication. While therapy can help you understand and manage your symptoms, some medications may be able to help with related challenges, such as anxiety and depression.

Treatments for depersonalization disorder can include:

  • therapy, including:
  • medications, such as:
    • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are antidepressants that can help with anxiety
    • lamotrigine, which can help treat epilepsy, depression, and bipolar disorder
    • opioid antagonists, which can help with opioid use and prevent the effects of drugs
    • anxiolytics, which can help prevent and treat the symptoms of anxiety disorders
    • stimulants, which can help increase alertness and energy
  • hypnosis
  • meditation and relaxation techniques

Will depersonalization disorder go away?

It is possible to make a full recovery from depersonalization disorder with the right support and treatment options. Contact your doctor to discuss what treatment options are available to you.

You may find that some therapies or medications work better for you than others. It is important to find the right treatment for you to help you manage and recover from your symptoms.

Is it possible to prevent depersonalization disorder?

If you experience symptoms of depersonalization disorder, you may be able to prevent episodes from occurring. Your therapist will be able to teach you behavioral techniques that can help with this.

You may also find that therapy can uncover an underlying trigger for the condition, such as stress or substance misuse. If a trigger is identified, you may be able to avoid that trigger to reduce the likelihood of an episode occurring.

Summary

Depersonalization disorder is a type of dissociative disorder. During an episode, you may feel like you are watching events happening from outside of your own body. You will usually be aware of what is happening to you in the moment.

The condition can occur alongside derealization disorder, and it may happen as a result of anxiety. However, there is no known specific cause of depersonalization disorder.

Treatment options for depersonalization disorder include talking and behavioral therapies and medications designed to treat mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. With the right treatment and support, it is possible to manage and fully recover from the condition.

Contact your doctor if you feel that you may have depersonalization disorder or experience any of the symptoms. They will work with a mental health team to rule out any other conditions and provide a diagnosis.

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Medical Reviewer: Kendra Kubala, PsyD
Last Review Date: 2022 Mar 16
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