Derpersonalisation/Derealisation Disorder

Introduction

Depersonalisation/derealisation disorder involves a persistent or recurring feeling of being detached from one’s body or mental processes:

  • Like an outside observer of one’s life (depersonalisation); and/or
  • A feeling of being detached from one’s surroundings (derealisation).

Key Points

  • The disorder is usually triggered by severe stress, particularly emotional abuse or neglect during childhood, or other major stresses (such as experiencing or witnessing physical abuse).
  • Feelings of detachment from self or the surroundings may occur periodically or continuously.
  • After tests are done to rule out other possible causes, doctors diagnose the disorder based on symptoms.
  • Psychotherapy, especially cognitive-behavioral therapy, is often helpful.

Temporary feelings of depersonalisation and/or derealisation are common. About one half of people have felt detached from themselves (depersonalisation) or from the surroundings (derealisation) at one time or another. This feeling often occurs after individuals:

  • Experience life-threatening danger;
  • Take certain drugs (such as marijuana, hallucinogens, ketamine, or Ecstasy);
  • Become very tired; and/or
  • Are deprived of sleep or sensory stimulation (as may occur when they are in an intensive care unit).

Depersonalisation or derealisation can also occur as a symptom in many other mental disorders, as well as in physical disorders, such as seizure disorders.

Depersonalisation/derealisation feelings are considered a disorder when the following occur:

  • Depersonalisation or derealisation occurs on its own (that is, it is not caused by drugs or another mental disorder), and it persists or recurs.
  • The symptoms are very distressing to the person or make it difficult for the individual to function at home or at work.
  • Depersonalisation/derealisation disorder occurs in about 2% of the population and affects men and women equally.

The disorder may begin during early or middle childhood. It rarely begins after age 40.

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