Feeling that Reality is Unreal

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

It feels like NOTHING is real, but…that doesn’t depress me. Shouldn’t it? For the past few months (and nothing I can think of significant has happened in the past few months, at least nothing out of the ordinary) i’ve begun to feel as if the world around me wasn’t real. But it’s not…depressing or scary…and the fact that its not scary, is a little bit odd to me. I don’t feel particularly unhappy or unsafe, in fact, you could even say that recently I’ve been happier than normal. But even sitting down in the living room typing this seems like it isn’t really happening. It’s like i’m just thinking really hard about things happening or watching some odd 3d projection of information pretending to be physical matter or light or whatever. Shouldn’t I be depressed? Why do I feel so strangely…I don’t even know how to explain it. Not euphoric, because that’s too extreme, just…disconnected. A sort of happy isolation. Am I crazy, or am I like…SUPER CRAZY? What’s wrong with me?

A. I would need many more details about your symptoms to know what, if anything, may be wrong. For instance, it would have been helpful to have answers to the following questions:

  • Do you have a recent history of substance use?
  • How often do you feel as though nothing is real?
  • When did these feelings begin?
  • Are you able to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t?
  • Are you engaging in any particular activity when these feelings occur?
  • Did you recently began taking a new medication?

There are several general possibilities that may explain your symptoms: a significant lack of sleep or the use of drugs or alcohol. If you have used drugs or alcohol recently, your symptoms may be a side effect of those substances. I receive many letters from individuals who have recently “smoked something” and subsequently feel similar to what you have described.

It’s also possible that you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition. Depersonalization disorder is characterized by feeling detached or estranged from oneself. Sometimes individuals with this disorder describe feeling as though they are in a movie or living in a dream. Some individuals who experience depersonalization worry that they are “crazy.”

On some occasions, individuals with depersonalization disorder experience derealization. Derealization is the experience of feeling as though the external world is strange or not real. Depersonalization disorder typically develops in adolescence or early adulthood (average age is about 16) and can be exacerbated by a traumatic event. Depersonalization disorder is categorized as a dissociative disorder and may be associated with other conditions such as schizophrenia, panic disorder, acute stress disorder, another type of dissociative disorder, drug use, or a general medical problem.

My recommendation is to have an evaluation by a mental health professional. An evaluation could determine if you should be concerned about your symptoms, if your symptoms require treatment and if you have a mental health condition. It is advantageous to receive an objective opinion from a trained professional when experiencing unusual psychological symptoms. Please take care. I wish you the best of luck.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 29 Jul 2012

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2012). Feeling that Reality is Unreal. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/07/29/feel-that-reality-is-unreal/