Feeling Unreal

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

As an introduction, I need to say that english is not my native language, and so there will probably be some mistakes in my message, although I will try my best to avoid them.
I’m not sure if my problem IS actually a problem.
Since the start of 2012 I started to have occasional feelings of reality not actually happening. I just felt like everything was a dream, or an act that I watch from first-person perspective. The problem is, for the last two months I feel like that almost constantly. Sometimes I just wake up and have to think if yesterday happened, or was just a dream.

Is this worrysome? Should I contact a psychologist? On a side note, I didn’t use any drugs or alcohol. I’m straight edge.

A: What you are describing is called derealization. For some reason, your perception of the world or of your experience has been shifted so that it seems unreal. It can be caused by a number of things, some more serious than others.

Since you are 17, the first thing I would check is your sleep. If you aren’t regularly getting 6 – 8 hours of sleep a night, every night, it may be the cause of these feelings. If you have allowed yourself to have an irregular sleep pattern, the first thing to do is to try to get regular sleep for a week and see if that solves the problem.

Other possible causes include untreated anxiety, seizures in the temporal lobe, ear infections, migraine headaches, or a mild head injury, Excessive caffeine or nicotine can also contribute to the feelings, as can drug abuse or alcohol withdrawal.

Because there are so many possible causes, I do think you should see your doctor for an evaluation. Make sure to explain you are straight edge at the beginning of the appointment so the doctor doesn’t waste time wondering if substance abuse is the issue. Derealization can usually be cured once the cause is identified.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Jul 2013

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2013). Feeling Unreal. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 28, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/07/20/feeling-unreal/

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