I cannot diagnose you online but some of the feelings you’ve described are consistent with the experience of depersonalization. “I’ve seen my reflection in the mirror and photos as being someone else. I know they’re me, because people tell me they are. But I don’t FEEL like they are me. I feel like a totally separate person and sometimes when I look at a photo or a mirror… I feel like I’m just a body. I don’t feel a connection.”
A person experiencing depersonalization feels like their body is unreal, constantly changing or that he or she is outside of his or her body, as an external observer. Other common phrases used to describe the experience of depersonalization include “puppet-like” or “acting a part.” Generally a person experiencing depersonalization describes feeling very disconnected to their body and thoughts.
Usually depersonalization is associated with high levels of stress, anxiety and a history of emotional, physical or sexual abuse. For individuals who suffer from chronic episodes of depersonalization, it is possible that he or she may have depersonalization disorder, as identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV-TR), the manual clinicians used to diagnose mental health disorders. It is possible that you may be suffering from this disorder but only a clinician who talked with you at length could accurately determine if you indeed have a depersonalization disorder.
But the depersonalization sensations are only part of what you wrote about in your letter. You also mentioned that you have “breakdowns” in which “the room spins, everything blurs and I see glittery things, everything feels very very loud and I feel as if my brain is shutting down… and [I] later feel very drained and confused for the days after and my brain feels like mush…” These “breakdowns,” as you said are preceded by stress and a panic attack.
These breakdowns may be a number of things including psychosis, epileptic seizures or they may actually be part of the panic attack.
I don’t know which disorder all of these symptoms point toward nor do I know if what you’re suffering from is hereditary or brought on because your mother had unknown mental health disorders. But I would highly recommend that you seek help and support from a mental health professional for these symptoms.
Regarding your concern for being highly medicated, you can be helped without medication if you decide to attend therapy. A therapist can teach you more effective strategies for controlling your symptoms that do not include medication. You may benefit from low doses of medication if you and your doctor feel that it is necessary but at minimum, you should meet with a clinician for an evaluation. I strongly advise you to do so. Thanks for writing and please consider writing back and keeping me posted on how you are doing.
This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on May 12, 2008.