Do you frequently feel detached from reality, like you’re watching yourself in a movie? If so, you may want to know how to feel some relief from depersonalization.
Depersonalization can be a frightening or confusing experience. The good news is, learning what causes depersonalization, as well as using a few self-care tools, can help make it more manageable.
Depersonalization is a complex topic, and researchers still don’t know a lot about it. What they do know is that it’s a type of dissociation, often caused by traumatic or stressful events like a panic attack, an accident, abuse, or assault. Sometimes, depersonalization is caused by a negative experience with cannabis or other substances.
If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, you’re not alone. Various types of support may help ease your distress around depersonalization — from self-care and online groups, to therapy and education. With that in mind, here are several resources that you may find helpful.
About 75% of people experience feelings of depersonalization at some point in their lives. For 2% of the population, the symptoms become more frequent. This can result in a diagnosis of depersonalization/derealization disorder (DPDR).
Dissociation can also occur with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD), so you may not necessarily be diagnosed with DPDR separately.
Many theorists believe that dissociation is your body’s way of protecting you from extreme trauma or stress. Others assert that it’s less of a protective function and more like a scar from the traumatic event (or set of events) itself.
While depersonalization symptoms can interfere with your quality of life, managing the distress caused by them is possible. It’s important to work with a mental health professional who’s able to support you with the best treatment plan for your symptoms.
Many tools can help you manage feelings of anxiety, depression, or distress about living with depersonalization. Treatments for PTSD and BPD may also have a beneficial effect on depersonalization symptoms.
First things first: When symptoms arise, try to remind yourself that you’re OK and that you’re safe. Naming your feelings, practicing deep breathing, or listening to music can also help you feel calmer. In addition, challenging your intrusive thoughts and reaching out to close friends may help you feel grounded.
1. Acknowledge your feelings
According to many
If your body and mind ignore your feelings for too long, symptoms of depersonalization may drag on. In these cases, your brain misreads danger, and feelings of depersonalization increase.
When this happens, you might try to name your feelings. Some research suggests that by acknowledging certain emotions (in this case, fatigue), you can lessen stress. It’s possible that this concept may work on other painful emotions as well. In turn, this may decrease symptoms of derealization, though more research is obviously needed.
Self-compassion exercises may help you accept whatever feelings arise at that moment.
2. Take deep breaths
When stress arises, your body’s nervous system fires up. For people living with depersonalization disorder, this can disrupt brain functioning and lead to feelings of depersonalization.
Breathing exercises, like taking deep belly breaths, may help against this stress.
If you want some guidance from a meditation teacher, consider downloading a mindfulness app or look for a free guided meditation on YouTube or TikTok. If deep breathing is helpful, you might consider practicing your exercises for a few minutes each day. Like exercise, deep breathing can become easier with practice.
3. Listen to music
Feelings of derealization can be more intense when your brain focuses on them. A grounding technique, like listening to music, may help you feel less anxious about the experience.
You might consider making a playlist of your favorite songs and keep the playlist on your phone. When symptoms arise, even if you’re at work or waiting for the bus, you can pop in your earbuds, press play, and let the music soothe you.
4. Read a book
If you enjoy reading, it may help with depression and the anxious thoughts that often occur alongside depersonalization. Try picking up an old favorite book, or a story that brings you comfort. You might find that you’re able to concentrate on the words and their meanings enough to quiet intrusive thoughts.
5. Challenge your intrusive thoughts
For some, depersonalization involves a lack of intrusive thoughts. For others who live with depersonalization as well as anxiety or PTSD, intrusive thoughts can pose a real challenge.
Cognitive psychologists point out that a tool called psychological distancing can help quiet intrusive thoughts. Psychological distancing means finding some space between the upsetting thoughts and painful emotions.
Taking a few deep breaths can help quiet intrusive thoughts. As odd as it might sound, talking to yourself out loud can also help. You might ask yourself, “What evidence do I have that my worry is real?”
Basically, when your mind focuses on something else, intrusive thoughts often go away.
6. Call a friend
When you’re anxious and symptoms of depersonalization arise, you might be tempted to isolate. But at times like these, talking to a trusted friend or family member can really help.
Opening up can make you feel vulnerable. But talking gives you a chance to receive empathy from someone who cares about you. If you’re not sure who to lean on, try to identify two or three loved ones that you can text or keep on speed dial, no matter what.
Self-care tools can help relieve symptoms of depersonalization. In addition, psychotherapy, education, nutrition, and exercise can help you maintain a sense of well-being in the long run.
7. Talk therapy
If your symptoms of depersonalization are caused by a stressful or traumatic experience, talking with a therapist may really help.
Several types of therapy can work. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can teach you to challenge intrusive thoughts and manage symptoms of depersonalization. Trauma-focused therapy like eye-movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR) can help you process traumatic memories.
Once your trauma heals, symptoms of depersonalization may lessen.
Learning more about the symptoms and causes of depersonalization disorder can also help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has resources and information. Finding out how depersonalization affects your brain can make symptoms less frightening. In addition, reading about other people’s experiences is one way to feel less alone.
Going to bed when your body feels tired can help you manage stress and decrease anxiety.
If you’d like to improve your sleep, you might also consider banning your phone and other electronics from your bedroom. If possible, try to keep your sleep space as dark as you can. Darkness helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythms, which can improve the quality of your sleep.
Like getting enough rest, exercise can also help you manage stress. One study found that aerobic exercise can help decrease burnout, and one symptom of burnout is depersonalization.
If you’re interested in exercise but aren’t sure what to choose, walking could be a good option. Walking can help lower your body’s cortisol, which can help decrease stress.
If you’re living with depersonalization disorder, finding the right type of support can be an essential part of self-care.
If you’d like to find a mental health professional, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has a searchable database that can help you find a therapist. If you’re looking for a local support group, you might contact your local National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) chapter.
If you’d like to read about other people’s experiences with depersonalization, you can check out the NAMI blog post, “The Scariest Panic Symptoms People Don’t Talk About,” which is one person’s story about living with depersonalization disorder. You can find other blog posts here and here.
If you’re interested in checking out some mental health podcasts, The Anxiety Podcast seeks to support anyone struggling with anxiety, stress, and panic attacks. The Spin Cycle is another mental health podcast that features interviews with mental health professionals.
Maybe you’re ready to check out meditation, but you aren’t sure where to start. Meditation Minis is a podcast that includes several types of guided meditations. And if you’re on Clubhouse, meditation teacher Lisa Abramson leads mindfulness classes every day.
Finally, know that taking care of your mental health takes courage! Sure, it can feel frustrating at times, and that’s OK. No one expects you to be perfect. With more mental health resources and tools available, living with depersonalization disorder is much easier.