illustration of depersonalization disorder

Depersonalization: Everything You Need to Know

Bowen Yang, a "Saturday Night Live" cast member, recently went public about experiencing “bad bouts of depersonalization.” Other performers, including musicians Dodie and Adam Duritz, have reported having depersonalization-derealization disorder, or DDD.

Now that depersonalization is on everyone's radar, you may wonder what it is and how to treat it. “DDD can cause significant distress and morbidity to the affected individuals, but it often goes undetected or misdiagnosed,” says Jacques Ambrose, MD, MPH, senior medical director at ColumbiaDoctors Psychiatry. “Delays in treatments also prolong the course of DDD.”

Recognizing Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder Symptoms

Many people can have an "out of body" experience, feel detached at certain times, or have a distorted perception of themselves and their surroundings. But when it becomes persistent and disruptive, and the feeling that you're in a constant dreamlike state interferes with your relationships, work, or daily life, it becomes a more severe disorder.

People can have depersonalization or derealization symptoms, or even a combination of both. They are very similar, with just a few slight differences.

Symptoms of depersonalization include:

  • Feeling detached and disconnected from your physical body, yourself, or thoughts, as if you were an outside observer.
  • Feeling emotionally and physically numb.
  • Not trusting your memories.
  • Feeling robotic, mechanical, or automated.

Symptoms of derealization include:

  • Feeling like you're in a dream or a movie and detached from the outside world as if in a fog or looking through a glass barrier.
  • Distortions in the surroundings, time perception, space, and distance.
  • Feeling emotionally disconnected from loved ones.
  • Feeling as if the world is lacking in depth or meaningfulness.

The Possible Causes of Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder Symptoms

Although specific causes are not well understood, there may be some related factors that can contribute to the condition that include:

  • Severe trauma or abuse during childhood or as an adult.
  • Extreme stress in personal or work situations.
  • Prolonged depression or anxiety.
  • Illicit substance use.

Treating Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder

Treatments for depersonalization-derealization disorders mainly involve psychotherapy or talk therapy and certain medications, including antidepressants and mood stabilizers. Mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can help manage anxiety and stress, which can contribute to depersonalization-derealization symptoms. And, of course, a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, sufficient sleep, a balanced diet, and stress management techniques can help with well-being and symptoms.

Depersonalization-derealization disorder can affect various aspects of a person's life, including work, relationships, and overall quality of life.

If you or a loved one is suffering or struggling with this or any other mental health issues, we are here to help, says Ambrose. “It is very common for individuals with DDD to have another mental health condition. Treating the comorbid conditions may also help with DDD’s frequency and intensity of the core symptoms.”