What It Is and How to Overcome It

When I first experienced depersonalization, a thick sense of unreality poured into my life—a dizzying, dreamlike, “nothing feels real” fog.

The more obsessed I became with this bizarre feeling, the worse it got.

So I turned to Google. After searching countless variations of “everything feels weird,” I landed on the answer: depersonalization.

Although episodes of depersonalization can feel like a roller coaster ride, those who have experienced them have plenty of company. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, up to 75% of people experience depersonalization at least once in their lives.

In psychological terms, the American Psychological Association (APA) defines depersonalization as “a state of mind in which the self appears unreal. The individual feels alienated from himself and mostly from the outside world, thoughts and experiences have a distant, dream-like character.”

Some report feeling like they’re living in a dream or movie, alienated from what once felt familiar. Others feel like they are an outside observer of their mind or body, stuck in a disconnected state of autopilot.

A quick PSA: Depersonalization is not the same as psychosis. It’s actually the exact opposite.

People who suffer from depersonalization are fully aware that the distorted sensations and crazy feelings aren’t real, which is what makes it so damn scary.

The intensity varies from person to person, from situation to situation.

For me, it was like someone flipped a “literally make everything f*cking weird” switch. Everyday things suddenly seemed painfully dull.

I felt beside myself the whole time – like I was noticeably drunk but with a sober spirit.

“Depersonalization is a symptom, not an indication that something is wrong with you,” says Shari Botwin, LCSW, a licensed therapist with years of experience working with clients who have experienced depersonalization.

Experts from the American Psychiatric Association agree: Dissociative episodes and disorders such as depersonalization are often a direct result of high levels of stress, trauma, depression or anxiety.

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As intriguing as it may be, there is a clear physiological explanation for depersonalization. And if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably feel some relief once you get the hang of it.

When we feel fear or go into a “fight or flight” state, our blood flow slows. Blood is diverted to our extremities—arms and legs instead of our heads—which can lead to the groggy, “out of body” feeling of depersonalization.

Managing or reducing your anxiety is key to calming this uncomfortable feeling.

I won’t sugarcoat it. Dealing with depersonalization is no walk in the park. But with the right understanding and support, it is possible and will feel like yourself again. The following steps are a good place to start.

“The first step in dealing with depersonalization is to give it a name and recognize that it’s happening,” says Botwin.

Putting your experience into words legitimizes your feelings, and “talking to loved ones and describing your experience will make you feel less alone,” Botwin explains.

Some research even suggests that acknowledging certain emotions—sadness, anger, and pain—can reduce their overall intensity.

This, in turn, can lower your overall stress levels and make room for more positive emotions.

Believe it or not, the best way to “feel normal” fast is to do “normal” things. I know, I know. It’s most “Are you kidding me?” Hear advice, but I swear it’s real.

Staying isolated all day and obsessed with strange sensations or existential thoughts is pouring gas on an already blazing fire. trust me this time

Some of my anxious days were like, “OK, this is just annoying now, and I want it to stop,” while others were more like “code red level 3000 panicking about any weird sensation.” It got worse when I had too much time to think.

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Get your rest, but carry on. Every moment is a new opportunity to start over.

“Developing an awareness of how you’re experiencing this symptom will help you get your feet on the ground and get you back into your body,” explains Botwin.

Though it may feel like you’re mentally slipping through the matrix, purposeful movement of your body can help reduce anxiety and bring your mind back to the here and now.

You could try the following:

  • Walk to and from the mailbox or take a long walk through a nearby park.
  • Hold an ice cube in your hand or slide it over your body.
  • Jog or do on the spot a few jumping jacks.
  • Take stock of your surroundings by writing down five things you can see, hear and feel.

It may feel impossible at first, but with practice, mindful movement can become an incredible tool for self-soothing.

Over the years, my anxiety has kept mimicking a crappy game of whac-a-mole that appears to appear randomly. Until I figured out what triggered it, that is.

My therapist always says, “Fear is information.” So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that finding out the root cause of your fear can help you stop it.

We may not be able to prevent every little feeling of anxiety for the rest of our days, but we can can change how we react to it.

“Increased levels of anxiety and stress can trigger depersonalization in response,” explains Botwin. “Talk to yourself and say things like, ‘I’m fine. My body and mind are reacting to a feeling from a previous event, but at this moment everything is fine.’”

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It’s the epitome of “easier said than done,” but entirely doable over time. I’ve learned to say to myself, ‘Damn, here I am again. It’s uncomfortable, but it will pass.”

I still have tough days, but I have a lot more confidence in myself that things are going to be really good.

For many people, talk therapy—especially psychotherapy—is the best way to overcome depersonalization.

In the midst of my toughest days, getting confirmation that I was really fine and healthy was everything in my healing journey.

It’s a long game doing the investigative work to peel off the layers around you why you are so damn scared but mostly successful.

“Remember that depersonalization is a common symptom, especially in people with a history of trauma or anxiety,” says Botwin. “Developing coping strategies that work for you can make a difference.”

Episodes of anxiety and depersonalization are a way for your body to sound the alarm that something isn’t quite working. For example, maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed by a major life change or noticing a misalignment in a close relationship.

Learning to listen to your body will serve you well in the long run. Eliminate the source of depersonalization – fear – and you will crush it forever. you have that

Sarah Lempa is a writer and founder of Dang Fine Creative, a digital content agency providing social media, copywriting, and email marketing to small businesses and sole proprietors. She focuses on the travel lifestyle, mental health, and solopreneurship, with work that has appeared in Business Insider, VICE, and HuffPost, among others. When she’s not hacking away at a track, you can find her jamming to groovy beats or riding her motorbike. Stay up to date with Sarah on Instagram.

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