What is Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder?

When you have a dream, you see everything that’s going on in the dream.  You can watch yourself doing things, you see the people you interact with but somewhere in the back of your mind you know it’s just a dream.  It feels like your consciousness is outside your body. Nothing feels real.  That’s what depersonalization/derealization can feel like. Our article will dig deep to find out what causes depersonalization/derealization disorder (DPD, DPDR), treatment options and how meditation for depersonalization & derealization helps achieve

What is Depersonalization/ Derealization Disorder?

Depersonalization/derealization are psychiatric disorders and are considered disassociative disorders.  People who have had it describe depersonalization/derealization disorder as feeling like you are outside your body and that everything is a dream. 

With depersonalization, you question if you are real and with derealization, you question if external actions are real.  It is possible for someone to have one or both of these disorders. 

Although from time to time you may have this feeling, in depersonalization/derealization this feeling happens frequently, disrupts your consciousness and you are not able to function.  These episodes also cause a high rate of stress and anxiety which makes the condition worse.

Depersonalization/derealization can interfere with work, relationships and other daily activities.  People who have had the disorder say, it feels like you are going crazy trying to figure out if you exist or not.  Symptoms of the disorder usually start in the mid-teens or early twenties. 

It is more common for women to experience a disassociative disorder than it is for men.  

Symptoms of the Depersonalization Disorder

Some of the typical symptoms people experience are:

  • Numbness emotionally or physically with a lack of response to the environment around you
  • Feeling that you are not a part of your surroundings (you feel like you are in a dream or a movie)
  • You have no emotional feeling for the people you care about (parents, spouse, kids)
  • You feel like your body is distorted (such as being bigger or smaller)
  • Either feeling that you can’t control your speech or movements or that you are a robot
  • Your memories have no emotional attachment to them

What Causes Disassociation/ Derealization Disorder?

There are several risk factors that can bring an onset of disassociative disorders.  It is not uncommon for people who have the disorder to have experienced some kind of trauma in their life.  This could include:

  • Emotional, sexual or physical abuse
  • Childhood neglect
  • Witnessing either domestic violence or neighborhood violence
  • Severe stress, anxiety or depression
  • The personality trait of avoidance or denial in difficult situations

The feelings or episodes of depersonalization/ derealization can last a few hours up to months at a time. 


Disassociative disorders are psychiatric disorders and must be diagnosed by a doctor.  To be diagnosed with the disorder the doctor will perform a:

  • Physical exam
  • Psychiatric evaluation
  • Lab tests
  • Examine the criteria for the condition

The doctor will also have to determine if the symptoms are frequent and reoccurring, that they impair the patient socially and occupationally, and whether or not the patient realizes what they feel is not real. 

Treatment for Depersonalization/Derealization (DPD)

Although sometimes medication is prescribed, the most effective way to treat disassociative disorders is with psychotherapy.  Psychotherapy is used to treat a variety of mental health disorders.  There are several different types of psychotherapy.  To help with depersonalization/derealization, your therapist may use one or a combination of therapy types depending on your issues. Here are the types of different therapies that are used for mental disorders.

Psychodynamic– also know as psychoanalytic, is talk therapy.  The therapist lets you talk about whatever comes to your mind.  This is done to help you find meanings and patterns in what you say and do that might be contributing to the issues you are having.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) – CBT looks at the thoughts and beliefs that are associated with behavior or feelings.  CBT helps you learn the skills to change the behavior and retrain the way you think to help you deal with stressful situations.

Cognitive Analytical Therapy (CAT) – CAT is a combination of psychoanalytic therapy and CBT.  This type of therapy looks at behavior and how it causes problems so you can improve through self-help and experimenting.

Interpersonal Psychotherapy – This type of therapy looks at how your illness is triggered by events involving relationships.  This could be a death, divorce or relocation.  Interpersonal psychotherapy helps you learn coping mechanisms to help you cope with your feelings in a healthy way.

Humanistic therapies – These therapies help you to become more self-aware and see yourself in a more positive light.

Family therapy – Family therapy is done with your significant other or family so that you can work out problems together.

The purpose of psychotherapy is to help you find the underlying issues that are causing you to have a problem and how it is affecting your life.  Therapy can give you new ways to approach situations and give tools to help you cope.

In relation to depersonalization/derealization therapy can help you find what is causing the depersonalization/denationalization and allows you to adopt techniques to help you feel more connected to yourself and your environment.

Meditation and Depersonalization/Derealization (DPD)

Meditation can be used along with therapy to help you overcome depersonalization/derealization.  Here are some of the ways meditation can help.

Helps with Anxiety

Anxiety usually goes along as a trigger to depersonalization/derealization.  Anxiety and panic attacks can happen due to past events or trauma and then bring an onset of depersonalization/derealization.  Meditation helps you gain more control over anxiety.

Meditation can help regulate emotions to a perceived threat by changing your neural pathways.  Mindful meditation activates three centers in the brain, anterior cingulate cortex, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and anterior insula. These particular parts of the brain control worry.  Activation of these regions of the brain can bring anxiety relief.

Helps with Concentration

Meditation helps you learn how to focus on one thing and leave other thoughts and feelings behind.  When you meditate, you concentrate on a focal point whether that is breathing, muscle groups or sound. 

If you are not good at sitting still meditation can also be done with movement.  Taking a walk and concentrating on what you see or through specific movements such as Tai Chi.  For depersonalization/derealization, this helps you learn to concentrate on your focus and let the panicky thoughts go.  When thoughts come into your head you bring your attention back to your focus.

Helps Develop Awareness

With depersonalization/derealization, awareness can be clouded.  Attention is dispursed and the things around you don’t seem real.  Meditation helps you learn mindfulness.  By practicing mindfulness throughout the day by observing, smelling and touching you build an awareness of what is around you.  Your attention is focused and the what’s around you is more real and not dreamlike.

Helps Relieve Stress

Stress activates the senses and puts the body on high alert.  Excessive stress can trigger episodes of depersonalization/derealization.  Meditation has the opposite effect.  Meditation relaxes the body and mind to help normalize body functions. 


How common is depersonalization/derealization disorder?

In the United States, approximately three to four million adults have depersonalization/derealization disorder.  In the UK it is estimated that around 600,000 people have the disorder.

Is it common for people to have episodes fo depersonalization and/or derealization?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 75% experience at least one depersonalization/derealization episode.  Only 2% will meet the criteria for a diagnosis with the disorder by having chronic episodes. 

How old does a person have to be to have the disorder?

Most people get diagnosed with depersonalization/derealization disorder when they are adults, however, most symptoms begin around 16 years of age.

Can you have any other mental disorders at the same time as depersonalization/denationalization?

It is not uncommon to have other mental disorders while experiencing depersonalization/derealization.  Some of the conditions that may be experienced along with disassociative disorders are:

  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Substance use disorders
  • Major depression
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Panic Disorder

Most of these disorders can have disassociative symptoms themselves and may bring an onset of depersonalization/derealization disorder.

Does treatment work for Depersonalization disorder (DPD/ DPDR)?

Outcomes for treatment are good.  Both patient and therapist must work diligently for recovery to be successful longterm.  The therapist must work with the patient to discover the memories and stressors that trigger episodes of disassociation.  By looking at the underlying reasons for the condition, patients can learn how to cope with anxiety, fear, and stress.   

Having depersonalization/derealization episodes can be very disorienting and troublesome.  The characteristics of the condition keep you emotionally distant from yourself and the world around you. 

By working with a therapist and learning how to manage stress and anxiety, people with depersonalization/derealization are able to live normal lives. 

If you would like to learn meditation to help you manage anxiety and stress, MindTastik can help.  We have hundreds of meditations that are relaxing and soothing.  Whether you are just beginning a meditation practice or want to enhance your current practice, MindTastik is here for you.  You can download MindTastik on the Apple App Store or Google Play.

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