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What is Depersonalization?

Depersonalization was first used as a clinical term by Ludovic Dugas, a French philosopher, in 1898 to refer to, quote, “a state in which there is the feeling or sensation that thoughts and acts elude the self and become strange; there is an alienation of personality – in other words a depersonalization.”depersonalization

Individuals who experience depersonalization feel separated from their own personal life and physicality by claiming they sense their body sensations, feelings, emotions and behaviors as not belonging to the same person or identity. Often a person who has experienced this disorder claims that most things seem “unreal” and “hazy”. A recognition of personality breaks down completely — hence the name ‘depersonalization’ — as if one is watching a television show where their real personality is the leading role. Depersonalization can result in extremely high anxiety levels, which further increase these perceptions and further stress out the mind. Individuals suffering through this mental disorder also often find it hard to remember anything they saw or experienced while in this third person state of mind.

Depersonalization is an experience of unreality in one’s sense of self, while derealization — a disorder closely related to it according to the recent changes to the DSM — is unreality of the outside world. Although most psychologists currently regard depersonalization (self) and derealization (surroundings) as independent constructs, many do not want to separate derealization from depersonalization. The DSM-V made the statements that depersonalization and derealization can be interchangeable according to the symptoms shown by the clients.

Depersonalization is recorded as the third most common psychological symptom. Anxiety is number one, and Depression is number two. Depersonalization is oftentimes considered a major symptom of extreme anxiety, such as panic attacks, and can accompany sleep deprivation, migraines, obsessive-compulsive disorder, stress, epilepsy, and anxiety.

What are the Symptoms of Depersonalization?

Brain Activity

Brain activity in a patient with depersonalization.

The main and most important symptom of depersonalization disorder is the experience of “unreality in one’s sense of self” and as such there are no real provable clinical signs. People who are diagnosed with depersonalization also experience an uncontrollable urge to question and think about the nature of existence as well as other philosophical questions. This is because the suffering party is unable to actually determine what is real and what is not due to their disorder.

Depersonalization can result in very high anxiety levels, which can intensify these perceptions even further. An inability to control themselves or partake in social situations is considered a symptom of this as well.

Many people suffering from the disorder all made the same points:

  • feeling disconnected from personality/physicality
  • feeling like one is not occupying the body
  • not feeling in control of speech or physical movements
  • feeling detached from  thoughts or emotions
  • experiencing themselves and life from a distance
  • a sense of just going through the motions
  • feeling as though one is in a movie or a dream
  • feeling “weird” just being alive
  • loss of control
  • brain fog/not being able to recall facts quickly
  • hallucinations and rapid fluctuations in lighting
  • seeing through a layer of static

What Causes Depersonalization?

While the exact cause of these hallucinations (see the list above) has not yet been determined, it is generally accepted that patients suffering from them is caused by previous drug usage. Many people with the disorder reported using cannabis or alcohol excessively. Many also claim that alcohol, drugs, and fatigue/fasting worsen the symptoms to an extreme while diet and exercise relieve the disorder momentarily.

Childhood trauma – most commonly reported is emotional abuse – is a significant factor of pre-diagnosis. People who live in a highly individualistic culture have a higher chance to develop depersonalization, due to hypersensitivity and individuality.


Occasional moments of mild depersonalization are considered normal; but severe, persistent, or recurrent feelings are not. We all have moments in which we see the effects of depersonalization. We all see through a fog every now and again according to several leading psychologists. But one things for sure: while the idea behind this mental state was coined in 1898, it is the number three reported psychological disorder today. People with personality disorders are three times as likely to commit suicide than those without. Between 25 and 50% of these individuals also have a substance abuse disorder or major depressive disorder — both of which are closely related to depersonalization.

Many people wouldn’t help someone different from themselves. Society has created out-groups and unseen prejudice against separate mentalities and disabilities. While you would definitely help someone with a physical problem such as a broken leg or empathy deserving physical disability, would you help someone having a panic attack? Or an alcoholic who has passed out in front of you? Would you help someone slowly being eaten away by their own thoughts? Someone crazy in your eyes? People tend to frown on insanity, but what people don’t realize that insanity comes in many forms.


  1. http://apps.who.int/classifications/icd10/browse/2010/en#/F48.1
  2. http://link.springer.com/article/10.2165%2F00023210-200418060-00002
  3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depersonalization-derealization-disorder/basics/definition/con-20033401
  4. http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/depersonalization-disorder-mental-health
  5. http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=fr&u=http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludovic_Dugas&prev=search
  6. http://depts.washington.edu/mhreport/facts_suicide.php
  7. https://books.google.com/books?id=ONLyq-mVLuIC&printsec=frontcover&dq=depersonalization&hl=en&sa=X&ei=wZcFVdn_DoHUgwSl7IGQCA&ved=0CCYQ6AEwAA
  8. https://books.google.com/books?id=nvlS79wsfy0C&printsec=frontcover&dq=depersonalization&hl=en&sa=X&ei=wZcFVdn_DoHUgwSl7IGQCA&ved=0CDoQ6AEwAw
  9. Brewer, Sara. “An anti-addiction drug?”
  10. Simeon, D; Abugel J (2006). “The Blow of the Void: Depersonalization in Literature and Philosophy”. Feeling unreal: depersonalization disorder and the loss of the self. United States: Oxford University Press. pp. 127–58. ISBN 0-19-517022-9.
  11. Stranger To My Self: Inside Depersonalization: The Hidden Epidemic by Jeffrey Abugel (Jan 21, 2011)


I’m a writer and historian. Simple enough, right? I enjoy philosophy, sociology, social psychology, politics, basic programming, statistics, and old books. Unlike the stereotypical leftist, I do not necessarily censor myself. I apologize in advance if you find yourself offended by something I’ve said; but I do enjoy hearing criticism and having debates.

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Joseph Kaminski
I’m a writer and historian. Simple enough, right? I enjoy philosophy, sociology, social psychology, politics, basic programming, statistics, and old books.


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