Depersonalization: A Silent Epidemic

Depersonalization The Silent Epidemic

When I first experienced depersonalization, ten years ago, I knew nothing about it. I’d never even heard of the condition. Not in books, not in films, not even in my years of having a passing interest in psychology and spiritual practice.

When I began to experience it chronically and consistently, as a result of an intense panic attack (the first I’d ever had), it felt like I’d been shoved headfirst into some sort of alternate reality. The whole world seemed different, changed. I didn’t want to eat, drink, socialize. All I could do was focus intensely on this absolutely bizarre feeling that simply wouldn’t dissipate.

I remember lying on my bed and thinking, “What have I done to myself?” As if I had personally brought the condition on or done something to deserve it.

What is depersonalization?

Depersonalization is an anxiety-triggered feeling of being cut off from reality. It manifests in various ways but the most common symptoms are:

  • feeling as though you are in some sort of dream state,
  • feeling as though you or the people around you are not real,
  • feeling as though you have become detached from the world;
  • feeling as though you are watching your thoughts, feelings and physical self, from outside of yourself;
  • feeling as though you are not in control of your speech or your physical movements;

Most people experience it briefly at one point or another in their lives, but for some it can become a chronic, terrifying and ongoing affliction.

My own experience of depersonalization.

When I tried to describe my symptoms to my family members, they were at a loss. Attempting to verbally define what I was feeling (being stuck behind a pane of glass, unsure if I was awake or dreaming) usually resulted in a conversation so outlandish that most people simply didn’t know how to react. To others I looked like I was ok, so surely these weird thoughts were surely a passing phase.

But I was far from being ok.

In fact, those few months before I started making my first tentative steps towards recovery were the toughest thing I’ve ever had to go through. At one point, with my mind frantically searching for answers for what I was experiencing, I began to seriously question if it was possible that I had actually died on that first night of the panic attack, and that I was now in some sort of purgatorial state. Maybe I’d suffered a psychotic break? Would I ever be the same? It was terrifying to the point of incapacitation.

It was only through weeks and months of researching on the internet that, via a process of elimination and documentation, I was able to start to figure out what was happening to me.

And yet when I did find the websites that explained what I was experiencing, they were of almost no comfort whatsoever. As is standard for conditions on the anxiety spectrum, the forums were populated almost entirely by people who had not yet recovered from DP, but were actively exacerbating the condition by logging on to these sites every day in order to document their feelings. Some of these people had had the condition for decades. Why would my case be any different?

It seemed that no matter where I looked, I could either find no information on the condition at all, or terrifying portents of a future with no recovery on the horizon. It was profoundly depressing and upsetting.

This might seem like a perfect storm of circumstances, but the fact is that this is very similar what most people go through when they develop depersonalization. It is one of the most common conditions in the world almost everyone experiences it briefly at one time or another, and for one in fifty people (up to 2% of the population) it becomes chronic and unremitting.

And yet, the fact that it’s so common is absolutely not reflected in people’s’ general awareness of it. If you experience flu symptoms, you know that you’re getting a flu. If you sprain your ankle, you know what it is and how to treat it.

Even if it’s something more subjective, like a panic attack, people tend to recognise (either immediately or soon after) what they have experienced. This is because we have a cultural awareness of these things. We know them. We recognize them.

We don’t, however, recognize depersonalization. Back when I spoke my local doctor about what I was experiencing, he looked at me blankly and kept asking me if I was feeling ‘depressed’, put me on medication and recommended that I get more daily exercise. In fact, it wasn’t until 6 months later when I was seeing a psychologist that I was even able to discuss depersonalization with someone who had even a vague awareness of the condition.

That was a huge relief. I realised that until that point I had sabotaged my recovery by looking at DP forums every single day for months on end (and yet, I am still extremely grateful that I was able to access the internet and at least find an explanation, however upsetting, for what I was experiencing).

And while awareness of DP still remains at a low level, all the signs show that the number of cases is shooting up. Rates of stress and anxiety (precursors to and causes of chronic DP) are higher than ever. And as strains of marijuana become stronger, people are experiencing weed induced DP at shocking levels. I certainly don’t mean this as a condemnation of weed or drugs in general, but the insanely high strengths of many popular strains, and the culture of smoking weed casually is undoubtedly contributing to high rates of depersonalization and other anxiety-spectrum disorders.

The fact is that depersonalization is an epidemic, a terrible affliction and statistically there’s a strong chance that someone you know already has it.

And it’s time to discuss it out in the open. We need to talk about it positively We need to hear the recovery stories, the things that cause it, the fact that it is not a permanent condition. If we do that enough, maybe we’ll see a day where, when people first experience DP, they will recognize it and not assume that they are losing their mind. That simple of act of recognition, made possible through awareness, could save people months and even years of trauma, confusion and fear.


shaun-dcshorts_largeAbout the Author: Shaun O’Connor

Shaun O Connor is a filmmaker and writer from Co. Kerry, Ireland.

He is the author of The Depersonalization Manual, a book which details his recovery from chronic depersonalization and provides a complete guide to recovery for sufferers of the condition. 

First published as an ebook in 2008, it has since expanded to become a full package with an audio version, bonus supplementary materials and has sold over 7,000 copies worldwide. You can find more about Shaun’s experience with depersonalization here.

Shaun is also a multi award-winning television and film director whose work has screened around the world, including at the Dublin, Helsinki and Boston Film Festivals.

See here for details of Shaun’s book, The Depersonalization Manual

You can follow Shaun on Twitter, Youtube, and Instagram.

61 Comments

Aisha

Hi Shawn,
I am a 14 year old girl who’s in middle school. I had my first panic attack a few months ago and after that, my life changed. I started having symptoms of depersonalization. As school was hectic and so was life, i got busy and the feeling slowly got less. Now that i am at home for school holidays, i barely go out. I am unable to leave the house because i am afraid. I dont feel like eating or being around family. Im afraid that this feeling will be permanent. From the moment i wake up to the second i sleep, this feeling is on my mind. It’s a 24 hour thing. Now that this is happening, i am unable to focus on my work, life and daily essentials. What can i do? Im so scared that i will have to live like this forever.

Reply
Karen Young

Hi Aisha. What you are describing makes a lot of sense. I understand how scary this would be for you but it is certainly manageable so you don’t have to live like this. Please speak to an adult you trust about what’s happening. If you can, speak with your school counsellor. This is something that can be treated. It happens to a lot of people. You will be okay, but please speak to somebody so you can get the support you need to help you through this. Wishing you love and strength.

Reply
Beth

Hi, I know you wrote this months ago and I would love to see how you are coping now but I have suffered with DP for 8 months now since my first panic attack which came on so quickly and I had never experienced such strong negative emotions before (which is why I had the attack) since then my anxiety has skyrocketed. I NEVER used to be an anxious person at all and now sometimes I’m even scared to talk to my family because my thoughts have become so self destructive. Recently I’ve started to make the first steps to recovery. I still worry everyday but I now have a councellor and I’ve had tests for physical issues and so on. I’m finally seeing hope from the dark year I’ve had in 2020, I hope you are also. This almost made me cry because I thought I was too young to be in such a horrible situation but I’m 14 as well. We are just starting experience the world and have to be hit by this horrible condition. I’m still scared so much everyday by what this might do to my future but I’m recovering. Slowly but I AM recovering and I won’t give up on myself. Xx

Reply
gift

hey shawn… I think im slowly recovering. I want to ask, do you get back to your normal life you used to live?

Reply
Teresa

Hi Shaun,

I found you years ago when you put out your guide. I have been suffering with DP/DR for at least 15 years. I had suffered from panic attacks and depression and I don’t recall the day but I snapped info this and it’s never gone away (though it does seem to be worse on some days versus others). I even participated in a study years ago with no real answers.

I’ve been living my life in acceptance (for years) until recently I feel it more severely and its causing panic. I don’t know why as I’ve been this bad before. It’s almost like I’m so spaced out that I fear I’m not here or I’ll do something like take too many advil or ill fade away into a dream like sleep state. I used to steer clear of reading about it as focusing on it makes me feel worse but these past few days have me freaking a bit. Seems silly after having this so long that it’s upsetting me. I just broke out your guide again. Are you still reading and responding? I guess I’ll find out. Anyone here have similar experience?
Thanks

Reply
Sam

Hello, I am currently in a treatment center for substance abuse because of stimulant medication. I was originally prescribed it because of what I believe to be depersonalization. It started in the fall of 2016 when I got out of a very rigorous summer course load and then went into fall term and started to notice I couldn’t focus or concentrate. I started to fixate on my issues more and kept telling the doctor that I couldn’t think straight and that my brain was broken.
Fast forward to the present moment, my current and most prevalent symptoms are a feeling of uncertainty, having trouble getting my words out, like my head is blank or full and its very hard for me to express what these issues are to anyone. My memory is very bad and my movements are almost robotic and unnatural feeling. I also have this pressure in my head that is fairly mild but when my anxiety picks up during the day at points, this fogginess and pressure in my head feels worse. I also am very numb to my emotions. Sometimes I will get very mad and punch a wall or have a melt down but for the most part, when I talk to my friends or parents, I have to fake some type of emotion out. The disconnect from people and myself feels pretty big. I don’t really have any true emotion to things I used to enjoy. I also am very tired all the time and it makes it hard to do things during the day. I want to add that this disconnection feeling is always there. Things I have done that have not really helped are take antidepressants, meditate, workout and neurofeedback. Im still not totally positive it is DP but maybe MDD and am curious what people think

Reply
Michelle

Oh wow – I suffered from this for about 20 years before I realised it was a form of panic attacks. For me, it would start as a sense of Deja Vous, then I would feel like I was reliving a dream, or like I was hallucinating then I would feel hot and sick and my heart would pound in my chest. It took me a long long time to realise it only happened when I was stressed. And I thought it was just peculiar to me – so I didn’t talk about it to anyone else in case they thought I was crazy Years later, I was referred for CBT and the therapist said straight away she suggested it was derealisation. I was so relieved it was a thing, it had a name! I could do something about it! I’ve not had one for about 5 years now as I can recognise when I am getting stressed and anxious and do something about it before it escalates. But I still hadn’t met anyone else who had experienced it until reading your article today. It’s such a relief to know I am not the only one…

Reply
ron

Hi all,
I am a DP sufferer since 1982. Was smoking weed and had a full blown panic attack, thought I had died, literally. Went to lay down and woke up and was fine but then a week later had a worse panic attack while delivering flowers and was never the same again….full blown DP had taken over my entire life thought process. I remember telling my mother that I feel like 2 separate people, one watching the other. I was 20 yrs old then, today I am 56. I have lived life but it has not been the same since that horrible day. It’s like you are just existing in a world where you are watching yourself from the outside, a severe disconnect from oneself and the world around you. However, I fought to keep going. I went to college, started a very successful business after , got married and had kids so yes, I have lived a pretty normal life. I always say DP sufferers are the best actors in the world.
No one in my family really knows how long this has been going on. I have thought of every possible explanation:
maybe I’m in an alternate reality
something like the twilight zone is going on
maybe I’m in purgatory
maybe this is a long dream and I’ll wake up and it will be 1982 again… I wish!
maybe I did something really bad and this is God’s punishment

I did read years ago (1999) that benzos and ssris can help dp and they did a bit but not really a cure. I am still on klonopin for fear of the withdrawal. I think klonopin just helps to reduce the ruminating introspective thoughts as it helps the same part of the brain as epileptics. I don’t think meds are a cure.

I wish there was more info on DP back in 1982, but it was limited and drs looked at you like with a big ? on their face. Today, kids have a better chance at recovery because you can search what it is and finally get answers and possibly get out of this state of mind. If you have cancer, you know what you’re fighting. DP back in 1982 you did not know what you were fighting. All you thought was you were going crazy but you’re not.

I started my own dp site/ forum years ago, wrote an ebook ( was on an old computer that broke so lost it), but it never went away. I was just trying to help others but I think the DP forum kept me too connected to the illness so I gave that up.

I guess I’m writing to just vent. I am also thinking about finally telling my family, wife, kids etc what I’ve been living with as you do tend to stay away from and avoid those close to you, especially those you knew prior to dp.

Shaun is right in his approach to recovering. Easier said than done though, especially after this is all you know for 35 years. Maybe too late for me but my hope his young kids/ teens get the help they need asap before the dp and the introspective thoughts start digging in deep.

I know what you are going through….it si tougher than tough.
Stay close to God. I don’t think God gave us this as a punishment. Maybe some day we can channel this into something good/ to help others. Not sure I will be on here much as my experience running/ being on a dp forum constantly does not help the illness but you are all in my thoughts/ prayers. I wish I had a definitive cure for all of you. I have just lived life, mostly in fear, and kind of accepted it but you younger ones can beat this.
Peace,
Ron

Reply
Lisa

I’ve had this too for many years . I don’t think I’ll ever be rid of it. I know how I got it,now I can’t really imagine life without it. I have difficulty describing this,but can’t anyone relate to it..the feeling of feeling intensely,but feeling nothing at the same time? Like this feeling is actually protecting you from ever feeling as bad as that again. I have people who I know love me,but I can’t actually feel that love. I feel there is very little I’m not prepared for and I worry I wouldn’t react how I ” should” in a crisis. I pretend constantly and never actually feel HERE. The only time I don’t have to pretend to be normal is when I’m on my own..but I do a pretty good impression of normal. It doesn’t feel like living does it?

Reply
Sara

I have dp/dr for nearly 2 years now. It happened after I messed with several antidepressants. Pdocs tell me that it’s either from trauma or anxiety. However, I haven’t experienced anything I consider a trauma, neither do I feel anxious thinking about dp. For me, dp is more like a flu. It’s there whether I think about it or not. like left in a dream half alive state and can’t wake up. I have social anxiety btw which is the reason I’m still on an AD. Many have helped with SA but have worsened my dp/dr real bad. the higher the dose, the worse it gets. I feel high up the clouds on them. I’ve never been this quiet, reserved and uninterested in befriending anyone before dp. Is there any way out? 🙁

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hey Sara,
Thanks so much for your comment.
It can be hard to pinpoint the cause of Depersonalization, as it’s your brain’s reaction to what it *perceives* as trauma, rather than an obvious physical trauma like a car crash or house fire. That’s why DP can develop from panic attacks, or adverse reactions to drugs or medications.

I know you’re going through a tough time at the moment, but don’t worry. DP / DR is a temporary condition, a defence system that your body uses to keep itself safe. As your anxiety levels decrease over time, the symptoms of DP / DR will too.

And even though I know Depersonalization can feel like a separate condition (as you say, “more like a flu”) in reality it’s always linked to anxiety. I discuss this further here:
https://www.dpmanual.com/articles/anxiety-and-depersonalization/

Best,

Shaun

Reply
Prabina

Hi Shaun..
I am suffering from generalized anxiety disorder since 1.5 year…it’s been one month that I feel like I am detached from myself and am someone else..when I look at mirror i feel different….is this depersonalisation???

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hey Prabina,
Thanks for your comment. Yes indeed, feeling as if you’re detached from yourself, or having difficulty recognizing yourself in the mirror are both extremely common symptoms of Depersonalization. I know it can feel scary but don’t worry, ultimately it’s just a symptom of anxiety and all of these strange thoughts and feelings will pass as you recover.

Reply
Eve B

Hi Shaun I started with DP when I was going through very bad anxiety at the age of 20yrs I am now 70 and I am so glad I come across your site I am not to good on the computer so please bare with me
I feel that I am the oldest person in the world to suffer with DP but I have read a couple of comments from slightly older people and it makes me feel so happy I have suffered this illness with my husbands help for all these years I have had good times and really horrendous times I thought I was the only person in the world with this feeling stating today I am going to try and rid my self of this awfull feeling thank you Eve

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Eve,
Thanks so much for your comment.
Yes I’ve spoken to many older folks who have DP. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve had to suffer with it for so long, that must have been quite difficult. The good news is that as persistent as it is, it’s still an anxiety-based disorder and you can recover from it, no matter what age you are. So keep up the good work!

Shaun

Reply
Lauren

Hi my name is Lauren
I am a well grounded 19 year old teenage girl, with a love for visual art , and music . I am an opera singer , and I have a dream to chase . I have many traumatic deaths in my life , and I have a predisposition to depressions and anxiety . I have never smoked weed , so my depersonalization episode was not drug induced . One night , I had a panic attack and those feelings of derealization didn’t go away for several days . I was scared , and I felt alone . I told my parents right away , and we went to the doctor and I just need to go up on my anxiety meds , and manage my mental health condition. And I feel so much better now , and I just want everyone to know that this is not a permanent state . With the right health care professionals, the right meds , the support from your family , it will all go away and it will be okay .

Reply
Karen Young

Lauren thank you for sharing your story. Your voice is so important, so that others who are having a similar experience can feel strengthened and hopeful.

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Lauren,
Thanks for your comment.
Absolutely, people can develop Depersonalization Disorder from panic attacks, it’s very common. And it’s certainly a frightening experience but I’m delighted to hear that you’re feeling better now. Hope you’re back to making art and singing opera!

Shaun

Reply
Chris

Hi folks,
I’m in the process of discovery, having been given a diagnosis about 9 months ago. I struggle with the terminology and the published ‘facts’. I may have derealisation and depersonalization, or both. Through counseling I discovered that my condition began when I was 10 following a traumatic event. It went away but I don’t now how long, because I didn’t know what it was.
It reappeared 36 years later when a ‘series of unconnected events’ caused the same reaction. It stayed with me for 10 years.
The post from Luciano is the closest to how I felt, and if I’m honest, to how I still feel. What has changed for me since counseling is an awareness of the feelings of loved ones that I didn’t connect with for years, resulting in permanent damage to relationships.
Seen as cold and calculating by family members and now feeling the hurt that I caused is perhaps a clue that I am ‘rising from the pit’ of inert emotion – not re-attached to reality but feeling like the glass wall is thinner.
Having a diagnosis is a relief, and also a deep frustration that something could have been done before relationship carnage ensued.
I know now what was wrong, what still is wrong, but how do I persuade those I’ve hurt that ‘I wasn’t well’?

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hey Chris,
Thanks for the comment.
When people develop anxiety and depersonalization they often withdraw into themselves, finding it hard to connect with other people, even close friends and family members. It’s a perfectly natural reaction but can often be misconstrued as being ‘cold’ and ‘distant’.

Personally I’d recommend having a quick one-on-one chat with the people you feel you might have hurt. You don’t need to go into detail but you can mention the condition and how it’s affected you. In my experience people tend to be very understanding, especially when it comes to mental health.

Best,

Shaun

Reply
Ken

Hi there,

I’ve been struggling with dp/dr from high levels of stress and anxiety from a bad LSD trip back in November and then a subsequent diagnoses of Graves‘ disease.

I’m doing well, clearing myself of the dp at times, I have a good behavioral therapist and seemed to have controlled the Graves through the medication.

My question is, this whole time, dreams and nightmares have been my plague and keep ruining my anxiety free streaks and sleep. In your experience were bad dreams a nuisance and did they dissipate or atleast did your reaction to them turn from fright to a normal reaction? My main anxiety stems from existential angst and intrusive thoughts about it, when it got bad it was like I couldn’t even close my eyes because the mental imagery my anxious brain created from the fright.

It’s nothing like anxiety I’ve had in the past. Of course like you’ve stated even engaging with it online like this brings it back to focus. Thanks in advance.

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Ken,
Thanks for your comment.
Yes absolutely, bad dreams and nightmares are an extremely common symptom of anxiety and depersonalization. I suffered from them myself and they can be very tough to deal with, especially if they cause broken sleep – which can then make the anxiety worse. But don’t worry – the bad dreams (and all other symptoms) will stop as you recover.

You can read this article for more information:
https://www.dpmanual.com/articles/why-does-depersonalization-affect-sleep-and-dreams/

Shaun

Reply
Luciano

I got DP/DR on February 24, 1978. Today is February 13, 20017. That is 39 years. Shawn says in his book that DP/DR is not permanent, but in my case it may as well be.

I am not defined by it as I worked 30 years as a special education teacher. I’ve managed to get a Masters Degree in Education and three cleared teaching credentials. I have my own home, am retired now and travel extensively. I go days and sometimes weeks without thinking about it. I read another manual on DP/DR written by another gentleman, It’s my understanding that both of your manuals are similar in scope.

To be honest, I’ve had DP/DR for so many years that I don’t remember what my life was before February 24, 1978.

My episode started after smoking a lot of marijuana. I then made the mistake of smoking again two weeks after my initial panic attack, but I still wasn’t completely myself. I’ve been in this state, in various degrees, for most of my life.

The only thing that is an issue is that I’m emotionally blunted. I don’t know how to miss people or bond with people. It seems like as soon as I finish talking to a friend, one to one or even on the phone, a few minutes later it seems like I never had the conversation. I have to make it a point to contact friends or I will never do it. Part of it is lazyness I guess, but the other part is that I just don’t feel the need to. There is this sense of disconnect.

I have a girlfriend, but as you can imagine I drive her nuts with my detachment. Tomorrow is Valentines Day, but I don’t feel anything about it. I bought her some gifts and she is coming over. In the evening we are going out to dinner. There is this sense of just going through the motions. At funerals I have to be careful not to appear cold, so I try to look and act sad, but inside I don’t feel either. Again, it’s is disconnect.

I won’t even begin to tell you what I’ve tried over the years. I probably broke a record for money spent on ridding oneself of DP/DR. At this point guess I have just embraced it as my well intentioned friend who wants to protect me, even though I don’t need any protection. I am doing pretty good on my own.

To be honestly, I’m not sure what I expect from writing you. I guess I feel deep inside the need to connect and even though I don’t really feel anything, the intention is better than nothing. I’m always trying to be the Luciano who I think would act the way I do now, but without all the preparation and looking around for social cues on how to act.

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Luciano,
Thanks for your comment and I’m very sorry to hear that you’ve been experiencing DP for so long. The symptoms you describe are very common: the emotional bluntness, the disconnect and detachment. I would strongly suspect that what you have is a very typical case of anxiety / DP. You’ve been unlucky that you developed it in the late 70s, at a time when information on the condition would have been nearly impossible to come by. I developed DP in 2005 and even then, with access to the internet, helpful information was rare but it allowed me to at least make a start on my recovery.

I understand that DP has been a part of your life for so long now, but it’s also important to understand that it’s only there as an association. That is to say that your brain associates DP with anxiety, so whenever you feel anxiety your brain tells you to feel depersonalized — as you say, to protect you even though you don’t need protection.

It may seem like a difficult task, but all you need to do is to break that association for the DP to dissipate and eventually stop. It’s essentially breaking / changing a habit of thought — which is fundamentally the same as quitting smoking or going on a diet. It takes work but like all habits, it can be changed.

Shaun

Reply
Marie

Hi Shaun
I have your manual etc..thank you.
My most terrible symptoms are these..please help…When I look at anything it doesn’t loOK right but if I stare or focus on it for a bit it finally looks like it should but then goes back to not right and THEN I realize how DEEP I’m in this hole or have blocked out reality and me..please tell me….have you heard from anyone or experienced yourself this???
1st time experienced episode was 1989 after MONTHS of anxiety,heart pounding ,no sleep,job stress,family rejection. Hospitalized.
Got better,job,but I think I used symptom of not existing as a protection. Daughter got married in august 2017..my pet of 15 years had stroke and died 48hours after wedding. Next thing I knew I was in this hell.
That’s why I’made asking for your help.
Thank you..God bless

Reply
Karen Young

Marie, I would really encourage you to find a therapist or counsellor who is able to provide you the support you need. There will be a way to manage your symptoms so they are less intrusive for you, but this will need a full understanding of what you are experiencing. The help is out there. If you aren’t sure where to start, a doctor will be able to point you in the right direction.

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Marie,
Thank you for your comment. It’s not unheard of for people to experience temporary relapses at times of extreme stress. This happens because the brain associates anxiety with feelings of DP. It can be frightening but the important things to remember are:

1. You recovered in the past, so you know that recovery is possible.
2. The tendency to relapse decreases quickly as your brain understands that depersonalization is nothing more than a temporary defense mechanism.
3. To reiterate what Karen said, if you are experiencing particularly strong depressive symptoms or thoughts, please do speak to a therapist or counselor for support as soon as possible.

Shaun

Reply
Marie. T

Thanks…so difficult to live AS IF no anxiety with the DP/DR symptoms all day…you experienced that also..right?
Last email till I’m free!!
Thanks you
God bless

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Marie,
Absolutely, it can be difficult to go about your life when experiencing symptoms of DP / DR. But since that’s the method by which your brain retrains itself to switch off the anxiety that’s causing the DP / DR, it’s vitally important that you do so consistently.

Keep up the good work!

Shaun

Reply
Vannety

Hi Shaun,

I want to thank you first for writing your book! It helped me a lot. I have to work with it consistently.
Is it normal that the philosophical thoughts remain so bad? Things like: do we have a soul? Maybe everything is fake and I only now discover that? Is there life after death? why are we people? such things can totally panic. have the condition since 2 years now, and would like to leave. am really worried that because I am so philosophically looking at life now, in the future I can never look normalbagayn at myself and the world around me. I hope to hear from you! Greetings Vannety from the Netherlands

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Vannety,
Thanks for your comment and I’m delighted to hear that you’ve found the book so useful. It’s true that the intrusive, existential thoughts can be one of the more disturbing symptoms of DP. The important thing to remember is that these thoughts, just like every other symptom, are driven 100% by anxiety. The thoughts can seem scary, but technically they have no more significance than any non-anxious thought.

But you don’t need to worry about dealing with them separately. When you deal with the anxiety the scary philosophical thoughts will disappear naturally and your normal habits of thinking will return. You can and will get back to normal!

Shaun

Reply
kelechi

hey karen ..thanks for the reply ..the thing is its like nobody here has heard of dp before and ive tried to explain to my fam about dp but it feels like they just dont get it..talked to my brother about my dp symptoms and he told me about a time he was broke in school,then i told my sister and she told me about her mentral pains.. its like everybody gives me the impression that they have been through worse meanwhile im not trying to compete…losing friends,losing weight,losing my sense of humour ,…even showed them shauns article about his dp but somehow they just dont get it..painful feeling i tell ya,and i sound weird telling someone i wanna get a book online,its about depersonalisation..A FEELING OF DETACHMENT FROM ONES SELF..nobody tryna help a weird problem outhere ..i start to think theyre happy i have dp…having issues trying to get the book..if theres any exceptional case please let it be mine .i cant even start to explain what ive been through..i know you get it ..@king_Ajaa on instagram

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Kelechi —
I totally understand, it can be very difficult to explain just how scary DP is to someone who has never heard of it before. But the good news is that you don’t need anyone else to understand it in order to recover. All you need to do is overwrite the negative thought habits that cause the anxiety and DP.
Thanks for your comment!

Shaun

Reply
Cait

When I was 16 I had a panic attack and from then on had DP and head pressure and burning. I’m 25 now and still have it. It lessened the Intensity of it like always thinking about it and asking myself questions about DP and I kind of made it a part of me. That’s how I learned to live with it. I recently had another bad panic attack and now the DP is back to being intense. Always thinking about it. I just got the DP manual and am starting the recovery. I have a question about the vitamins. What dosage should you take of b6, b12, and magnesium? Also have you Encountered other people who have none stop head pressure while having DP 24/7?

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Cait,
Thanks for your comment!
I would definitely recommend taking supplements, exercising etc — because the healthier your physical lifestyle is, the more beneficial and supportive that will be for your mental health. That will in turn allow you to quickly develop the positive thought habits that will stop anxiety / DP.

Best,
Shaun

Reply
kelechi

im nigerian and i have all d symptoms of dp i developed dp after much weed intake how can i get dis book …i hope to recovery and help others its really scary and

Reply
SageW

Yes I’ve had depersonlization and derelization since I’ve been a little girl it makes no difference if I read about it or if I work out or what I eat it’s always there I’m never connected to my body even as I type this feel like I’m watching a stranger. I went to to the ER last year because it got really bad and I could no longer go to school and they were so rude to me didnt listen to word I’ve given up on trying to get regular folk to understand the only people who get it are people who experience it If you explain to regular people they either wont listen wont care or wont think it’s a big deal. My family is annoyed by it when I was young I use to cry telling my mom I don’t feel real my older sister was upset I ruined a lot of events because I felt so unreal and disconnected. I am not religious by any means but sometimes i feel like my soul or whatever you want to call it is missing. I’m now almost 30 and still have no cure even though I’ve met many people online with dp and dr i have yet to meet anyone who has ever had it since childhood like me. maybe its seziures maybe it is “spirtual” thing I dont know I just want to feel real. Oh and de ja vu I swear I dream about events that havent happen then months later it happens extreme de ja vu it’s a strange feeling that’s for sure

Reply
Kyla

Hi SageW,
Just wanted to let you know you aren’t alone. I had my first panic attack when I was 7 and spent most of my childhood stuck in DP/DR. It got better in high school but I occasionally got short episodes of it, but have now been stuck in my worst episode yet since June this year. Just wanted to let you know that I too have had it since I was a little girl and had a difficult childhood because of it. I am now 28.

Reply
Maxim

Hello shaun I meet my depersonalization in the army one day I start feel anxiety and panic attack then after a few weeks the panic stopped several months later i decade go to psychiatry he gives me hypricum then I started feel my brain like a smog not can even thought clearly but before I started take the pills only my frontal area was sealed what you can say about that .thanks allot ))

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hello Maxim,
Thanks for your comment and I’m sorry to hear you’ve been experiencing DP. The condition is typically brought on by stress and trauma so if you were having a difficult time in the army that may have been a contributing factor. I can’t advise directly about your experience with hypricum, but if you take a look at my website there’s an general article on medication that I think you’ll find useful!

Best,
Shaun

Reply
Jeff

first had dp in feb of 1976…..was watching west world at the time…..was 22 yrs old……crazy,impactful stuff….Shaun has done some truly great work….much appreciated……

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Jeff —
I first developed chronic DP at around the same age, triggered by a variety of factors. And in fact, most people seem to get it in their early twenties, with rates dropping off as age increases.

I hope you are doing well and thank you for your comment!

Shaun

Reply
Augusta

The best explanation I have read. It feels like I’m stuck between two realities or dimensions at times. I’m not sure if the epidemic of depersonalization is due to the consciousness level of us as a whole is rising and people are becoming more aware of things and are having difficulties defining this. I sometimes have anxiety, I almost smoke weed and I have been on a “spiritual journey” for last few years all of that probably lead to this. Who’s to say its a bad thing, its only scary to me because like he says earlier you don’t truly know the truth

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Thanks for your comment Augusta!
That’s a fascinating idea about our collective consciousness level rising and the DP epidemic being a result of that.

However, in my experience it’s a much less ethereal condition than that theory would suggest, at least in terms of how it responds to specific rules and behaviours. I would personally define it as something much more manageable, as is every condition on the anxiety spectrum.

Depersonalization can certainly seem like a very strange and unreal feeling — but with the right tools it can be controlled and eventually stopped.

Shaun

Reply
Brooklyn

Hi ive been suffereing from this dp for a few years now , from a bad trip off weed wasnt even technically my fault but my question is will i ever be able to recover an can i ?? .. Im not asking or seeking help to be judged i just really want to know & is it normal with having dp to feel full body numbness ??

Reply
Karen Young

Brooklyn it’s completely understandable that you would want answers about this and you deserve them. Be guided by what the doctors are saying. Sometimes it might take a few tries of different doctors or professionals before you find one that is able to make sense of things for you.

Reply
Matthew

I got DP from eating hallucinogenic mushrooms when I was 15. I am now 19 and still have the disorder. During my time with the disorder I have learned a great deal about it and recently I have found that the reason it stayed so long. The reason is unacceptance to all the thoughts and feelings that DP brings(which makes sense, because the feelings and thoughts that come with it are really scary). It is like that scene in Harry Potter when Ron wouldnt relax into the roots and the roots got tighter and tighter. Lol. Therfore, I have stopped trying to fight off all of the thoughts and emotions and instead just allow them to be there without judgment. I read Shaun’s book which really sped up my recovery. At the beginning of the book he talks about how DP wouldn’t be an issue if you had known what it was during the onset. I think this is because one would understand that he is not going crazy and he wouldn’t try to resist the thoughts and feelings. He would probably just let it be as he got on with his life, and the DP would slip away on its own. Depersonalization is a hard struggle, but it is not permanent. To anyone who has Depersonalization, read Shaun’s book.

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Matthew —
Thanks for your comment and you’re absolutely correct about the importance of the reaction to DP. The feeling itself is actually a defence mechanism of the brain to deal with traumatic situations, and typically dissipates in minutes or even seconds. It’s only when it’s fearfully examined and interpreted as ‘going crazy’ that it turns into an ongoing condition, fuelled by anxiety. Recognizing the feeling accurately is an essential tool both for recovery and preventing relapse.

Shaun

Reply
Stephanie

This is my second week with what seems to be DP. Last week I had a few minutes of memory loss and I freaked out, calming down I got in the car to go home and two minutes after driving home I started to get the feeling of being on a bad high. ( even though I haven’t smoked weed in more then 1 year now). It was so bad we called an ambulance to see if I was okay. I was. From my research it seems I have DP. I have a hard time remembering where I drive by places, talking to my own mom doesn’t feel real. It’s an awful feeling that seems it won’t end. I have missed work from it because I don’t feel comfortable taking customers in this stage. I am trying to see a psychiatrist this week. Do you have any other advice?

Reply
Hana

At least yours was triggered by intense panic attack which (in case therapy doesn’t work) antidepressants can treat. For me, I got depersonalization as a withdrawal symptom of antidepressants (I took for my moderate social anxiety). I also suffer from anhedonia (lack of pleasure) and I guess this and dp are interconnected. Do you have anhedonia as well? Unfortunately for me, ADs either don’t resolve these symptoms or make them worse. I’m damned for life.

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Hana,
Thanks for your comment!
In my experience of speaking to thousands of people who have had this condition, one thing remains consistent: It doesn’t matter *how* the condition came about, the recovery process is always the same.

Regarding your second point: Depersonalization is almost always comorbid with other symptoms like Anhedonia etc so I wouldn’t worry about that being a separate issue and I certainly wouldn’t presume that you are ‘damned for life’, as you put it.

Medication can help with certain aspects of DP but in my experience the thought process itself still needs to actively overwritten by the individual. Meds can certainly be helpful in terms of day-to-day mood, but they won’t change an embedded thought habit. Only the individual themselves can achieve that!

Reply
donna

no it is not a good experience. I have had this experience in High school in 1974 and they ,the school psychologist said it is adolescence depression. Well, I get this way every year or so since. And it is 2017. After the election this is how I am feeling. Scared , not knowing what to do so I think my mind is protecting me from something very unusual happening that I have no no control over. and it is very upsetting and causing stress.

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Donna,
It’s very common for DP to be misdiagnosed completely or described a little more than a ‘general malaise’, even nowadays. So your diagnosis in 1974 is sadly, not surprising. I hope that dealing with the condition has become easier in the intervening time.

Shaun

Reply
Sapna

From my experience, it is not an affliction, it is a state of mind; a space where you realize all that is occurring about you & others; without you being really really involved !
May be, the ‘depersonalization’ is something, I can come out and go in anytime I choose to .. but this would be just me : being neutral, non-judgmental, being yourself and watching yourself; possibly from a higher knowledge and self-perspective.

Reply
sofia

Well , Actually I`ve lived that state of my mind . I felt like if I was watching my own life from outside it´s not a nice experience at all . I swear it !

Reply
Shaun O Connor

Hi Sapna,
You’re quite correct that there is certainly a ‘depersonalization’ of sorts happening more and more in modern society. However, the Depersonalization Disorder I’m referring to is much more of an unwanted, unsolicited anxiety-based condition than a state of mind that can be accessed at will. Thank you for your comment!

Shaun

Reply
Melanie

Hi, I am not sure if I am just being 3 pm afternoon dense, but even after reading this I still do not know what DP is, really. Help me understand please.

Reply
Hey Sigmund

Ahhh no, this is not the 3pm fog. Shaun wrote the post from a personal point of view. I love the post because it’s brave and honest, but of course it makes sense that you would want to understand what it is. He has updated the post to include a list of symptoms, and there is a hyperlink there to a site for more information. Hope this clears things up.

Reply
Melanie

Awesome! Thanks so much Shaun and HS for the clarity. Navigating life and my phone is hard enough … 😉

Reply
Thomas

Hello shawn! Im thomas, and i have developed dp from an intense marijuana experience and i have not yet crawled out of this horrific condition. I wish to buy your book, but i also want to ask you if you have ever heard of this: i feel meh all the time of course and distractions help and then i think about dp and such and then its bad once again, but i find that im always worried that weed has done damage to my brain when my brsin comes short or experience poor short term memory. Im in highschool and ive only smoked weed about 9 times so like 7 grams total maximum, worrying about this then gets me wondering if i was usually kinda forgetful/dumb. Does dp typically affect memory and cognition to a noticable degree? By the way i love what i have read on your website and look forward to reading the book. I have gotten past the CRIPPLING STAGE of this where ive had panic attacks and emotional breakdowns, but i still cant shake that unpleasant “high” and dull feeling. Thanks shawn! I hope you read this. Couldnt find any other way to contact you

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This