Depersonalization and Derealization - Symptoms of Severe Anxiety
When you suffer from an anxiety disorder or depression for a long time, you can become so sensitized, or over-sensitive, that you almost feel scared of your very own shadow. The nervous system takes a battering, and many wild and not so wonderful sensations and thoughts can occur. Rumination and mind chatter can take over.
Questioning of our very selves, our reality and our place in the world can become persistent. It is not uncommon to begin to suffer from a state of depersonalization and/or derealization, which can be very alarming. These perceptual distortions can most certainly be a direct result from prolonged stress, anxiety and depression.
What is Depersonalization and Derealization?
Depersonalization is a state of being hyper aware as if an onlooker outside of the body. Most people who suffer with panic attacks will encounter this feeling. The perception of being unreal can even make us wonder if we are really alive and here in the present.
Derealization is a state where everything around you seems unreal. This can make you question if you are the only thing that is real. These states of mind can thus produce a feeling of either I am real and the world is not or the world is real and I am not! It can be very disturbing and has the effect of producing yet more fear which in turn releases more adrenaline creating further sensitization. It seems to be a never ending cycle of fear/adrenaline/fear/adrenaline helping to maintain the symptoms of unreality.
If you have experienced life’s anomaly of déjà vu, you have had a minor taste of what depersonalization and derealization can feel like. Déjà vu is a fleeting feeling of having experienced a situation or place before. Likewise, epileptics or migraine sufferers can experience an aura which can also be sudden and unsettling but of a very short duration. All of these things have a dreamlike quality about them but with depersonalization and derealization the experience can sit around for a long time and be experienced every day. Imagine having déjà vu constantly for hours, days, weeks or months on end. For chronic generalized anxiety or panic sufferers, these symptoms can be the most frightening of all.
Take a Depersonalization Test
Anxiety can cause strange thoughts, feelings and behaviors. A lot of the time, people fail to believe that anxiety could possibly be the cause; after all, doesn’t everyone have some anxiety in their lives? We are not talking about healthy anxiety here but unhealthy anxiety that is chronic and debilitating. It is the fearful reaction to the symptoms brought on by the chronic anxious state that helps it to build and keep it alive.
Will I Lose my Mind?
First, it is important to understand that these states are not harmful, either mentally or physically. They may feel very alarming but you are not going insane. Many people are afraid the symptoms are an indication of the onset of psychosis, but when you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and/or depression it will be highly likely to be associated with that diagnosis.
There is a condition called depersonalization disorder which is listed in the DSM (diagnostic statistical manual) as a dissociative state and can be a result of a traumatic past experience, although this is usually found with accompanying anxiety also. Some sufferers may begin to have these symptoms after taking illicit drugs, perhaps after having had a bad trip. The good news is that both depersonalization and derealization can completely go away once a person is no longer sensitized. Desensitization takes time and is subject to how much a person addresses their general anxious state.
The treatment for depersonalization and derealization in most cases would be the same treatment as that for the underlying anxiety and depression. SSRIs used as anti anxiety pills are the most common medication and in some cases benzodiazepines may be prescribed, such as xanax or valium, though these may be discouraged due to dependence issues. If the actual anxiety issues are not addressed, one may be subject to a return of symptoms after these medications are stopped. Ideally, therapy or self-help should be encouraged.
Depersonalization Panic and Drugs
One must remember that these feeling of unreality, are for the most part, usually a direct symptom of having suffered intense anxiety. The longer you suffer the more likely it will be that you may experience unreality. That said, people who use substances such as cannabis, may have a sudden onset of unreality after they have used the substances. It is my opinion that in the case of anxiety disorders, treating the underlying anxiety is key. The unreality tends to dissolve once this is addressed.
There are some things you may try to alleviate the symptoms. When we feel a sense of detachment life can become difficult, so difficult that we may avoid social activities, leaving the home and we can become further isolated. It is important to maintain as much normality as possible despite the unreality. Easier said than done but the undoing of an unreality is to face the reality of it. It will not harm you; it is a frightening experience but it seeks your fearful reaction and you must work to resist this. Without reaction it loses power somewhat. Here are some things I suggest:
Suggestions to Cope with Unreality
- Wear a rubber band or elasticated bracelet on the wrist. Each time an unreal feeling begins, snap the band hard on your wrist to remind you not to react with fear. It might be a good idea to have a little statement you can say to yourself at the same time such as "I am here; this feeling is a product of my anxiety only. I will be okay."
- Look in the mirror. Go look in the mirror and touch your face or any parts of your body. Smile at yourself. Tell that statement to the mirror.
- If you are around other people, make a point of striking up conversation and most of all encourage eye contact with the person you are talking to. This reminds us that we are real and everything around us is real.
- If you are alone and the feelings come, go and phone someone. It is amazing how, when we divert our attention away from our own thoughts and feelings some respite is gleamed.
- Keep a notebook with positive affirmations in it. Write down realistic statements, one on each page in bold capital letters. Read these in times of doubt and uncertainty. It may seem silly but you need to reinforce over and over the explanation for your suffering, the truth – the reality!