No More Derealization: How to Permanently Recover From Dissociative Anxiety

Updated on September 15, 2018
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I studied neuroscience and am passionate about the brain and the way that we perceive reality. Article-writing is my favourite hobby.

What Is Derealization Disorder?

Many people who suffer from some form of anxiety (generalized anxiety or panic disorder) develop dissociative symptoms. These include feelings of unreality that we refer to as "derealization", which cause the sufferer to feel as if they are in a completely dreamlike state, surrounded by an unfamiliar world in which they can no longer find any form of solace. This symptom is so scary and different to the normal, sober state that it can cause one to worry that they are developing schizophrenia or psychosis, and about to "lose control" of their mind.

After all, derealization feels psychedelic by nature, and when it hits, it is nearly impossible to believe that it is just an illusion created by anxiety and not something much, much more severe that will eventually render you unable to function. However, I am writing this hub to promise you that, in your current state of extreme vulnerability and fear, that this is not the case.

You can snap out of this trance, and see reality as you once saw it again. I have experienced prolonged bouts of this symptom, created by a combination of severe anxiety and a propensity to hyperfocus and obsess (OCD tendencies). In terms of coping mechanisms, I am now very aware of what works and what doesn't work. I will address all the myths about derealization and share the techniques that helped me overcome this terrifying symptom.

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Who Suffers From Derealization?

As I touched on in the introduction, derealization is closely linked to anxiety and the hyper-focused thinking states that anxiety-prone people find themselves slipping into. For this reason, it is also sometimes experienced by sufferers of OCD.

I will not deeply delve into brain chemistry, as I want this hub to be accessible to everyone who wants to rapidly recover from derealization. However, we all have different balances of neurotransmitters, and some of us are more prone to focusing on dissociation and, in turn, developing what we call "derealization". This phenomenon is not dangerous at all, and does not lead to anything more severe (that I can promise you). Nevertheless, is very unsettling and even life-destroying at its worst (due to the panic and distress that it causes), so must be taken seriously and addressed.

Do you believe that derealization can be overcome?

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What Is Anxiety-Induced Dissociation?

Based on my neuroscience background and my personal experience (as well as extensive open-minded research), I can confidently say that derealization is caused by an abnormal obsession with dissociation and unreality. Mild levels of dissociation are perfectly normal. After all, to have a human brain is to experience some strange sensations from time to time. This is because we are never as "fixed" in reality as we think; our brains create what we call "reality". This means that when neurotransmitters are offset due to stress, or adrenaline is acting on the body, it is common for us to feel some "floaty" sensations, or to begin to feel that we are perceiving the world differently to normal. We are perceiving it differently, and that is okay. That shouldn't scare us, because it isn't like it spirals out of control and renders us unable to live/speak/work. The key is to not expect to see the world in the same way 24/7, since you have a brain that is constantly being altered by stress levels, other hormones and whatever food you're consuming.

When neurotransmitters are offset due to stress, or adrenaline is acting on the body for prolonged periods of time, it is common for us to feel some "floaty" sensations, or to begin to feel that we are perceiving the world differently to normal. This is because our brain's physicality is essentially changing, and therefore, the way that we view the world will naturally shift too (just as simply drinking coffee can make the world seem more beautiful and bright. This doesn't worry you, right? But, even this could get weird if you focused on it enough).

"Come a Little Closer, Then You'll See - Things Aren't Always What They Seem to Be"

Derealization = Normal Dissociation Plus Obsession

I will delve a little further into the concept of "normal dissociation", and how it is linked to the problem of derealization. Think back to when you were a child chasing your sibling across the beach, and you were completely lost to the innocent game, the noises and the smell of the sea. In this excited, adrenaline-fuelled state, if you had possessed the obsessive and adult-level thinking that you do now, you probably would have looked around and felt quite out-of-body and "in a simulation". This probably would have panicked you, causing more adrenaline to be released, making your body respond as if it were in danger. This, in turn, would have worsened the derealization, probably causing you to worry about developing things like psychosis and schizophrenia. You would have had to leave the beach in a panic and wouldn't even have found relief back at home (since you can't run away from your own thought spirals).

However, back then you were a child and not a fear-paralyzed adult and didn't have internet access to google symptoms. You were not aware of severe mental illnesses that you could, in theory, be developing, and also were not even aware that anyone could feel detached from the world. You enjoyed your mild dissociation, the floatiness that you felt when listening to music, and felt that it was normal, because it was and IS normal.

You were in the dopamine-rich stage of childhood and were constantly and healthily being distracted by interesting stimuli within reality e.g. food, animals, your friends, your parents' discipline. This meant that, even though you experienced natural dissociation as a child (just as everyone does), and you possessed the same genes that you have now (which make you prone to fixation and panic), it never went down the path of a derealization disorder. In this way, you were free when you were younger - free from the crippling fear of "losing your mind" or never being able to "see the world normally again". These falsehoods have been controlling your life recently.

Intrusive Thoughts: Without Obsession, There Is No Derealization Disorder

To clarify, you live in your head now and get yourself into obsessive spirals, but this wasn't the case when you were 4-10 years old. For this reason, you should find comfort in the fact that there is nothing wrong with you or your brain. You aren't "too psychologically damaged to cope", even after years of severe anxiety. Apart from some learned behavioral patterns (e.g. fear of talking to strangers due to adolescent bullying), you have the potential to function with your unique brain, just as you did when you were very young and felt safe within the physical world. If you're naturally prone to some spacey, light-headed dissociation and tend to focus intently on the way that you're viewing the world, this doesn't mean that you will always experience derealization and have panic attacks due to it. You can treat the obsessive element of your psyche your own, even without the intervention of professionals. You can become free again. I have managed it, and believe me, I once believed that I had lost my entire life to derealization.

How Does Your Brain Create Terrifying Dissociative Symptoms?

Derealization is terrifyingly far from your normal, baseline state. You feel like you're intoxicated constantly, and that you will surely never be able to snap out of something so strange. You would do anything to experience the simple things in life again, and to feel within reality.

Understand this: derealization occurs when an anxiety-prone person becomes obsessively terrified with the peculiar concept of not being able to see reality normally, because we believe that our reality is changing and will eventually be almost completely psychedelic and unrecognizable. This is a falsehood. The very fact that you are aware of this symptom means that you are not developing psychosis and schizophrenia. When developing those disorders, people slowly lose their sense of self and wouldn't be able to rationally question whether they were viewing reality normally or not, Plus, these severe illnesses come with a lot more symptoms e.g. delusions and aggression.

Everyone feels spaced-out and floaty when tired, notices pretty colors more after caffeine, and everyone feels slightly wobbly when unwell. We are the same as these neurotypical people who will never even consider that they may have something as strange as "derealization disorder"; the difference is that we obsess. We hyperfocus and chase scary thoughts down paths that our brains aren't evolutionarily prepared to let us go down constantly.

Reality Isn't Fixed (Or A Real Concept)! Some Strangeness Is Normal!

It is comforting to know that derealization is simply a result of anxiety and unnecessary fear/focus, but this may seem unconvincing to you. You might want to tell me "but my derealization disorder is so intense, it must be schizophrenia etc.". If you feel that way, then I want you to do a lot of research on the changeability of our perception of reality. The concept of a fixed, stable perception of the world is totally unfounded and improbable. Diet, medication, hormones and neurotransmitters change your sober reality constantly, and your mood.

Do not think for one minute that you are "tripping out" and surrounded by people who are judging you through a crystal-clear reality lense. Everyone around you will have something clouding their view of "objective consensus reality", whether it be a bad hangover or the fact that they are rushing to collect their cat from the vet.

In addition to mildly-altered states being very normal in day-to-day scenarios, remember that many people actively choose to take drugs that warp their reality immensely and they enjoy these experiences. People who take LSD (which was originally extracted from a type of fungus) lose all contact with the "normal reality" that they are used to. After the chemical wears off, they see reality as they did before again. It's a wild experience and can be scary, but doesn't hurt them in any way.

A changed reality is not necessarily a negative thing, it just "is", and it's something you need to become comfortable with. If you're anxious, you will be producing a lot of adrenaline which acts on nearly all the body's cells. It also disrupts cortisol levels and can lead to hormonal syndromes such as adrenal fatigue. None of these are particularly harmful, but they WILL affect the levels of chemicals in your brain and they will lead to some dissociative feelings/will make you see reality differently to how you did before you became so consumed by anxiety.

So, how is your brain creating such a strange phenomenon? Because it's not hard to change the way that you see the world. Try getting blackout drunk and you'll start to see blurry shapes. That's essentially your reality changing, just as it does when you obsess over derealization. Does it harm you? No, it's just symptomatic of drinking alcohol. The organ damage is the worrying thing.

Altered realities are fine and normal. We all see the world in different ways as we go about our day. Don't let it scare you, because this will always be something you'll experience. You're just noticing it because you're introspective, intelligent AND are currently suffering from severe anxiety. You'll always be anxiety-prone, but won't always be living as a slave to the condition.

"I Can't Survive If This Is All That's Real"

The Only Way To Permanently Overcome Derealization and Depersonalization

  • Logically think back to all the times that you've felt intensely derealized in public or in another scary situation. You felt like you were falling down a slippery slope and about to be sucked into a cartoon show, but that level of insanity never happened, right? You were always fine. The worst it gets is thinking "this is weird and horrible, I want this feeling to go away". The panic attacks only happen when you indulge yourself and let yourself fall deeper into that thought. Direct yourself away from panic each time. I've done it at my worst and so can you
  • STOP thinking that you need to "assess" whether reality appears normal or strange each day. This is exactly the kind of thinking that obsessive people like us fall into, but all it will do is worsen the situation. Remember, derealization is something you experience only because you're so strangely worried about whether things are "real or not".
  • However reality looks, you need to just go with the flow. Tell yourself "reality just is, it isn't fixed". Something that really helped me was to think "if I were stoned right now, I wouldn't be scared, I'd be enjoying the altered reality". And, when people are stoned, they get by fine in public, just walking alone at their own pace immersed in their own perception of the world. You can do the same in your dissociated state! Nothing bad happens.
  • Realise you are alone in your feelings, but instead of finding that scary, use it to motivate you to chill, and to stop obsessing over the pessimistic thoughts that I've addressed in this article. Nobody can tell you that you're okay. You need to feel it for yourself by relaxing and realizing that 1. the derealization doesn't hurt you and that 2. after time, you create new pathways away from the unhealthy fixation on reality and it actually goes away (often quickly).
  • Stop thinking of it as "my derealization problem". That introduces the false notion that you're either in sober reality OR you're in some dreamlike trance, when it's quite the contrary. As I've explained, reality isn't ever the same, so it can't be "right" or "wrong" in this way. It's just a big spectrum and we all experience the same life situations in very different ways, due to food, caffeine, emotion, fear etc. Stop yourself stepping out of the house and thinking "today it's either going to be normal or scary dream state", since that is obviously not going to help you forget about this issue.

Some Vitamins and Minerals For DPDR

Taking high-quality flaxseed oil coincide with me stepping out of my anxious, neurotic state. In turn, my derealization lessened. It seems that flaxseed is a vegan equivalent to cod liver oil and aids brain recovery. Who knows whether it helped or whether my psychological self-care helped, but it might be worth a try since it has been proven to promote cognitive wellbeing.

Then, I recommend that you all take a B-complex, vitamin D3 and not much more in the way of vitamins. It's essential that you eat enough protein and a wide range of fruit and vegetables, they contain compounds that directly contribute to cognitive normality.

MSM worsened my anxiety and triggered a severe derealization episode. Stay away from that supplement.

DPDR Rule: Quit Coffee, and Start Drinking Matcha Green Tea

Matcha green tea greatly reduced my derealization/depersonalization anxiety symptoms, possibly due to L-Theanine's calming, synergistic action with caffeine. I am not one to promote excessive supplements, as they can often add insult to injury when it comes to mental health (specifically anxiety). However, matcha green tea is absolutely fantastic at calming the mind and letting you reach a gently-stimulated state of relaxation.

Nowadays, I still experience hints of dissociation; while I now know how to accept the sensations and avoid a full-blown panic attack, matcha remarkably lowers my baseline level of anxiety and seems to quieten my obsessive thoughts. I urge you all to quit coffee (if you rely on it for energy) and start drinking matcha/green tea instead. Coffee is extremely unsuitable for people prone to OCD thoughts and anxiety and wreaks havoc on the adrenal glands.

It took me a while to re-locate this particular product, but here is the link to the tea that I use with great success (it's also delicious!). If anyone tries it, I'd love to hear about how it's affected your mental state and whether it's allowed you to "slip into" accepting your dissociation like it has mine (which, in turn, lessens it).

A delicious matcha tea I had recently, made with coconut milk.
A delicious matcha tea I had recently, made with coconut milk.

5-HTP and Dissociation: A Miracle For Some People

Don't get caught up in the supplement game, but do consider trying 5-HTP. As the direct precursor to the infamous neurotransmitter serotonin, 5-HTP is known for its mood-stabilizing and calming properties. An imbalance in serotonin is nearly always implicated in the anxiety-related illnesses that might cause someone to develop dissociative symptoms (e.g. panic disorder and OCD). Hence, safely and mildly boosting systemic serotonin concentrations can significantly decrease the incidence of scary dissociative symptoms in many people.

I don't always take 5-HTP. I take a moderate dose before bed during the months when I feel my anxiety-induced dissociation is creeping back and beginning to affect me again; sure enough, it provides fast relief (within 5 days), as well as allowing me to fall asleep incredibly easily at night and generally feel more cheerful.

Nutricost 5-HTP 100mg, 240 Capsules (5-Hydroxytryptophan) - Veggie Caps, Gluten Free, Non-GMO
Nutricost 5-HTP 100mg, 240 Capsules (5-Hydroxytryptophan) - Veggie Caps, Gluten Free, Non-GMO

I am very sensitive to medications and supplements, yet have noticed nothing but a sustained improvement in my mental health since starting to take this brand of 5-HTP intermittently. It is also gluten-free and non-GMO.

 

What Are The Benefits of Experiencing Derealization?

I truly believe that there is nothing as scary as the experience of derealization and consequent panic attacks. It really is living in terror, and it's worse than schizophrenia or psychosis in some ways because there is complete lucidity (this alone proves that it is NOT going to progress into those conditions, so worry not). You are completely aware of how you "should" be experiencing reality, and this allows intense fixation and anxiety.

If you can get through the worst points of anxiety-induced derealization, then nothing within reality should really scare or upset you. If you find yourself upset about friendship issues, work or illness, you can remind yourself that the fact that you're worrying about these things means that you are within reality and no longer dealing with derealization issues. You should feel grateful and blessed to be free from something you've suffered so badly with.

In some ways, derealization shows you exactly how scary it is when the brain glitches, and experiencing it can and should put you off using drugs. It shows you that you're very prone to anxiety and hyperfocused states, which can be useful to know.

Mainly, however, experiencing derealization is an insanely interesting experience, akin to something like lucid dreaming or astral projection in terms of enlightenment. It really changes your perspective of the world. Having experienced something so strange reminds me that reality really is down to your perspective. I am far more lenient when judging the personalities of people I meet now, and I tend to panic less when faced with real-life dilemmas. I am aware that my stressed, sober day-to-day viewpoint isn't absolute judgment or authority, and that I should leave doors open in my life.

Derealisation

Have You Experienced Intense Derealisation?

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Have You Tried MDMA/Ecstasy?

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Have You Done Psychedelics?

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Gender

What Is Your Biological Gender?

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Sexuality

How Do You Identify?

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Cannabis

Do You Think Cannabis Triggered It Initially/"Taught" Your Brain How To Do It?

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Mental Health

What Is Your Main Issue?

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MBTI Personality Type

What Is Your MBTI Personality Type (take online free test if you don't know!)

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MBTI personality type results - emotionally-sensitive introverts are more prone to dissociation?

Please take the time to fill out the polls and leave a comment, so that we can all help one another through this crazy period of self-questioning and turbulence.

I am particularly fascinated by the MBTI personality type poll; it confirms my suspicion that introverted, perceptive and introspective people are far more likely to experience dissociative symptoms. If you look at the personality types' distribution, it's evident that certain MBTI types including INFP, INTP and INFJ are represented far more than they would be in a random population sample. The opposite is true for the more conventional, extroverted, practical personality types - people of the "confident and rational" nature seem to be few and far between! It may be that us introverted, spiritually-inclined people are more prone to anxiety and therefore dissociation, or the relationship may be far more correlative than it is causal (e.g. us being that way and us experiencing derealization simply coincide, instead of being intrinsically linked).

There is not much psychiatric knowledge on anxiety-induced dissociation nor predisposing genes, but I see great potential for a future where this mind-bending madness is much better understood within the neuroscience community.

Thank you for reading until the end!

I wish you a rapid recovery and hope you are soon able to trust reality again. Strive to be comfortable exploring the oscillations of your own mind instead of fighting them, and feel free to contact me to ask anything or share your story.

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Questions & Answers

  • I experienced "derealization" first in summer 2017. And you are 100% correct. Couldn't have said it any better. Its all about anxiety, derealisation is a normal state of mind. Don't you think it's all about settings the focus on it?

    Yes - I have studied the topic myself as well as carrying out a lot of my own open-minded research, and I'm absolutely sure that derealisation is an anxiety symptom, rather than a psychotic phenomenon. The problem we have to overcome is learning to avoiding "reality checks" and obsessive, OCD/anxiety-style thought loops.

    This can be a difficult task in itself, but it's at least comforting to know that we are not losing our minds or developing something more grave like schizophrenia.

© 2017 Lucy

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    • hallucinogen profile imageAUTHOR

      Lucy 

      4 weeks ago from Leeds, UK

      Thanks for commenting. Actually, a normal dose of matcha powder (half a tsp) contains 25-35mg of caffeine and a regular coffee can contain 100-300mg. However, the major difference between the two is that matcha contains the amino acid L-Theanine. This works in synergy with the small dose of caffeine to provide an uplifting energy boost, but one that is sustained, non-anxious and doesn't involve a crash.

      I won't go into the neurotransmitters involved, but the caffeine buzz from 1/4 of a cup of coffee is extremely different to that from a matcha latte. I personally struggle with panic disorder and have had very severe, 24/7 dissociation in the past. Since I have a very heavy workload, I do enjoy incorporating a small dose of caffeine into my day and absolutely adore matcha. It boosts my confidence and energy for hours, helps me accept lingering dissociative feelings (if and when they arise) and doesn't result in insomnia or a crash.

      If I drink 1/4 of a coffee to obtain the same dose of caffeine, I am jittery, anxious, obsessive and borderline manic. I have had my worse DPDR experiences in this state.

      All the above is why I strongly recommend matcha for anyone with panic disorder and/or dissociative symptoms. Drinking coffee is *not* conducive to recovering from DPDR at all, so I really urge people to give it up.

      Hope that helps!!

    • profile image

      Alex 

      4 weeks ago

      I've read that Matcha Green Tea contains 3x the amount of caffeine as a cup of normal tea or coffee. I thought the whole reason not to drink coffee was the caffeine though?

    • profile image

      Giulio 

      7 months ago

      Dear Lucy, I had been a lot of traumas in my childhood and a day I feel me completely dissociated.... Mind and body not are connected and this scared me a lot. I live in Italy

    • profile image

      Mathias 

      9 months ago

      I've had this for about ten years. It doesn't really go away, I focus too much on it and I don't know how to stop thinking about it...

    • profile image

      Eh 

      9 months ago

      What you describe in the child-on-the-beach example sounds like flow to me. I've experienced flow plenty of times, and derealisation a little less. They're nothing alike. One is total engagement and one is total inability to engage.

    • hallucinogen profile imageAUTHOR

      Lucy 

      9 months ago from Leeds, UK

      Hey! It is definitely an anxiety-driven symptom, and can't actually be a disorder on its own. Dissociation is very common in anxiety, however terrifying it feels.

    • profile image

      Steve 

      9 months ago

      Lisa,

      How do I know if this is anxiety? I have never done drugs or had any head injuries. However, my symptoms frequently last a long time when they happen, and I fear they won’t go away one time. I do check for dpdr often. Your article makes a lot of sense, as obsession is certainly a part of my problem, as I have OCD. However, I was just wonder how I can distinguish if my dpdr is from anxiety or a disorder on its own.

    • profile image

      Dre 

      9 months ago

      Lisa,

      How do I know if this is anxiety? I have never done drugs or had any head injuries. However, my symptoms frequently last a long time when they happen, and I fear they won’t go away one time. I do check for dpdr often. Your article makes a lot of sense, as obsession is certainly a part of my problem, as I have OCD. However, I was just wonder how I can distinguish if my dpdr is from anxiety or a disorder on its own.

    • hallucinogen profile imageAUTHOR

      Lucy 

      9 months ago from Leeds, UK

      It is an incredibly terrifying thing to go through. However, it's important to remember that part of this disorder is the constant OCD-style thinking patterns of "I have this worse than anyone else", "I need to check if I'm experiencing DR today", "I can't be cured" etc. etc.

      When I first truly started following the logic behind my article, my DR lessened in about a week to become 25% as strong as it was before. The goal isn't to never feel dissociated or spaced-out again, it's to stop yourself living your life based on these feelings under the illusion that you have this big bad "DR" problem. The truth is, it's just anxiety-induced dissociation. Stopping the constant, intrusive thoughts is the only way to regain your life. And make sure you never, ever touch any drugs again... some of us (myself included) are just too sensitive. Good luck! :)

    • profile image

      Anon 

      9 months ago

      Ate my first cannabis edible and had a panic attack and ever since everything feels estranged and detached. I don't think anyone deserves to feel this best of luck with everyone dealing with this issue. Hopefully we can all beat this.

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