Depersonalization is a state in which one’s thoughts and feelings seem unreal or not to belong to oneself, or in which one loses all sense of identity. 

Layman’s Terms Definition

Have you been in a scenario where you are in some deep emotion – let’s say it’s deep sadness – maybe grief. You’re crying, and then you just kind of stop because you’re thinking about it. You’re contemplating why you’re crying and if you actually care about what’s happening or if you’re just kind of supposed to maybe? If you are just sort of following the general structure of what you’re supposed to do in that moment which at that time is to grieve? Do you actually feel sad – do those feelings – that genuinely are there in your body – belong to you? Who are you and what do you genuinely own over yourself and your own emotions? That’s depersonalization.

Degrees of Depersonalization

Depersonalization does have a disordered form (i.e. if it gets to an extreme enough level it does become a disorder.)

Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder (DPDR)


Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder is when you feel severely detached from your own thoughts and feelings and your physical body (depersonalization), and disconnected from the environment around you (derealization). 

People with this disorder are aware that their experiences are abnormal. They are not losing touch with reality, they are simply having an abnormal experience that they are able to identify as abnormal. DPDR can also be a sign of other conditions such as brain diseases, seizure disorders, and psychiatric disorders like dementia and schizophrenia. 

Symptoms Can Include

  • Feelings of being an observer in one’s own thoughts, feelings, body, and/or life in general
  • Feeling out of control of one’s own movements/speech or feeling robotic
  • Sensations that limbs may be distorted to different sizes or shapes or your head is muffled
  • Emotional or physical numbness


It is estimated that 2% of the global population is diagnosed with DPDR.

What Causes This Disorder to Form?

Researchers don’t know what causes this disorder to form. Most everyone experiences depersonalization and derealization transiently (briefly). It only becomes a disorder when it is prolonged and becomes a major affecting issue on the person’s life. 

Biological and environmental factors can have an effect in an individual developing the disorder. Some may be at a higher risk for developing DPDR due to:

  • A nervous system that’s naturally less reactive to emotions.
  • Other personality or mental health disorders.
  • Physical conditions or seizure disorders.

Dissociative disorders can also occur due to trauma or intense stress such as (but not limited to):

  • Having a parent with a severe mental illness.
  • Abuse (witnessing or experiencing it)
  • Life threatening danger
  • Accidents
  • Natural disasters
  • Death of loved ones
  • Violence
  • War
  • Medical Trauma

Other cases can include:

  • Certain drugs, such as hallucinogens
  • Extreme sleep deprivation
  • Sensory stimulation

Additional Facts

This disorder tends to develop earlier in life. The average age for developing this disorder is 16. It will rarely develop after the age of 40. 


  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy)
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectic-behavior Therapy (DBT)
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Family Therapy
  • Creative Therapies
  • Meditation and relaxation techniques
  • Clinical hypnosis (hypnotherapy)
  • Medication (there is no specific medication for DPDR, but treating co-morbids like depression or anxiety can lessen other symptoms that are causing issues that might be contributing to DPDR and might therefore help lessen DPDR’s affects on the patient’s daily life.)


Depersonalization was first used as a term by Ludovic Dugas in 1898. It was used to refer to “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.”


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Last updated on October 19, 2023
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