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What is Derealization?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Derealization is a disassociative symptom associated with some forms of mental illness and neurological disorders. When a patient experiences this symptom, he or she feels distanced from the surrounding environment. This is not dangerous or harmful, but it can be unsettling. A number of techniques can be used to address this symptom, ranging from stress management techniques used while it occurs to help a patient stay calm to psychotherapy or medical treatment to address the underlying disorder which is leading to the sense of distance.

This symptom is closely related to depersonalization, in which people feel distanced from themselves. Someone experiencing derealization might feel like his or her surroundings are fake or staged, or experience deja vu in a location he or she has never been in. People can also experience jamais vu, in which a familiar place seems totally strange. Objects may seem far away, flattened, or hazy, and the patient often has trouble articulating the experience, which can make it hard to identify when a patient tries to communicate with a doctor or therapist.

Derealization is associated with forms of mental illnesses and neurological disorders, and has been linked with conditions such as schizophrenia and sleep deprivation.
Derealization is associated with forms of mental illnesses and neurological disorders, and has been linked with conditions such as schizophrenia and sleep deprivation.

A number of psychological conditions, including anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and simple sleep deprivation, have been linked with derealization. People with certain types of brain injuries and progressive neurological diseases can also have this symptom. They may also experience dizziness, confusion, or nausea, or it can be experienced on its own.

Sleep deprivation has been linked with derealization.
Sleep deprivation has been linked with derealization.

When patients start to feel a sense of detachment, they can use stress management techniques to fight the feelings of stress and unsettlement. Some patients find that it helps to breathe deeply, close their eyes, lie down, or talk to another person in the room, and individual techniques can be developed by a patient and psychotherapist together to handle the problem as it arises. Psychotherapy or treatment for neurological disorders can help patients address the underlying condition which leads to derealization, which will reduce the incidence of this symptom.

In some cases, derealization is linked to an anxiety disorder.
In some cases, derealization is linked to an anxiety disorder.

Patients should be aware that this symptom is very common, and in fact expected with many conditions. Having this experience does not mean that a patient is losing a grip on reality, or that his or her condition is growing worse. Some find that it helps to talk with other patients who are experiencing this symptom so that they can compare management techniques and grow accustomed to the idea that it is very common and normal for them to experience temporary perceptual disturbances.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


I don't know if my experience was derealization. I was standing in the garden on a very hot day using the hose to wash down conservatory. Then memories started to flow through my mind, they were all familiar to me, but they were not of my present life. I did not fell any emotions,or physical changes, just watched them passing through my mind, enjoying remembering. My mind was clear, and I turned and looked into the garden, like a reality check. It felt like a long time but it could have been seconds, then they stopped and they were gone. I could not remember anything in them.


I am 16 years old and I am a female. I've been smoking weed and cigarettes for about a year and 6 months now. I've had deja vu happen to me eight times, but mine is different because when I am having the deja vu, I know I'm going into it and I say to myself, "Damn. It's happening again," but I can't do anything about it. I can't control my body, but I know it's happening.

This usually occurs with me when I am trying to tell somebody a story and I'm thinking of it in my head but it won't come out of my mouth and then bam! It happens. I hate it.

I'm 16 years old. I don't even want to live. I'm scared to even go around people because when I'm at home, I feel safe because it's never happened at home. I don't know what to do.


I am 18 years old and in the past six or seven months have been experiencing derealization. I struggle just to get through school from it because I am so scared all the time.

Does anyone have any suggestions? I really need help. I want this feeling to go away. It has affected my life so much I hate it. I just want it gone. If anyone knows how to help get rid of this, please post back. I have tried everything.


I don't know what I experienced was derealization, but it was indeed scary and the above experiences sound similar.

I was talking to a colleague in the corridor. He was telling that he might go to an international conference to present his work. We were discussing that, and all of a sudden, it felt like I was moving away from the scene, and the next thing I realize is that there was immense pain in my knees. I realized I had blacked out, without even giving my friend time to react. Probably hurting my knees brought me back to senses.

I was made to sit with my head down, in a room, so that I could relax. I was doing so, then after some time, my friend came in, looked at the computer screen in front of me, made an odd face, and asked how I was feeling. I said I was feeling nauseated and even vomited.

After that, I saw that I had typed something in google, some keywords asking what just happened to me, but I didn't remember typing them, but it must have been me.

I tried to sleep twice after that, but every time, I would just wake up with a nauseated feeling, as if I were somewhere between a reality and a dream and the moment I realized this, I felt like vomiting.

I was taken to a hospital, and had a CT scan which came out normal, and the doctor said it just stress, and to work through it. I am just glad that it has not repeated since, although I have incidences of slipping into sleep in the middle of a discussion, unintentionally. It generally happens that I start thinking about something else, then slip into a type of sleep. Once that event is over, I wake up to realize that I was asleep.

It's pretty embarrassing but most of the time I just can't help it.


I was just in college and had a derealization attack. For me, it started about nine years ago after smoking pot. Unfortunately it's never gone away. I still get the attacks every now and then, where I feel like I'm in a dream. Like multiple consciousnesses, where actuality is the dream and my dream is reality.

There's no talking myself out of an attack; when it happens, it happens. Sometimes it only lasts for a few minutes, but once it went on for six hours.


Well I'm a 16 year old male and suffer from depersonalization and derealization, as well as from panic attacks. I got my first panic attack at school in my math class. I was sitting there, listening to my teacher and doing my work and all of a sudden, boom! I look up and I'm in a different world. Scariest thing that has ever happened to me.

I believe these symptoms are caused from sleep apnea. It started because I would constantly zone out or drift away from what I was doing and when I would "come back" I would ask myself what the hell just happened, sending me into a panic. I can tell you right now having experienced this every day stinks; you lose everything. I lost my job, friends, and I no longer go to school because I'm afraid. But you can't let the anxiety and fear consume you. You have to focus your attention on something else.


Very interesting article.


I believe there is a correlation or link, between sleep deprivation, sleep debt, and depersonalization/derealization.

Sleep apnea could be a physical factor involved, as well as diabetes, or a thyroid issue.

I don't know about the rest of you, but, I can sleep eight hours and still feel tired. I have to sleep at least 13 hours to function through the day. I'm sure my enlarged tonsils are at play here, but there's nothing I can do about that - as I can't afford the surgery.

Anyway, I feel my depersonalization/derealization fading away when I get tons of sleep. Here's the problem. I can't afford to sleep 13 hours a day. That's crazy.


I can tell you from personal experience that sleep deprivation can indeed cause derealization. For myself when I was working full-time and going to school I barely slept, and was perhaps getting 3-4 hours of broken rest a night, and sometimes not even sleeping at all. A semester of doing this really made me feel ill and sometimes everything would just seem so far a way and oddly blurred.

I think the oddest thing about derealization is how detached you feel. For myself it was very frightening to not feel solidly in tune with the things around me. It was almost like being trapped in a dream but awake.


I joined an anxiety support group, and I found that many of the people there experienced derealization on a regular basis. This made me feel better.

We took turns describing our experiences with it, and they were all quite similar. I think that giving a scary experience a name and a diagnosis helps lessen its power. I found that sharing thorough descriptions with others having similar experiences took the fright factor out of my derealization.

Now, when I experience this sensation, I have the advantage of knowing what it is and that I am not alone. Though I still get it sometimes, it is less drastic and shorter in duration.


My aunt suffers from derealization when she is having trouble managing her anxiety disorder. She often tells me about how upsetting it is to feel so detached from your environment and unsure of what is real and what isn't.

For my aunt she regularly sees a natural healer in addition to her regular doctors and finds that learning proper meditation and relaxation techniques is key to keeping her episodes where she experiences derealization at a minimum.

My aunt's natural healer also suggests aromatherapy for her because focusing on something simple like a scent while you relax can really help you keep grounded. It sounded a little strange to me, but it does seem to work for her.


@kylee07drg - I also experience panic attacks during derealization. I knew that anxiety was to blame, so I sought out a natural anxiety treatment.

I found that St. John's Wort help me significantly. It made me feel less worried, and I didn't care about social worries like what people thought of me. The panic attacks stopped while I was taking it, too.

However, St. John's Wort made me get out of breath easier. I couldn't walk up the stairs without getting winded. Also, it seemed to negatively affect my short term memory. Before taking it, I had an excellent memory, and I could not afford to give it up, so I had to stop.

I'm sure it wouldn't affect everyone this way. It's worth giving it a shot, because it really does help. If you start forgetting things, your memory will start functioning fine again once you stop taking it.


When experiencing derealization, I get panic attacks. I suddenly feel like I am not really where I am, like it's not all real.

The first time it happened, I was in English class at college. Suddenly, I felt like my surroundings were not my actual location. I could hear my teacher's voice, but it didn't seem real. My heart started racing, I became weak, and I had my first panic attack.

The only way I could cope with it at the time was to play along and pretend I wasn't really there. I pretended I really was somewhere else, and it seemed to help.


I have experienced derealization while trying to go to sleep. I see myself in the bed, but I am tiny and the room grows very large. The corners and the walls in reality are very near, but in my mind they are a great distance away.

When this happens, I can open my eyes and make it go away. Often, as soon as I close them, it starts again, though. It is kind of nauseating, but mostly it is scary. I have a sense of falling, but not downward. It is a falling to the center of the room away from the walls.


@Azuza - That does sound pretty unsettling but at least you only experienced it once! I have a good friend with anxiety and this happens to her on a pretty regular basis.

My friend finally went to see a therapist recently and I'm hoping for positive results. As the article said, there are techniques for dealing with this problem. So hopefully the therapist can teach my friend some good ones!


I've actually experienced this because of sleep deprivation before. The last time I moved I was working in the evening and we were moving on a budget. We weren't able to hire movers and had to do everything ourselves! It took days. I ended up not getting more than 3 hours of sleep a night for about 4 days in a row.

By the fourth day I felt a little loony. I was walking around and it was like I was floating through my surroundings and everything seemed hazy and far away. It was a really weird experience that I hope not to repeat anytime soon.


@Cafe41 - I have never experienced depersonalization, but I have had anxiety symptoms because I tend to worry about things more than I should.

I think a lot of people experience symptoms of anxiety especially if they are moving, or changing jobs, or getting divorced. Sometimes the death of a loved one or losing a job also makes people more prone to anxiety.

It is a condition that never allows you to truly relax because you are always worried about something and instead of seeing the potential for a positive outcome; you always assume the worst case scenario which only brings about more anxiety.

I can see how people that are under a lot of stress for a prolonged periods of time might develop depression along with anxiety, because these anxious feelings rob you of really feeling any happiness because you are constantly in a state of worry. Usually what you worry about never really happens either.


@Suntan12 - I wonder if members of the military that served in combat have a higher likelihood of developing this depersonalization disorder because many of these soldiers were in life threatening situations and some have developed post traumatic stress disorder as a result of the experience.

I guess this is really the minds way of protecting you because in your mind the things around you are not real.

When I was in college, I took an abnormal psychology course that dealt with schizophrenia and people with multiple personalities who also experience a high level of depersonalization. They say that people that are schizophrenic usually develop the condition because they experience severe trauma as a child and the multiple personalities is their way of dealing with the pain.

It is like they can go off in a fantasy land whenever life gets too hard. When they explained it this way, I can totally understand why someone would develop a depersonalization disorder.


Depersonalization disorder sounds really scary and I was reading an article that said that usually people that have experienced a very traumatic event that was life threatening usually start to develop these feelings.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense because this form of depersonalization derealization is a way to block out the triggers of the traumatic event which makes it feel like it is not real. They say that people with these severe anxiety symptoms often have a chemical imbalance and usually need a combination of psychotherapy along with drug therapy to effectively deal with this condition.

They also say that it often strikes people in their teens and early twenties. I also heard that people that have panic disorders, or depression and anxiety are most at risk.

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    • Derealization is associated with forms of mental illnesses and neurological disorders, and has been linked with conditions such as schizophrenia and sleep deprivation.
      By: emiliau
      Derealization is associated with forms of mental illnesses and neurological disorders, and has been linked with conditions such as schizophrenia and sleep deprivation.
    • Sleep deprivation has been linked with derealization.
      By: bramgino
      Sleep deprivation has been linked with derealization.
    • In some cases, derealization is linked to an anxiety disorder.
      By: nadezhda1906
      In some cases, derealization is linked to an anxiety disorder.