The book Feeling Unreal, by Daphne Simeon, MD and Jeffrey Abugel, is aptly named, because the word “unreal” is the key word for people suffering from depersonalization. Although depersonalization has been described in the medical literature for move than a hundred years, this book is the most definitive work on the subject and is written by the psychiatrist recognized as the leading investigator of depersonalization in the United States. Depersonalization remains one of the most frequently misdiagnosed or undiagnosed conditions in the United States.

The person with depersonalization disorder has persistent or recurrent episodes of depersonalization characterized by a feeling of detachment or estrangement from one’s self. The person maintains intact reality testing. However, the person often worries that they are losing control of their mind. The experience exists on a continuum and so the diagnosis is only made if the symptoms are sufficiently severe to cause marked distress or impairment in functioning. Other key symptoms include the following: emotional numbing, heightened self-observation, changes in body experience, absence of feelings such as hunger and thirst, changes in the experience of time and space, feelings of not being in control of movement, having the mind empty of thoughts, memories and images and the inability to focus and sustain attention.

Other important facts to know about depersonalization include the following. The disorder occurs equally in males and females and usually has its onset in adolescence. The disorder likely involves having a genetic predisposition, followed by early life events that enhance vulnerability and subsequently later life occurrences that trigger the onset of chronic symptoms. Depersonalization can be triggered by the use of such drugs as marijuana and LSD primarily and less commonly by ketamine and ecstasy. It can also be triggered by episodes of other mental illness or lifetime traumatic stress of many sorts, including emotional neglect in childhood. The onset can be either acute or insidious. It frequently exists with the presence of mood or anxiety disorders. Personality disorders are also common in patients with depersonalization disorder.

The first step in overcoming depersonalization disorder is realizing what is going on in one’s experience. Reading this book can help. Connecting with others online can be helpful. Getting help in dealing with the disorder is also recommended. Medication can be helpful. Working with a therapist who is familiar with the disorder is recommended to help a person who is experiencing it to live a meaningful and rewarding life. My blog next month will provide more detailed information doing this. However, a good place to start right now is reading the book Overcoming Depersonalization Disorder by Fugen Neziroglu, Ph.D. and Katharine Donnelly, MA. This book provides much helpful information about doing what its title states.