Derealization in the night

Lately I’ve been waking, briefly in the night experiencing derealization. It’s a common experience upon waking but it’s been scaring me. I can’t really recall exactly what is going on but I’ve been having some sort of repetitive dream that wakes me and then I’m in that condition for a while. Last night was the first night I realized it had been happening several nights in a row without my remembering it. I was afraid but I did not realize what it was in the night.

This morning on reflection I realized I was experiencing derealization which is a common experience when withdrawing from drugs. I haven’t experienced in the daytime in over a year. Depersonalization or derealization upon waking is a common enough experience among anyone, drug withdrawals or no.

In any case I wrote two pieces when I first started my blog on this phenomena and since I’ve experienced it again I’m going to repost them.

The first one is below and I will post the second one tomorrow.

“In just the last few days I’ve had moments that I can only describe with the above terms. These mind states for me right now are not severe and not terribly frightening as they are reported by some people. For many people suffering from the full-blown disorder there is a fear of going crazy.

When it’s experience as a full-blown disorder people have been mistakenly diagnosed with psychosis. Well, I have been crazy–floridly psychotic–and I know this is something else. I’m not fearful of going mad.

Apparently people withdrawing from drugs have the experience of depersonalization and derealization. This I’ve learned in my withdrawal groups and I haven’t been able to find documentation of it pertaining specifically to psychiatric drug withdrawal from other sources on the internet. It is just commonly spoken about in the forums. It is not a permanent disorder, can be fleeting, last for hours or days, or become a constant state for the course of withdrawal resolving once the withdrawal period is over.

For me, it feels like I am coming on to a hallucinogenic drug trip. The feeling is very familiar as I’ve taken hallucinogenics several times some 20 years ago. I’ve now currently only experienced it twice…once the other day, lasting just a matter of hours and now today to a lesser degree. I imagine the popular concept of LSD “flashbacks” may be the experience of this phenomena.

I’m having a difficult time writing, but I want to update my blog and this seems a reasonable topic to deal with as I’m experiencing it now and it is intimately related to the scope of this blog.

In addition, and in general, I’ve become mildly agoraphobic which is part of the phenomena as well. My “agoraphobia” is manifested not to the extent that I can’t go out, but I intensely don’t want to go out. This has been going on for a couple of weeks. I also have lost all interest in socializing, in spite of ordinarily being extremely outgoing. This is not associated with any depression.

A description of the depersonalization in general is described below:

It may happen when you first wake up, or while flying on an airplane or driving in your car. Suddenly, inexplicably, something changes. Common objects and familiar situations seem strange, foreign. Like you’ve just arrived on the planet, but don’t know from where. It may pass quickly, or it may linger. You close your eyes and turn inward, but the very thoughts running through your head seem different. The act of thinking itself, the stream of invisible words running through the hollow chamber of your mind, seems strange and unreal. It’s as if you have no self, no ego, no remnant of that inner strength which quietly and automatically enabled you to deal with the world around you, and the world inside you. It may settle over time, into a feeling of “nothingness”, as if you were without emotions, dead. Or the fear of it may blossom into a full-blown panic attack. But when it hits for the first time, you’re convinced that you’re going insane, and wait in a cold sweat to see when and if you finally do go over the edge.According to DSM-IV, Depersonalization Disorder, in part, constitutes the following:

… a feeling of detachment or estrangement from one’s self . The individual may feel like an automaton or as if he or she is living in a dream or a movie. There may be a sensation of being an outside observer of one’s metal processes, one’s body, or parts of one’s body.

… Various types of sensory anesthesia, lack of affective response, and a sensation of lacking control of one’s actions, including speech, are often present. The individual with Depersonalization Disorder maintains intact reality testing (e.g., awareness that it is only a feeling and that he or she is not really an automaton) . Depersonalization is a common experience, and this diagnosis should be made only if the symptoms are sufficiently severe to cause marked distress or impairment in functioning).

In addition to DSM-IV, another vital diagnostic tool, Merck’s Manual, describes depersonalization clearly:

Persistent or recurrent feelings of being detached from one’s body or mental processes and usually a feeling of being an outside observer of one’s life.
Depersonalization is the third most common psychiatric symptom and frequently occurs in life-threatening danger, such as accidents, assaults, and serious illnesses and injuries; it can occur as a symptom in many other psychiatric disorders and in seizure disorders. As a separate disorder, depersonalization has not been studied widely, and its incidence and cause are unknown.2

This one young person’s account is typical of the feelings of unreality laced with intermittent panic that often besets sufferers in the earliest stages whether drug-induced or not:

… three times after I’ve smoked pot I’ve had a disabling depersonalization from it. Again, it’s the same numbness, then far away, unable to control my body, time feels like it’s flashing like movie stills, cannot tell what is happening, even what I am thinking, sound is far away, cannot speak. Think it is near death as one could get. Also one time it happened to me after half a beer (didn’t feel at all intoxicated) and the ambulance came and got me. Some lady was sitting over me saying something about Jesus, which only made the fear stronger.

The terror is inexplicable. In between attacks I experience feelings of unreality, sometimes lasting days. I deal with agoraphobia and panic, dread of dying. Sometimes just feel it is hard to move around. Like I will become disoriented and fall over (which really happens during my serious attacks). I avoid people, since they make me feel strange, especially if they are too close. Being in a store can make me feel strange too.

As I’ve said, I am only mildly experiencing some of this. I suppose one might say I shouldn’t diagnose myself, but I’m doing so based on reports on my withdrawal boards and lists. My experience of it is very much like that of the people describing it during the withdrawal process. I would post some peoples’ experience of it as described on these boards, but I wish to keep the confidentiality of the authors. I will at some future time ask people if I can publish some of their posts.

In any case, for today, I’ve cancelled my neurofeedback appointment and asked a friend I was meeting in town to come to my house as I don’t feel comfortable going out. I actually don’t really want to be social at all, but also, wish not to be anti-social, so I asked my friend to come here, which she graciously agreed to do. (I live in a remote area far from the town she lives in…I was supposed to meet her in town for lunch)

I am now exhausted and spaced-out. I know this post is lacking in clarity. I’m certainly not as clear-headed as usual and what is the norm for me now is considerably blunted by drugs as compared to my pre-drugged years in any case. I continue to hope for improved cognitive ability as I continue to withdraw from my drugs. As I’ve said before, the fact that I am writing anything coherent at all is amazing.

I started this blog in 2004. You might wonder why the posts begin this year. I kept the blog on a private setting and wrote for months at a time, repeatedly deleting everything I wrote. It was pure gibberish. I finally feel, and hope it’s true, that I can write clearly enough to be interesting and helpful to people.”

Part 2 here

8 thoughts on “Derealization in the night

  1. This is so well written…I always have trouble trying to think in my mind a way to describe what I feel, because I fear that if I try to tell anybody else it will come out like rubbish and nobody will be able to understand what I’m trying to say. It feels exactly like this, like a kind of drug withdrawl…just kind of like losing touch with reality and suffering this weird kind of panic where the world feels like its rushing around you, but you’re still completely separate from it.
    Again, very well articulated post, and I wish you the best of luck in feeling better!


  2. just wish there is a strong cure for this nightmare.

    me too Barhoom,
    don’t give up. and seek answers outside of the mainstream medical model too. I’m not saying you shouldn’t necessarily use it, but I sorta doubt that if there is a cure that it would lie there.

    A good therapist might help. Perhaps someone with lots of training in trauma studies, because, in general dissociation is associated with trauma in childhood. Certainly, I don’t know if that is the case for you.

    I wish you the best on your journey.


  3. My name is ibrahim.I am a sufferer of depersonalization disorder and i am struggling to cope with it.My main diagnosis is depersonalisation disorder.I have high levels of anxiety and worries ,i feel very sensitive to light and noise,although intense light relieves me sometimes.When i listen to songs i dissociate into an event that i have been witnessing in my mind for the past 10 years.i am socially and occupationally impaired,and studying private studies at home.I am very agoraphobic and tense.I feel numb,and i feel that i am weightless someway.I feel detached from surroundings and i feel estranged.i feel everything around me is unreal.i feel my head is very light,and i feel very nervous when things are not going like i wish.i am on lamictal and zoloft,yet i am little improved.What disturbs me the most that family members other than dad and mum are not aware of this destructive disorder and its symptoms.I am always worried about the fact that no one is aware of what is wrong with me,specially my ignorant grandma,i just wish there is a strong cure for this nightmare.Thanks


  4. Gianna, your posts are indeed helpful and interesting. Very. It sounds like you’ve come so far in this whole ordeal. Posting and deleting for such long periods of time! The derealization sounds disconcerting, and I can imagine how those experiencing that, full-time, would fear for their sanity. The closest I’ve come to this (which isn’t that close) is, quite often when I’m alone, and if I’m depressed, I’ll get the feeling like I don’t really exist. That there’s nothing that makes me me. I get very disoriented, and find it hard to do anything but watch T.V. as that seems to connect me to reality. As ironic as that is. I hope you sleep well tonight Gianna.


  5. Nothing I’ve experienced is terribly scary, but it can be very frightening for some people.

    But Sloopy, it is a coping mechanism as well and in part two I talk about that…


  6. Certainly interesting, and helpful insofar as you articulate very clearly what I feel from time to time.

    I often get this weird sensation that I am almost an onlooker in my own life.

    I guess, for me, that derealisation is a mental coping mechanism.

    It is easier to detach from one’s own life than to accept reality.

    And that reality for me is that what was once a fulfilled and rewarding life is now in ruins from the years of abuse I suffered at the hands of the Psychiatric Industry.


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