The second installment: Depersonalisation and Derealisation

Part one of this discussion here.

The below was first posted the first week I started my blog so most people have not read it. I decided to repost as I said in yesterday’s “part one” post I’ve been experiencing some derealization in the night. Now the original piece part two:

I’ve been having an interesting day and spoken to both a friend and my husband about my experience and what I’ve read about it. It seems anyone can have this experience and most people have at some point or another. When experienced among “normal” people it tends to be fleeting or experienced in association with a trauma. It can be a defense mechanism. I’ve googled “depersonalization, defense mechanism” and there are quite a few results, but they are all articles that you have to pay for in medical journals. My friend who is a therapist has seen it in clients who have experienced trauma. She has not perceived it as pathology in her clients but instead a healthy process that blunts painful feelings temporarily and allows for a slow process of healing at which point it resolves itself.

Interestingly enough this friend of mine herself experienced periods of depersonalization as a young child. She did not fear it and enjoyed the dreamlike quality of her experience. It was transient, but she experienced it often. She knew it was not “normal” but did not judge it and therefore did not experience it with fear.

My experience this morning lasted about three hours, then went away for a couple and has now returned. It is not a constant state. In light of what my friend shared, I am trying to accept my current experience as simply my reality right now and not be afraid of it. This is allowing me to (almost) enjoy it as a somewhat pleasant altered state. Of course, I am not able to completely rid myself of the opinion that it is not normal and there is an underlying fear that it could get worse. But right now in and of itself it is not altogether unpleasant.

In addition, I’ve spoken with my husband who also reports having experienced it as a child into his teen years after waking from dreams. His reports of the experience are quite dramatic and classic “textbook” as linked to the page in my last post. He was quite disturbed by its occurence. Some of these more classic symptoms are described below: (my husband by no means experienced all the the below–he simply inspired the search for further description)

Emotional, Physical, and Psychological Effects often associated or accompanying Depersonalisation and Derealisation:Many of these bizarre and morbid sensations listed below might be classed as pseudohallucination, that is, they are not concrete. Instead they are attempts to describe inner subjective experiences and therefore have and ‘as if’ quality. Although strictly speaking some of these experiences lie outside the definitions of derealization and depersonalisation, they are often described alongside them.

Vision
With derealisation, objects can seem somehow diminished or distorted (metamorphopsia). Other metaphorical descriptions of visual experiences include; blurred vision, tunnel/corridor vision, sensitivity to light (photophobia), false changes in lighting conditions, i.e. sensations that the light is fading, the contrast is changing or the hues have shifted slightly.

Sound
Voices sound faint or distant, (as though ‘filtered’ through an auditory ‘fog’), or loud and echoing.

Touch
Perceived alteration of limb size and shape, often a swelling or thinning can be felt, as can changes in the texture of the extremities, as though they are made of cotton wool, or as if your bones have become thinner or hollow.

Time
Changes in experience of time are common, almost as though there is a delay between an event happening and its perception. Sometimes it feels as though time is standing still, with the sense of future lost.

Body image
Body doubling or out-of-body feelings can be experienced often as if you are viewing the world from above or behind, or as if your body is misaligned from its normal position, i.e. you might experience a sinking sensation as though your legs are beneath ground level. Actually seeing a double of yourself (autoscopy) is a class of hallucination that is distinct from, although it may rarely accompany, derealisation.

Emotions
Feelings are dull and blunted and the capacity to experience most emotion, (pleasure, love or hate) is lost (de-affectualisation). Paradoxically this can be intensely frightening. Anhedhonia is also experienced, a hollowness characterised by loss of drive and vitality, personality or power of imagination. These feelings are also characteristics of depression.

Other physical sensations
Dizziness, faintness and unsteadiness on the feet are common and are often mistakenly diagnosed as ear infections or cardiac problems. Dry mouth, muscle pain and tension (particularly across neck and shoulders) stooping (difficulty in standing erect), headache, upset stomach and nausea, and loss of appetite are often seen, a result of stress and depression.

The above was taken from a file on one of my groups. There is no reference to it’s source so I cannot lend it any more credibility than my validation of it through listening now to my friend and husband and reading about it at length in discussion on withdrawal boards. If this continues to fascinate me I will attempt to do a more thorough research, but like I said most references on google seem to be linked to medical journals not available to the public or they refer to much of the above information but not in as clear or concise a fashion.

More from the file from the group:

Who experiences these feelings?
As a transient phenomena, to different extents, just about everybody, including healthy adults and children, will encounter these odd feelings. Anyone who is emotionally disturbed, fatigued, frightened or stressed is also prone to derealisation in particular.

I find this above piece and what is written below of particular interest.

If the person has induced derealisation deliberately and in a controlled way, (I.e. through meditation or drug usage), then the experience can be one of detached calmness and enlightenment.Repetition can elicit depersonalisation, for instance; meditation involving repeating a mantra or concentrating on an object, certain kinds of dancing, and even Yoga. Some research conducted into depersonalisation has apparently used these activities to cue episodes of derealisation. Consequently, people who practice repetitive rituals and meditation in order to achieve ‘enlightenment’ or ‘cosmic ecstasy’, may actually be triggering depersonalisation as opposed to transcending an Earthly paradise.

I have spent a lot of time with meditators and have myself participated in meditation retreats. I know I have certainly experienced these so-called “enlightened” moments. It certainly never crossed my mind to interpret them as anything other than positive. But in retrospect, the experiences were not completely unrelated to what I am experiencing now. The difference is context and interpretation.

I’m not assuming that all experienced states of altered consciousness by practitioners of meditation are in fact simply depersonalization. That would be grossly presumptuous. But I have no doubt that it is sometimes the case.

Okay…I’ve done enough conjecturing. This is kinda fun!

About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters

3 Responses

  1. Doe

    Thanks for this! Very helpful for me…especially after a four day visit with my parents, and this disturbing emotional blunting kicks in…feeling kind of like a walking dead person. My partner said “You probably have to feel that way to protect yourself”.

    I liked hearing the positive associations with these feelings…that really helped me to reframe it all, instead of just feeling like “I’m fucked up”.

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  2. Very interesting post =)

    I have never actually tried to induce it myself. I know when it first happened to me I was a bit frightened, but more recently I just went with it and enjoyed myself.

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