You are currently viewing Dissociation and depersonalization: What you need to know

Dissociation and depersonalization: What you need to know

Individuals who experience depersonalisation or disassociation report feeling alienated from their environment, similar to what they would experience in a lucid dream. Things may appear to be “less real” than they actually are.

There is a wide spectrum of severity associated with these experiences, which can be caused by a variety of diseases, including post-traumatic stress disorder and recreational drug usage.

The individual may get the impression that they are looking at themselves from a distance. Some people adopt a whole distinct persona. The individual has the ability to perform a “reality check.” They are conscious of the fact that their sensations are out of the ordinary.

Dissociation has several aspects, one of which is depersonalisation.

  • Dissociation is a broad phrase that refers to a state of being detached from a variety of things.
  • Depersonalization is explicitly defined as a feeling of being detached from oneself and one’s identity or self-awareness.
  • When things or people around you appear to be unreal, this is known as derealization.


Depersonalization, also known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a state in which people feel estranged from themselves after experiencing terrible events.

Although the specific aetiology of dissociation is unknown, it frequently affects persons who have been exposed to a life-threatening or traumatic incident, such as extreme violence, war, kidnapping, or childhood abuse, among other things.

In many instances, it is a natural reaction to emotions triggered by events that the individual cannot control or prevent. It is a method of distancing oneself from the trauma of one’s prior experiences.

Mental health organisation (Mind) (located in the United Kingdom) states that dissociation can be used to assist people cope with stressful situations by helping them to calm down and detach from reality.

It is possible that it is caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals from a neurological standpoint.

Factors that increase risk

An individual may be more susceptible to dissociation and depersonalisation as a result of a variety of causes.

Recreational drugs

The molecules in the brain are affected by several recreational drugs. These have the potential to cause feelings of depersonalisation.

Ketamine: This dissociative anaesthetic is used as a recreational substance by those who are addicted to it. Those that take it do so in order to have a “out-of-body” experience.

Cannabis use: With cannabis use and withdrawal, some people have reported feelings of dissociation and depersonalisation.

Alcohol and hallucinogens: Depersonalization may occur in certain people as a result of exposure to these chemicals or stimuli.

When people discontinue using benzodiazepines, they have reported experiencing perceptual abnormalities such as depersonalisation.

As a symptom of another condition

Many people who suffer from depersonalisation also suffer from another mental health problem at the same time.

Some types of dissociation can develop in the presence of the following circumstances:

Dissociation and depersonalization disorders

Some people will have an out-of-body experience or feel as though they are looking at themselves from a distance.
Some people will have an out-of-body experience or feel as though they are looking at themselves from a distance.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), dissociative disorders that are characterised by dissociation or depersonalisation include the following conditions:

  • Dissociative amnesia: People lose track of facts about themselves or events that have occurred in their lives.
  • Depersonalization-derealization disorder: This can include having out-of-body experiences, having a sense of being unreal, and being unable to recognise one’s own picture in a mirror, among other things. Changes in body sensations and a reduced ability to behave on an emotional level are also possible.
  • Dissociative identity disorder: A person begins to be perplexed about their own identity and to perceive themselves as a stranger to themselves. Sometimes they will act differently or write in a different handwriting depending on the situation. This is referred to as multiple personality disorder in some circles.

In certain cultures, people pursue depersonalisation through religious or meditation practises in order to achieve enlightenment. This is not a disorder in any way.


Dissociation can manifest itself in a variety of ways.

According to a study published in the journal Access Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, symptoms can include:

  • changes in bodily senses
  • a reduced inability to react emotionally

A person may have the following experiences:

  • an out-of-body experience, in which they feel as if they are floating away or watching themselves from a distance or as if in a film
  • a sense of disconnection from their own body
  • the feeling that life is a dream, where everyone and everything seems unreal
  • a sense of not being in control of their actions
  • gaps in memory, especially of specific people, events, or periods in life
  • obsessive behavior, for example, repeatedly looking in a mirror to check that they are real

Some people may physically relocate to a new location and assume a different identity while they are there. It is possible that the individual will lose track of their own identity.

Anxiety can occur as a result of or as a cause of dissociation.


Dissociation and depersonalisation are diagnosed by doctors based on a set of specified criteria.
Dissociation and depersonalisation are diagnosed by doctors based on a set of specified criteria.

Symptoms, personal and medical history, and other information will be sought from a patient by a doctor.

Neurological testing may be recommended by the doctor in order to rule out illnesses such as epilepsy.

As listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), the following are considered diagnostic criteria for depersonalisation disorder:

  • The person persistently or repeatedly has a sense of depersonalization or derealization.
  • During these experiences, the person is aware that these changes are not reality.
  • These symptoms result in distress and difficulty carrying out routine tasks.
  • The symptoms do not happen because of another disorder or the use of a medication or other substance.


There is currently no specific treatment for this illness, however medicine and counselling may be beneficial in some instances.


Researchers discovered in a 2013 analysis that doctors may give a mix of pharmaceuticals, notably lamotrigine (Lamictal), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and other medications to treat depression.

The authors, on the other hand, urged for additional research to determine whether the medications now in use are appropriate. Experts are still divided on whether or not people should or should not use medication.

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)

This form of therapy can assist patients in recognising and understanding their symptoms in a nonthreatening manner. This may help to alleviate the anxiety and compulsive behaviour that might come as a result of the condition as well.


Depersonalization, dissociation, and associated experiences can occur for a variety of causes, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the use of certain substances, and certain chronic diseases.

It can cause worry and anxiety, but if you are experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis, a doctor may be able to assist you.



Obianuju Chukwu

She has a degree in pharmacy and has worked in the field as a pharmacist in a hospital. Teaching, blogging, and producing scientific articles are some of her interests. She enjoys writing on various topics relating to health and medicine, including health and beauty-related natural treatments, the nutritional worth of various foods, and mental wellness.