Depersonalization disorder is marked by periods of feeling disconnected or detached from one's body and thoughts (depersonalization). The disorder is sometimes described as feeling like you are observing yourself from outside your body or like being in a dream. However, people with this disorder do not lose contact with reality; they realize that things are not as they appear. An episode of depersonalization can last anywhere from a few minutes to (rarely) many years. Depersonalization also might be a symptom of other disorders, including some forms of substance abuse, certain personality disorders, seizure disorders, and certain other brain diseases.
Depersonalization disorder is one of a group of conditions called dissociative disorders. Dissociative disorders are mental illnesses that involve disruptions or breakdowns of memory, consciousness, awareness, identity, and/or perception. When one or more of these functions is disrupted, symptoms can result.
The exact cause of depersonalization-derealization disorder isn't well-understood. Some people may be more vulnerable to experiencing depersonalization and derealization than others, possibly due to genetic and environmental factors. Heightened states of stress and fear may trigger episodes.
Symptoms of depersonalization-derealization disorder may be related to childhood trauma or other experiences or events that cause severe emotional stress or trauma.
The main symptom of depersonalization/derealization disorder is feeling disconnected. You may feel:
Some people experience mild, short-lived symptoms. Others have chronic (ongoing) symptoms that may last for years. The symptoms may interfere with your ability to function. They may even lead to a disability.
Your doctor may determine or rule out a diagnosis of depersonalization-derealization disorder based on:
Physical exam: In some cases, symptoms of depersonalization or derealization may be linked to an underlying physical health problem, medications, recreational drugs or alcohol.
Lab tests: Some lab tests may help determine whether your symptoms are related to medical or other issues.
Psychiatric evaluation: Your mental health professional asks about your symptoms, thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns, which can help determine if you have depersonalization-derealization disorder or other mental health disorders.
DSM-5: Your mental health professional may use the criteria for depersonalization-derealization disorder listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association.
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