18 April 2015

Derealization - A Scary Anxiety Symptom

Derealization - A Scary Anxiety Symptom 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Book by American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV-TR), depersonalization and derealization can be symptoms of a panic attack. If you have panic disorder and experience episodes of depersonalization and/or derealization, you’re likely to wonder:

“Am I going crazy?”
“Do I have some grave illness?”
“Am I dying?”

The answers to these questions are no, no and absolutely not. Though quite disturbing, the symptoms of anxiety-related depersonalization and derealization are actually not thought to be dangerous.

The symptoms of depersonalization and derealization can be similar, but they are distinct enough to warrant a separate discussion of each.


What can be more frightening than feeling as though you are detached from yourself? This is the central feature of depersonalization. It is a feeling of being outside of yourself without any sense of control. Some sufferers often describe the sensation as observing themselves from outside of the body.

Other sensations of depersonalization may include:

feeling unhuman or robot-like
feeling foreign or unrecognizable to oneself
feeling invisible or unreal


Where depersonalization focuses on one’s sense of self, derealization focuses on one’s sense of his or her surroundings. Sufferers often describe the sensation of derealization as being in a dream-like state where the environment seems unreal, foggy or hazy.

Other sensations of derealization may include:

feeling cut off from one’s surroundings
feeling like being trapped in a glass bubble
feeling like surrounding objects are unreal or cartoon-like

What You Need to Know:

If you have anxiety- or panic-related symptoms of depersonalization or derealization, it is important to understand what these symptoms are and what they are not. First, they are fairly common occurrences for those suffering from panic disorder or other types of anxiety disorders. Second, they are not dangerous. And third, they are not an indication of psychosis. Although the symptoms seem bizarre, one does not lose touch with reality. Sufferers continue to be able to discern and perceive the symptoms as “feelings” and not as events that are actually happening.

And Now Information From Mayo Clinic:

Derealization - A Scary Anxiety Symptom

In cases of severe anxiety, a person may feel as though they're going crazy. They may feel as though something is off in reality and the world around them is essentially crashing. In some cases, this may cause the world to feel "unreal," as though something is off in the world around them.

This is known as derealization, and it's a frightening anxiety symptom. It's also completely subjective, making the experience sometimes very difficult to understand unless you've been through it.

Derealization = Anxiety?

Derealization is NEVER a standalone anxiety symptom, and it almost always comes at the peak of stress. 

Causes of Derealization From Anxiety

Derealization is incredibly complex. It's so complex that it's not entirely clear what occurs in the brain to allow people to trance out from reality. It's believed to be one of the body's natural coping mechanisms. During intense periods of anxiety (as occurs with panic disorder and other severe stress disorders), the mind essentially decides it's going to tune the world out in order to cope.

Since the mind keeps working during this tune out, the world becomes a place that feels unreal. It will almost always – although not always – occur in the peak of anxiety, along with other symptoms that are characteristic of an anxiety disorder. Take my anxiety test to learn more.

Trying to Make Sense of a Loss of Reality

The best way to understand derealization is to imagine you were transported into a place you not only didn't know – you also didn't understand. A place where you cannot seem to follow what's going on or take information the world around you. This place not only wouldn't look familiar, but it couldn't look familiar, because you're not processing the information.

There's no denying that this experience is profoundly unusual and frightening one. It can often feel like you're not really there, or the world around you is unreal. You may feel like you're watching something going on with no understanding of what it is, or that the world is a dream that you aren't able to escape. In some cases, derealization may be combined with depersonalization, which can make it feel like you're watching yourself.

Other anxiety symptoms may make the feeling of derealization worse. During anxiety attacks your pupils may dilate, and this can cause unusual vision. Anxiety may also weaken your muscles, making you feel lighter. There are countless ways that your anxiety symptoms may interact.

How to Stop Derealization

Derealization – when it comes from anxiety – is not considered dangerous. It generally goes away on its own and only comes during periods of intense anxiety. Even then, some people learn to cope with it and derealization never comes back. If your derealization is so persistent that it's altering your sense of reality, or it lasts for a long period of time, you may need to contact a doctor immediately.

Doctors and psychologists generally agree that the best way to stop derealization is with mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of becoming more aware of your own present. Mindfulness can be completed in a variety of ways, but the easiest way is to simply get yourself to perform an action and focus as much as possible on that action in order to get yourself back into the world.

For example:

Touch something warm or cold. Focus on the warmth or cold.

Pinch yourself so that you feel how real you are.
Try to find a single object and start identifying what it is and what you know about it.

Count something in the room. Identify what they are.

Utilize your senses in any way possible.

Some also advise that you keep your eyes moving and try to get your brain thinking. Don't simply zone out to a single thought.

Remember, derealization is an anxiety symptom. It doesn't mean you're psychotic, nor does it mean anything is wrong with your mind. As such, part of overcoming derealiation is simply to wait it out, then address your anxiety symptoms in order to make sure you don’t experience that much anxiety again.

More Information From Panic End dot Com

Unreality, Depersonalization, Derealization
The creepest of all feelings from excessive anxiety and panic attacks is the sensation of unreality. It can be best described as a sensory alteration of your perception where you almost feel outside of yourself but with an emptyness that borders on depression. Ugh! I hated those feelings. But they are TEMPORARY.

What are they? During high anxiety, excessive worrying, constant fretting, persistent panic attacks, constant fear, the nervous system gets physically (and maybe emotionally) exhausted. There is a build up of stress chemicals at the neurotransmitter sites - possibly serotonin and norepinephrine levels are disrupted - that may exert a slight delay in processing information between the mind and the body, between thoughts and action. 

What is interesting is that this same delay or altered perception is similiar to the effects of THC from marijuana. Quite a few people have noticed this. It is known that THC also acts as a delay on neurotransmitters. ANYWAY, the sensation is one of delayed perception under tension. Because the anxious person is very mindful of places and situations where fear arises, the brain imprints the situation for protection's sake and the hormonal trail stays active and alert. 

This explains why when a person "checks" to see if he/she still feels the unwanted sensation of "unreality", that the body is able to recreate the sensation as part of the "test." Being afraid of "unreality" and constantly analyzing it to decipher it are then definitely ways to keep the sensation going.

There is a fine line between "wanting to get rid of the 'unreality' feeling" so much so that you can taste it, and toleration. The desire to be rid of the sensation can be adding stress and fear that actually maintains the feeling. Since our brains, ie. our nervous system, cannot process all this stress at once and delays are inevitable - think of "unreality" as your nervous system FORCING relaxation on you - forcing you to slow down and to let up. 

In that way it becomes a protection circuit by the nervous system against further tension. But we don't look at it that way? Nope! We experience it and assign a terrible and horrible outcome from it, assuming it is a "sign" of impending insanity and loss of control. 

What is the best way to approach these awful sensations? It is certainly stress related. Would you feel "unreal" while lying on the beach next to a supermodel (male or female - your choice) who was totally attracted to you? I don´t think so! Your "unreality" would not exist in that situation because why? You would forget about it and not be focusing so intensely on it. There is your answer. You can HATE the "unreal" feeling but acceptance is a must to break the habit of adding more stress to it.

Just accept whatever happens. Unreality/DP/DR are temporary in nature. They only stay alive by your fear of them. Like panic, two elements are required for keeping the weird sensations of unreality going - tension and doubt. Letting the sensation go on without making attempts to stop it, hide from it, panic over it - really is the way to lose it. And the proof is here writing this. I had these sensations many times. But no more.


Just a thought ... 

~Justin Taylor, ORDM., OCP., DM.

Trueman, David. Anxiety and depersonalization and derealization experiences. Psychological reports 54.1 (1984): 91-96.

Cassano, Giovanni B., et al. Derealization and panic attacks: a clinical evaluation on 150 patients with panic disorder/agoraphobia. Comprehensive Psychiatry 30.1 (1989): 5-12.