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Dealing with dissociation disorders, such as depersonalisation

What Is Depersonalisation?

3 MIN READ • 13th September 2019

With World Mental Health Day fast approaching, (October 10th), it’s never been more important to keep the conversation around mental health open.

Sadly, a huge number of mental health conditions haven’t been given the time needed to raise awareness for them. Therefore, when we come across these issues it’s harder to be conscious and caring. The key to solving issues with our mental wellbeing is to educate ourselves as much as we can.

One of those lesser-known conditions is Depersonalisation Disorder (DPD). Using the information provided by Dr Tanushree Sarma, a consultant psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Chelmsford, we break down what it is, the signs and how to cope.

What is depersonalisation?

“It’s a type of dissociative disorder, in which individuals experience a feeling of detachment or unreality from aspects of their self. This perception of disconnection could be from their own physical body, or a detachment from their thoughts, feelings or actions. The individual recognises that it’s a subjective and unreal experience, which distinguishes this disorder from something like psychosis.”

It’s important to note that each case is personal to the individual. For some, the experience can last a short time, for others a longer period.

What causes it?

“In some individuals, the symptoms of depersonalisation can manifest in the face of overwhelming stress, for example, near-death experiences. It can also occur following extreme fatigue, sleep or sensory deprivation, drug use and epilepsy.

Primary depersonalisation disorder occurs more commonly in women than in men. In these cases, the cause would be either a traumatic incident or following a depressive episode.

Childhood trauma and neglect have been associated with this type of dissociative disorder. However, the most common causes of depersonalisation are anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (including complex PTSD), panic disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorders.”

What symptoms do people experience?

“Patients often report that parts of their body may seem ‘foreign’ to them, while some patients often say they cannot recognise themselves in the mirror. Some feel that their body parts on one side are bigger or smaller, or feel like they’re made of cotton wool. They commonly experience emotional detachment or numbness, as if being in a dream. They describe their point of consciousness as being outside their body; observing themselves from the outside, and not being in control of their voice, movements or behaviour. Actions seem robotic and mechanical.”

How can I help?

“Depersonalisation disorder is a complex condition, that can only be diagnosed and treated by specialists. The first step to helping someone is to enable them to seek help in the form of a diagnostic assessment. An understanding of the condition and psychological interpretation of this being a way of coping with traumatic memories or experiences is helpful in some cases.”

Anti-anxiety medication is useful, especially if the trigger is anxiety-related disorders. Also, antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Furthermore, various types of behavioural therapy have also been found to be beneficial. These can be accessed in specialist services from trained professionals.”

Food for thought

If you’re feeling unable to cope try to seek the support you need to build up that strength again. Whether you’re suffering from depersonalisation or another form of mental health issue, your wellbeing is important, you are important.


If you’re interested in learning more about mental health, why not see our article on What Happens When You Have A Panic Attack?


If you wish to look at the topic in more depth a helpful book might be Overcoming Depersonalisation and Feelings of Unreality: A Self-help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques‘ (£12.99) by Anthony David, Dawn Baker, Elaine Hunter, and Emma Lawrence.


For crisis and helplines – Samaritans | NHS call 999 (emergency) call 111 (not in immediate danger) | Mind | YoungMinds



Meet the writer
Vicky Warrell
H&W deputy editor

As H&W's deputy editor, I'm lucky enough to cover everything from celebrities to skincare. At the weekend, I'm happiest when adding to my ever-expanding houseplant collection, swimming laps at my local lido, spending time with my family and... Discover more

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