Depersonalization Disorder or DPD has been relatively obscure until the last 30 years and is becoming more recognized. One major reason depersonalization is becoming more commonly looked at as a possible diagnosis is that it is being discovered that many people with depersonalization have been misdiagnosed with depression. Depersonalization is difficult to define and therefore difficult to diagnose. With the higher awareness of this disorder and its symptoms more studies are being done to understand DPD and these studies are finding that depersonalization is the third most common psychological disorder following depression and anxiety, (studies include depersonalization as a transient, primary, or secondary diagnosis). The movie, Numb, with Matthew Perry was a good example of what someone with DPD may feel.
An individual suffering from Depersonalization Disorder has difficulty explaining their symptoms and uses a lot of “as if” metaphors and they will commonly refer to daily activities as just going through the motions. Even though a person with depersonalization may seem to be functioning in a normal way to the outside world they would be experiencing a loss of emotional responses and even bodily sensations complaining of feeling robotic or like one’s body is melting. Along with emotional numbing an individual will also have difficulty with their perception of reality or explain their reality and often complain of feeling detached from one’s own body, even watching themselves from above, feeling “soulless”, or like they are living in a dream.
Finding an exact cause for depersonalization is difficult. Depersonalization can be a transient phenomenon brought on by fatigue, extreme stress, during or after intoxication, and the use of drugs, most commonly marijuana and ecstasy. In these situations, the onset is most likely in individuals who may have a predisposition to a dissociative disorder. Depersonalization can also be a chronic and primary disorder or a secondary condition to other psychological disorders or trauma including but not limited to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, (although depersonalization is not technically a sub-type of PTSD), major depressives, schizophrenics, or certain types of epileptics. The strongest predictors are in people who have suffered abuse in childhood including physical, sexual, and/or emotional and in adults, emotional abuse being the strongest predictor.
Because of the difficulty in understanding the exact cause of depersonalization and the likelihood of misdiagnosis there is no one recognized treatment. Depersonalization is likely to resolve itself without treatment depending on the degree of symptoms and if the disorder is transient. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the preferred treatment because it works with emotional response. Cognitive therapy is most recommended to those who feel their symptoms are greatly affecting their everyday activities or if depersonalization is the primary diagnosis. Cognitive therapy can also be helpful to individuals who suffer from depersonalization as a transient phenomenon or a secondary diagnosis and are already being professionally treated for their primary diagnosis. Certain pharmacological treatments seem promising but no specific drug treatment has been proven successful.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any symptom that affects everyday functioning it is important to seek help from a local professional or talk to your physician.
Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, Baker D., David A., Medford N., Sierra M., (2005), Understanding and treating depersonalisation disorder, http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/11/2/92.full
Do You Feel Like a Stranger to Yourself? Bezzubova E., MD, PhD., (2011, July), Psychology Today Online, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-search-self/201107/do-you-feel-stranger-yourself.
Encyclopedia of Mental Disorders, (2011). http://www.minddisorders.com/Del-Fi/Depersonalization-disorder.html.