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Depersonalization Disorder

What is depersonalization disorder?

Depersonalization disorder is a change in how people see themselves. They feel detached from their own mind or body, like they are watching themselves from the outside. It may make them feel like they are in a dream.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of this disorder include:

  • feeling detached from your own body and thoughts, even though you know that you are not.
  • seeing common objects and familiar situations as strange or foreign
  • seeing yourself from a distance, as if you were outside of your body watching a movie of yourself
  • purposely hurting or cutting yourself in order to feel real

These symptoms may be very frightening. Sometimes people with this disorder also have panic attacks or get depressed.

How does it occur?

Depersonalization often occurs after an accident, assault, emotional trauma, or serious illness or injury. The exact cause of this disorder is not known. It may be caused by differences in the brain or nervous system. It might also be related to things such as child abuse or a family history of mental illness.

It often begins at an early age, from around puberty to the late twenties. Depersonalization can last from a few minutes to many years.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your:

  • symptoms
  • relationships
  • medical history
  • substance abuse history
  • family history of mental illness

Your provider may also do a physical exam and lab tests to rule out medical conditions as a cause of the symptoms.

How is it treated?

This disorder often gets better without treatment. Antianxiety and antidepressant medicines may help. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a way to help you identify and change thoughts you have that are not realistic. CBT can help you learn new ways to think and act. Hypnosis may help some people with this disorder.

For more information, contact:

The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI)
Web site:

Mental Health America (formerly The National Mental Health Association or NMHA)
Web site:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2008-01-07
Last reviewed: 2010-05-10
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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