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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Kiran Singh, M.D. [2]

Synonyms and keywords: Derealization


Depersonalization (or depersonalisation) is an 'alteration' in the perception or experience of the self so that one feels 'detached' from, and as if one is an 'outside' observer of, one's mental processes or body.[1] It can be considered desirable, such as in the use of recreational drugs, but it usually refers to the severe form found in anxiety and, in the most intense case, panic attacks. A sufferer feels that he or she has changed and the world has become less real, vague, dreamlike, or lacking in significance. It can sometimes be a rather disturbing experience, since many feel that indeed, they are living in a "dream." Chronic depersonalization refers to depersonalization disorder, which is classified by the DSM-IV as a dissociative disorder. Derealization is a similar term to depersonalization, and the two are often used interchangeably. However, more specifically, derealization is the feeling that "nothing is real," while depersonalization is the feeling that one is "detached" from one's body or world. Though these feelings can happen to anyone, they are most prominent in anxiety disorders, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, sleep deprivation, and some types of epilepsy.


Individuals who experience depersonalization feel divorced from both the world and from their own identity and physicality.[2] Often a person who has experienced depersonalization claims that life "feels like a movie" or things seem unreal or hazy. Also a recognition of self breaks down (hence the name). DP can result in very high anxiety levels, which further increase these perceptions.[3]

One way to describe the physical manifestation of the feeling is to compare it to a film technique called the vertigo shot or dolly zoom. In this technique, the subject of the picture stays fixed on the shot while all the surrounding background is pulled away - providing a sense of vertigo or detachment. People may perceive this feeling in a cyclical manner, where the feeling is experienced back-to-back in succession.

Sometimes the physical manifestation is more like a strobe light of the senses. Information is processed at a much more staggered rate and therefore the subject feels as though his or her senses are being distorted and fragmented.


Depersonalization is a side effect of dissociatives and hallucinogens, as well as common drugs such as marijuana, caffeine,[4] alcohol,[5] and minocycline.[6] It is a classic withdrawal symptom from many drugs.[7][8][9][10]

Depersonalization can also accompany sleep deprivation, stress and anxiety as well as being a symptom of anxiety disorders such as panic disorder.[11]

A study of undergraduate students found individuals high on the depersonalization/derealization subscale of the Dissociative Experiences Scale exhibited more pronounced cortisol response. Individuals high on the absorption subscale, which measures experiences of concentration to the exclusion of awareness of other events going on around them, showed weaker cortisol responses.[12]


Treatment is dependent on the underlying cause.

If depersonalization is a symptom of neurological disease, then diagnosis and treatment of the specific disease is the first approach. Depersonalization can be a cognitive symptom of such diseases as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), neuroborreliosis (Lyme Disease) or any other neurological disease affecting the brain.

If depersonalization is a psychological symptom then treatment may be dependent on the diagnosis. Depersonalization is often a symptom of borderline personality disorder, which can be treated in the long term with proper psychotherapy and psychopharmacology.[3]

Treatment of chronic depersonalization is considered in depersonalization disorder.


  1. American Psychiatric Association (2004). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR (Text Revision). American Psychiatric Association. ISBN 0890420246.
  2. "Depersonalization Disorder" (html). Retrieved 2007-09-08.
  3. Daniel. "Depersonalization disorder: A feeling of being 'outside' your body" (html). Retrieved 2007-09-08.
  4. Stein, M. B. (July 1989). "Depersonalization Disorder: Effects of Caffeine and Response to Pharmacotherapy". Biological Psychiatry. 26 (3): 315–20.
  5. Raimo, E. B. (June 1999). "Alcohol-Induced Depersonalization". Biological Psychiatry. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)
  6. Cohen, P. R. (2004). "Medication-associated depersonalization symptoms: report of transient depersonalization symptoms induced by minocycline". Southern Medical Journal. 97 (1): 70–73. PMID 14746427.
  7. Marriott, S. (1993). "Benzodiazepine dependence: avoidance and withdrawal". Drug Safety. 9 (2): 93–103. PMID 8104417. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)
  8. Shufman, E. (2005). "[Depersonalization after withdrawal from cannabis usage]". Harefuah (in Hebrew). 144 (4): 249-51 and 303. PMID 15889607. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)
  9. Djenderedjian, A. (1982). "Agoraphobia following amphetamine withdrawal". The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. 43 (6): 248–49. PMID 7085580. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)
  10. Mourad, I. (1998). "[Prospective evaluation of antidepressant discontinuation]". L'Encéphale (in French). 24 (3): 215–22. PMID 9696914. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)
  11. "Depersonalization and individualism: the effect of culture on symptom profiles in panic disorder". The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (December 2007). PMID 18091192. Retrieved 2008-05-08. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)
  12. Giesbrecht, T. (2007). "Depersonalization experiences in undergraduates are related to heightened stress cortisol responses". J. Nerv. Ment. Dis. 195 (4): 282–87. doi:10.1097/01.nmd.0000253822.60618.60. PMID 17435477. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)

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