5 Signs You’re Living with Derealisation Disorder

It’s not the easiest thing to diagnose.

Jim Sullivan
Jan 30 · 5 min read
Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

Derealisation Disorder can be described as:

“ Detachment from one’s surroundings. Individuals experiencing derealization may report perceiving the world around them as foggy, dreamlike/surreal, or visually distorted.”

There’s a whole bunch of psychotherapy jargon to describe why Derealisation (and Depersonalisation) happens. Here’s a good way to think of it: It’s a self-defense mechanism created by the brain to detach you from certain situations. Usually, situations that are emotionally and/or physically stressful.

While Depersonalisation is greatly linked to Derealisation, the two are completely separate entities and it’s important to distinguish the difference between the two if you can. In simple terms:

  • Depersonalisation = A detachment from one’s self.

Today, we’re talking about the latter. So here are a few things to look out for if you fear you might be living with Derealisation Disorder:

You’ve felt the same way since childhood… you just didn’t know it

Photo by Artur Aldyrkhanov on Unsplash

As with most psychological disorders, Derealisation has its roots firmly set in childhood. You might have even felt the effects of the condition more strongly during your younger years. The only issue is, nobody tells you whether these sensations are “normal” or not when you’re a kid.

We’re still pretty new to the world so we accept the world as it is. Including the way we might be feeling. It wasn’t until my early teenage years that I suspected something might be amiss, and it wasn’t until I was 26 (when my symptoms seriously worsened) that I put in some research time and self-diagnosed the condition.

Look back and ask yourself: Did you ever feel totally detached from your surroundings when you were a kid?

Persistent gaps in your memory

Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

We’ve all been there:

You’re going about your daily routine and, before you know it, you’ve arrived somewhere with little to no definite recollection of how you arrived at all. Like your brain was on “auto-pilot” right?

Now imagine that feeling, but instead of being limited to a certain time of day, it happens multiple times per day. Without warning. The nature of Derealisation can cause your brain to effectively switch off for a while, which makes it so much more difficult to recall things people have done or what people have said. It’s especially destructive to our short term memory and keeping hold of brand new information when in this state can be almost impossible.

You feel like you’re in a dream

Photo by Sasha Freemind on Unsplash

When most people say “this feels like a dream!” they’re talking about something wonderful. Well, this is not one of those dreams…

In our dreams, our subconscious is running wild and we’re expected to just go with the flow. Derealisation can be a similar sensation. You’ll feel as though you’re floating through your day, as opposed to actually making your own way, with your own willpower.

You may also feel as though the world has suddenly slowed down, like your life is recording a slow-motion video through your eyes. At its most intense moments, this can be a very scary experience. But it does pass with time. It does for me, anyway.

Your vision isn’t sharp and you can’t focus

Photo by Chris Buckwald on Unsplash

The first thing you’ll notice when dealing with a bout of Derealisation is your vision. Some call the sensation blurry, others see it as tunnel vision — I’d call it a combination of the two. But this is not the same as “zoning out” when you get bored. I must emphasize this.

Everything but a singular point in your eye becomes a haze, like smearing vaseline around camera lens for a cloudy visual effect (a trick that’s actually used in the film industry). What doesn’t help is that trying to sharpen your focus actually makes the problem worse. Remember, it’s our mind that is causing this phenomenon. If we put our mind under even more pressure to solve the problem, it can have the opposite of the desired effect.

From personal experience, I’d highly recommend avoiding driving if you find this happens often.

You suffer from Anxiety and/or Depression

Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash

Anxiety and Depression are the two closest relatable conditions to Derealisation or Depersonalisation. Almost everybody who finds themselves afflicted with the disorder have struggled with at least one of these. But while this helps us understand a little more about why Derealisation occurs, it can make diagnosing it a heck of a lot harder.

Some doctors simply write off the symptoms of Derealisation as symptoms of anxiety or depression, rather than symptoms of a separate condition in its own right. Which is why so many people end up self-diagnosing the condition themselves. Myself included.


Derealisation and Depersonalisation are ongoing battles; A battle to not only conquer the disorder(s) but to understand them on a deeper level, both emotionally and medically.

Official diagnoses are often hard to come by, but if any of the above is resonating with your own experience, I’d recommend discussing this with your doctor. Much like anxiety and depression, medication and therapy have both been seen as helpful tools in these situations.

But the main thing you can do right now is focus on you. Examine your life, your thoughts, why you might be going through this. If Derealisation really is a result of our own mental processes, we must first try to understand ourselves before making any rash assumptions.

If you’re looking for another perspective on the topic, here is a link to a video from artist, writer and popular YouTube personality Dodie. Her story is what originally encouraged me to investigate my condition:

If you are suffering with Derealisation, I hope this serves as a starting point to your speedy recovery. It takes patience (on all sides) and a lot of mental dedication. But victory is possible.

Invisible Illness

We don't talk enough about mental health.

Jim Sullivan

Written by

Full-time Content Writer. Mental Health, Self-Improvement, putting one word in front of the other. Coffee and cake tends to help!

Invisible Illness

We don't talk enough about mental health.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade