Depersonalization Disorder: A Feeling of Being ‘Outside’ Your Body


What causes depersonalization disorder? How is it treated?

Mayo Clinic psychiatrist Daniel Hall-Flavin, M.D., answers:

Depersonalization — a feeling of unreality or of being “outside” your body — can be a syndrome or a symptom of another mental disorder. It’s often associated with anxiety and stress.

When you feel anxious or stressed out, you may breathe more deeply and more frequently (hyperventilate). This reduces carbon dioxide levels in your blood, which can cause:

·         Lightheadedness

·         Dizziness

·         Unusual feelings, such as being outside your body and observing your actions from a distance

These feelings can increase existing anxiety by making you feel like you’re losing control. Although these sensations may be uncomfortable, they’re not harmful.

Episodes of depersonalization usually last only a few moments. But they may occur repeatedly. People with persistent stress or anxiety may have longer episodes of depersonalization that come and go over several years. Sometimes anxiety about having another experience with depersonalization may trigger these feelings.

Accurate diagnosis of depersonalization and of any accompanying mental disorders is important. Treatment depends on the diagnosis and may include:

·         Cognitive behavior therapy. This helps you understand why depersonalization occurs and trains you to stop worrying about the symptoms so that they go away.

·         Medications to treat underlying anxiety.

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