Depersonalization – Research Project


Depersonalization is the feeling of detachment from yourself. Most of us have felt it at one point or the other in our life -particularly after trauma. However, Depersonalization Disorder is categorically different from it.

An emotional numbness can be a natural response of your brain in order to ‘protect’ itself from extreme mental stress. However, prolonged disconnect is often a sign of something much more serious.

Depersonalization disorder forms a part of a wide group of ‘Dissociative Disorders’. These are illnesses that seriously disrupt a person’s memory, identity, reality and consciousness.

For obvious reasons, this has a negative effect on a person’s everyday functioning, social life, and professional relationships.[9]


In itself, Depersonalization is not a disease with multiple symptoms, the way depression or anxiety are. In fact, it only has one symptom, and that is the feeling of disconnect.

This detachment can be fro emotional self or physical self[2], and manifests itself in the following ways. [1]

Detachment from Emotional Self (Derealisation)

  • Feeling robotic, as if you have no will or agency
  • Sense of observing yourself from the outside, feeling like a third person to your own mind
  • Getting the sense of loss of autonomy over words and actions
  • Feeling disconnected from yourself
  • Looking in the mirror and seeing someone that you don’t recognize
  • Feeling like you are losing control, or going insane.

Detachment of Physical Self (Desomatisation)

  • Complete or partial loss of sensation in the body
  • Feeling of disembodiment
  • Body dysmorphia, or subjective experience of bodily dissatisfaction
  • A limb or organ looking larger, or feeling heavier than it should
  • Decreased sensitivity to physical pain, leading to increased risk of self-harm

Reaction VS. Personality

Two of the most polarized kinds of disorders are reactions and personality types. Depersonalization has the possession of both of their properties

Depersonalization as a Reaction: The DSM enlists Depersonalization not as a disorder in itself, but as an element of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

It is often categorized as a reaction to emotional or psychological stress, and is listed as a coping mechanism.[6]

Depersonalization as a Personality type: Case studies show that some people are simply genetically predisposed to depersonalization disorder.

Sometimes, this disorder develops on its own, without any known triggers, trauma, drug use or whatsoever.[7]

Abuse and Trauma

Depersonalization is often caused by an incident of trauma or abuse so chronic and unbearable that the human mind has to ‘push itself out of awareness’ in order to lessen its impact.

Examples of chronic trauma include:[3]

  • Psychological abuse
  • Neglect
  • Captivity

All of these incidents  would create a sense of confusion and disorientation in the victims, irrelevant of their age. Many such victims question their own reality and perceptions. They often do not acknowledge abuse that they may have gone through.

It has been argued that children left alone are prone to developing DPD when they are adults. This is because of their tendency to daydream and fantasize.

DPD and Attachment Styles

Some scientists theorize that the way children form attachments with their parents has a huge impact on how they process emotions as adults.[4]

DPD has been linked positively with Disorganized Attachment. The Disorganized Attachment was discovered by an Italian psychologist named Giovanni Liotti and has many features in common DPD.

  1. Just like DPD, people with this form of attachment have memories stored in their brains in a disintegrated manner, because their fight or flight responses are at odds with their memory storage process.
  2. People with Disorganized Attachment have often suffered some form of neglect in their childhood; just like DPD. This includes emotional abuse and guilt tripping that may have been subtle and gone unnoticed, leading to a confused state of mind.
  3. A person with disorganized attachment styles store old memories in their nervous system without verbally processing them. Verbal memory must be linked with emotional memory in order for DP to go away.

The reason that this happens later life is because, arguably, the ‘attachment style’ gets triggered. Consequentially, when someone who has had a disorganized attachment style faces some form of stress later in their life, it tends to trigger Depersonalization Disorder.

The stress can be anything including drugs, economic or professional difficulties, dealing with a romantic partner, or simply even processing their own emotions.

Where disorganized attachment leads to dissociation to avoid extreme pain, people with DPD get stuck in that dissociated state of unprocessed traumatic memories -and this is where the difference between the two lies.

The high levels of anxiety that come with numbness can lead to fissuring in the sense of our perspectives and identities.[5]

Treatment Plans

Talk Therapy

Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is usually the treatment of choice for depersonalization disorder.[10]

Psychotherapy aims to help people get in touch with their unconscious thoughts, deep-rooted feelings, and blocked out experiences.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an approach based on the Cognitive Bias Theory. 

CBT states that we can improve our mental health by changing how we think and behave. For DPD, the focus remains on anxiety and trauma therapy (PTSD) [11]

Other than Talk-Therapy

(As is the case with people with DPD)

Many of the people who suffer from DPD have avoidant personalities, and talk therapy is not the appropriate tactic for them.

Creative Therapy: The most common approaches to this therapy include writing, psychodrama, music therapy, art therapy, or any creative channel of self-expression and personal growth. [12]

Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy: People with DPD respond positively to meditative practices, and cultivation of mindfullness on a regular basis.

Practical Tips

In Conclusion

In summation, complete recovery is also possible for many people, and with the right treatment, the symptoms go away on their own.

However, without it, additional episodes of depersonalization can occur. [8]

Depending on the severity of the symptoms, therapy tactics would defer.

However, it is entirely possible to live with your trauma, and deal with your dissociation-related anxiety in a healthy manner.

















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