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  • Writer's pictureSteve Elfrink

Understanding Depersonalization and Derealization: Unmasking the Symptoms of Trauma

Trauma can manifest in various ways, and one of the lesser-known but distressing symptoms is the experience of depersonalization and derealization. In this blog post, we aim to shed light on these symptoms and help clients or patients better comprehend what depersonalization and derealization feel like as part of their trauma journey.

What is Depersonalization and Derealization? Depersonalization and derealization are dissociative experiences that occur when an individual feels disconnected from themselves or their surroundings. These feelings often arise as coping mechanisms in response to overwhelming stress or trauma.

Depersonalization: Imagine looking in the mirror and feeling like the person staring back at you isn't really you. Depersonalization involves a sense of detachment from one's own body, thoughts, or emotions. You may feel like you're watching your life unfold as an observer rather than actively participating in it. It's like being a spectator in your own existence.

Derealization: Derealization, on the other hand, involves a sense of unreality or detachment from the external world. You might perceive your surroundings as dreamlike, distorted, or disconnected from reality. Everyday objects or people may seem unfamiliar, as if you're living in a parallel universe or a movie set.

What Does Depersonalization Feel Like? Clients or patients experiencing depersonalization often describe feeling:

  • Disconnected from their own body, as if they're floating or watching from a distance.

  • Emotionally numb, like their feelings are muted or distant.

  • A sense of unreality about themselves or their actions.

  • Difficulty recognizing their own reflection or voice.

  • A persistent feeling of detachment, even in familiar situations.

What Does Derealization Feel Like? Clients or patients experiencing derealization may report:

  • A distorted perception of the environment, making it seem strange or artificial.

  • A dreamlike or foggy quality to reality.

  • Objects appearing altered in shape, size, or color.

  • An inability to fully engage with the world, as if a glass wall separates them from it.

  • Moments of feeling like they're in a movie or video game rather than reality.

Why Do These Experiences Occur in Trauma? Depersonalization and derealization often arise as defense mechanisms when the brain perceives a traumatic event as too overwhelming to process. These dissociative experiences can temporarily shield individuals from the full emotional impact of the trauma. While they serve as adaptive responses during traumatic moments, they can persist long after the trauma has ended.

Understanding depersonalization and derealization is essential for individuals on their trauma recovery journey. It's crucial to recognize that these dissociative experiences, while unsettling, are the mind's way of coping with overwhelming stress. With the right guidance and treatment, it is possible to reintegrate these fragmented parts of the self and move towards a more grounded and connected existence.

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