Depersonalisation-Derealisation Disorder 

What is Depersonalisation-Derealisation Disorder

Depersonalisation-Derealisation Disorder is a form of dissociative disorder and is characterised by the feeling of physical and emotional disconnection between yourself and the world around you. Sufferers of this disorder describe feelings of detachment and distortion in relation to themselves and their surroundings. Many people experience a feeling depersonalisation or derealisation at some point in their lives. But when these feelings keep occurring, never completely go away and interfere with your everyday life, it is then considered to be a disorder. 

What causes Depersonalisation-Derealisation Disorder

Causes of Depersonalisation-Derealisation disorder are often traumatic experiences and can cause someone to dissociate as a form of denial and a coping mechanism. Causes may include:

  • Physical, sexual or emotional abuse during childhood.
  • Neglect.
  • Challenging family environment.
  • Dangerous or life-threatening situations.
  • Invasive medical procedure.
  • Natural disaster/war.


Signs and Symptoms of Depersonalisation-Derealisation Disorder

Signs and symptoms of dissociative disorders depend largely on the type and severity, but may include:


  • Feeling disconnected from yourself.
  • Problems controlling emotions.
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Feelings of unreality.
  • Memory issues.
  • Confusion

What's the difference between Depersonalisation and Derealisation?


Depersonalisation is a persistent feeling of feeling detached from one’s self. People who experience depersonalisation describe the feeling of being disconnected from their body and thoughts, as if they are observing them from a distance. Other symptoms include:

  • Feeling out of control of speech and movements.
  • Emotional distance from memories and a sense that they are not yours.
  • A sense of physical distortion.
  • Emotional or physical numbness.

Derealisation is described as feeling unfamiliar and detached from one’s surroundings as if experiencing them in a dream or watching as an observer. More symptoms may include:

  • Your surroundings taking different forms. They may seem blurry and unclear, distorted, flat or they may even appear with extra clarity.
  • Distortion in your perception of time in relation to experiences and when they took place. For example, a recent incident may feel like it happened further in the past.
  • A sense that you’re emotionally distanced from things or people that you care about.
  • A sense of distortion with your presence. Feeling either as if you’re not fully there or having an awareness of being overwhelmingly present.
  • Experiencing a distorted perception of the pace and speed of your surroundings.
  • A sense of detachment if someone speaks to or looks at you as if they are interacting with someone else.

Memory and Identity

Dissociative disorders can cause confusion, memory and/or identity issues. This can manifest in ‘blank’ episodes of not recalling things such as personal information or forgetting how to practise certain skills. Confusion of situations, surroundings and identity can also be experienced.

Other disorders and symptoms may accompany dissociative behaviour such as Panic Attacks, PTSD, Phobias, OCD, insomnia, eating disorders, changes in mood, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and physical symptoms.

Overcoming Dissociative Disorders

The great news is, no matter how long you have lived with a Depersonalisation-Derealisation Disorder it can be successfully overcome. The key is understanding how it started and getting the right support which will allow you to work through the traumatic events that caused your symptoms. If you are struggling now and unsure what to do next, talk to someone you trust and explain how you are feeling. Consider allowing them to help you practise some grounding techniques which will help you stay present and calm. 

Living with a dissociative disorder can be extremely challenging, however, you are not alone. Here at Trauma Research UK, our belief is, ‘it’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what happened to you’. With this philosophy, we believe that everyone can successfully overcome their mental health issues if given the right help and support. Read more…