How long does depersonalisation last?

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In this blog we will discuss how long an episode of depersonalisation lasts. 

We will also briefly discuss what depersonalisation is and what depersonalisation/derealisation disorder is and the treatment interventions available for this condition. 

How long does depersonalisation last?

A depersonalization episode can last anywhere between a few minutes- which is generally the case- to a few years (which is very rare).

The experience of depersonalisation might involve the individual feeling like they are out of their bodies, like they are watching themselves from a place further away or they might even feel a sense of detachment from their own thoughts, feelings as well. 

They might also feel like they are disconnected from themselves and feel distanced or even feel like they are not real and often the individual feels this way for a few minutes to an hour which can impact their ability to go about their day normally, do their work, maintain social responsibility etc.

In some cases, these episodes can last for years where the individual might lose their sense of identity, forget who they are and even start a new life entirely and live with that new identity for years until the episode ends. 

When the episodes of depersonalisation impact their functioning- socially and occupationally- then the episodes become symptoms of a diagnosable disorder known as depersonalization-derealization disorder (DDD).

Depersonalization is sometimes associated with the symptoms of derealization, which is when individuals feel like the world around them is not real- such as other people, things etc. 

They might see the world in two dimensions or they might view the world as if they are looking at things from a glass window etc. and they might feel like people around them are not real. 

In conclusion, the symptoms of depersonalization usually last for a few minutes. However, in severe cases the episodes and symptoms can persist for hours or days and in rare cases for years. 

What is Depersonalization/Derealization disorder (DPDR)?

Depersonalization/derealization disorder is a diagnosable disorder that is marked by a feeling of being detached from one’s body and mind as well as from the world around them.

The individual often experiences two major symptoms: 

  • They feel like they are outside observers of their own life- depersonalisation where an individual might feel like they are outside of their body and their thoughts and feelings might feel foreign from them. 
  • And they feel like they are detached from the world around them and their surroundings (derealization) where they feel like whatever is around them is not real.

Interestingly enough, these two symptoms of depersonalisation and derealisation are very common and occur to around 50% of the population, with individuals having experienced at least one episode in their lifetime.

This could be a result of the disorder itself or due to other mental disorders such as schizophrenia, depression,anxiety or due to other medical conditions such as seizures.

However the rate of prevalence of the disorder is quite rare with only 2 percent of people meeting the diagnosable criteria for depersonalization/derealization disorder. 

It has been recorded to be equally prevalent in both men and women and is often observed in individuals between early to middle childhood up to young adulthood and less likely after middle adulthood.

What are the symptoms of Depersonalization/Derealization disorder (DPDR)?

The symptoms of Depersonalization/Derealization disorder (DPDR) include:

  • The individual may notice changes in bodily senses
  • They might feel an out-of-body experience, as if they are floating away or watching themselves from a distance or from above. 
  • They feel a sense of disconnection from their own body
  • They feel like their life is a dream.
  • They feel like everyone and everything seems unreal.
  • The individual might feel that they are not in control of their body and their behaviour.
  • They experience a gap in their memory related to events of their life or specific people. 
  • Individuals might also develop obsessive behaviour, such as checking for their own body to determine if they are real or not.
  • Some individual might not remember their own identity
  • They might move and travel to other places, take a different identity and even live a different life without being aware that this is an episode of Depersonalisatin/derealisation. 

What is the diagnostic criteria of Depersonalization/Derealization disorder (DPDR)?

Clinically, the diagnosis of Depersonalization/Derealization disorder (DPDR) is based on the criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). 

The criteria has been outlined in the fifth edition of the DSM as follows:

  • The individual experiences persistent or recurrent episodes of depersonalization, derealization, or both.
  • The individual is aware that their dissociative experiences are not real meaning that they have an enact sense of reality unlike in psychosis. 
  • Symptoms cause significant distress or dysfunction in their social or occupational functioning.
  • The symptoms experienced cannot be better explained by another medical or psychiatric disorder such as seizures, ongoing substance abuse, panic disorder, major depressive disorder, another dissociative disorder.

For the diagnosis of this disorder, MRI and EEG scans are also done to rule out any brain structural causes especially when the symptoms are atypical while toxicology tests are also done to rule out substance use. 

What causes Depersonalization/Derealization disorder (DPDR)?

When it comes to what causes this particular disorder or condition, it is not clear however experts believe it to be related to stress and trauma resulting to severe stress caused by experiences such as:

  • Being physically and sexually abused
  • Witnessing violence
  • Having a parent who is severely disabled or mentally ill 
  • Experience loss and death
  • Episodes can be triggered by interpersonal stress
  • Financial, or occupational stress
  • Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, depression and anxiety.

They believe that this condition serves a protective purpose during traumatic experiences of violence and abuse, often during young childhood. 

It is also believed to be a result of substance use, particularly marijuana, ketamine, or hallucinogens. Also,  issues related to the nervous system, such as seizure disorder.

What are the treatments available for Depersonalization/Derealization disorder (DPDR)?

As of today, researchers and experts still do not conclusively agree what treatments should be given for an individual who experiences depersonalization or has depersonalisation/derealisation disorder. 

However, most practitioners and doctors suggest either psychotherapy or medication and a combination of both forms of treatment. 

When it comes to medications, doctors primarily describe SSRI antidepressants, stimulants, Lamotriginne, and other drugs to target the mental disorders that are associated with the symptom of depersonalization and derealisation.

However the efficacy of these pharmacological treatments have not been demonstrated clearly by research as of yet. These drugs may work largely by targeting other mental disorders that cause the episodes. 

The other form of treatment includes psychotherapy where efforts are made to either change the perspective of the individual when it comes to depersonalization:

  • by helping people see their symptoms as non threatening so as to rescue anxiety and related behaviours. 
  • To teach behavioural changes to distract the individual form the symptoms of depersonalisation
  • Using grounding techniques to help the individual connect more closely with their reality as a way to cope such as using 5 senses (eg, by playing loud music or placing a piece of ice in the hand) to help individuals feel more connected to themselves and the world around them.
  • Dealing with negative feelings and other conflicts related to past trauma and experiences so as to help individuals deal with them. 

Individuals with depersonalization/derealization symptoms and disorder often improve without intervention as long as the stressors are reduced and removed.

When it comes to complete recovery, it is possible especially when it is caused due to stress that is treatable while for some it can become chronic and even in this case, the impact of the symptoms can be minimised when the individual learns how to manage their symptoms though distraction and grounding. 

Conclusion

In this blog we have discussed how long an episode of depersonalisation lasts. 

We have also briefly discussed what depersonalisation is and what depersonalisation/derealisation disorder is and the treatment interventions available for this condition. 

FAQ related to How long depersonalisation lasts?

Does depersonalization go away?

The symptoms of depersonalization disorder often go away. Individuals with depersonalization/derealization symptoms and disorder often improve without intervention as long as the stressors are reduced and removed.

However in some cases,  it can become chronic and even in this case, the impact of the symptoms can be minimised when the individual learns how to manage their symptoms through distraction and grounding. 

Can Depersonalisation be permanent?

No, Depersonalization is not permanent. Individuals with depersonalization/derealization symptoms and disorder often improve without intervention as long as the stressors are reduced and removed.

Can you fix depersonalization?

As of today, researchers and experts still do not conclusively agree what treatments should be given for an individual who experiences depersonalization or has depersonalisation/derealisation disorder. 

However, most practitioners and doctors suggest either psychotherapy or medication and a combination of both forms of treatment. 

Can depersonalization last for months?

The symptoms of depersonalization usually last for a few minutes. However, in severe cases the episodes and symptoms can persist for hours or days and in rare cases for months or even years. 

How long can dissociation last?

Periods of dissociation last for a few minutes. However, in severe cases the episodes and symptoms can persist for hours or days and in rare cases for months

Can depersonalization be treated?

Individuals with depersonalization/derealization symptoms and disorder often improve without intervention as long as the stressors are reduced and removed.

When it comes to complete recovery, it is possible especially when it is caused due to stress that is treatable while for some it can become chronic and even in this case, the impact of the symptoms can be minimised when the individual learns how to manage their symptoms though distraction and grounding. 

How do you heal derealization?

Individuals with depersonalization/derealization symptoms and disorder often improve without intervention as long as the stressors are reduced and removed.

As of today, researchers and experts still do not conclusively agree what treatments should be given for an individual who experiences depersonalization or has depersonalisation/derealisation disorder. 

However, most practitioners and doctors suggest either psychotherapy or medication and a combination of both forms of treatment. 

References

Spiegel.D. Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder. MSD Manual. Retrieved on 15th Feb 2022. https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-in/professional/psychiatric-disorders/dissociative-disorders/depersonalization-derealization-disorder

Nordqvist. J. What are dissociation and depersonalization? Medicalnewstoday. Retrieved on 15th Feb 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/262888

Braun. A. What Is Depersonalization? Verywellmind. Retrieved on 15th Feb 2022. https://www.verywellhealth.com/depersonalization-5096402

Mental Health and Depersonalization Disorder. WebMD. Retrieved on 15th Feb 2022. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/depersonalization-disorder-mental-health#:~:text=An%20episode%20of%20 depersonalization%20can,and%20 certain%20other%20 brain%20 diseases.

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