What is Depersonalization – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment
Depersonalization is a disorder, in which normal perception of oneself and the outside world is violated. Human consciousness splits in some way: one part of personality becomes a witness, another part experiences discomfort and panic because of the feeling that a person loses control over body and mind.
This condition often occurs as a protective function of the psyche because of stress or traumatic events; it may go away over time without causing the disease, and it does not require special treatment. However, prolonged syndrome may lead to inappropriate behavior: a person may harm himself and others and he may have suicidal thoughts. In severe cases, medications and psychotherapy can help.
French psychiatrists studied depersonalization in the beginning of XIX century. Scientists paid attention to the feeling of alienation from the body, of which the patients complained. Such dissociation of “Self” became the basis for the study of the odd syndrome.
Today depersonalization is a symptom of many mental disorders. For example, such diseases as:
The disorder is common after panic attacks, phobias, and neurosis. Nevertheless, it rarely occurs on its own as the feeling of unreality. Especially in a state of physical exhaustion, emotional shock or sudden consternation.
In order to abstract from a stressful situation, the human brain turns on “protective” mode reducing emotional coloring and sensitivity: paints seem faded, sounds are muted, and objects are odd by touch. The environment becomes unrecognizable and world perception is unusual.
Occasionally, 75% of people experience this feeling. There is no need to treat it, it is not related to mental disorder.
The true disorder is determined by the duration of depersonalization and certain “persistent” symptoms, which do not go away but get worse.
Depersonalization is characterized by a range of signs, which are divided into three groups:
- reducing emotional coloring of world perception;
- atrophy of physical sensations;
- the condition of psychic insensitivity.
The first group includes symptoms of emotional “detachment”:
- a person does not take pleasure in communication with children, parents, close friends;
- he is indifferent to sufferings of others;
- when a person experienced anger and irritation in some situations, now he feels nothing;
- He loses the sense of humor and interest in music.
A person only fears disorientation and loss of control over his body. He is confused, can not recognize familiar places, does not understand how he got there and what he should do.
Violations of physical perception include the following symptoms:
- bright colors may seem faded, in some cases daltonism occurs;
- certain objects do not have clear lines;
- sounds are muted like a person is in the water;
- sensitivity to cold and hot is reduced;
- cuts may be painless;
- problems with taste.
The physical manifestations of depersonalization include disorientation in space, violations of coordination, and loss of appetite because of the lack of hunger.
Psychological manifestations include the following symptoms:
- Partial loss of personality: a person does not remember what he likes and what he does not.
- Disorientation in time: a person may remain motionless for a few hours and he does not know how long he was sitting. In some severe cases, people do not know what the day of the week or month is now.
- Loss of motivation. People suffering from depersonalization do not want to go to work, shopping, clean their clothes and cook food because they do not understand the point.
A person with depersonalization constantly feels that he is playing a role in the boring piece. He sees his life from the outside, like a dream.
In the beginning of the disorder, people are aware that they perceive themselves wrong and they are confused and depressed. They try to figure out what’s going on but unreality wins, they avoid contact with other people.
What causes depersonalization?
Depersonalization is associated with stressful situations, in which the mind resists, switching attention. This helps reduce emotional loads but there is the ability of logical thinking. That’s why atrophy of physical sensations and reflection take place.
Schizophrenia is the exception, in which split personality has other causes. In this case, depersonalization is a symptom of this disorder and it is difficult to treat.
Physiological processes as causes of the disease are described in this way: in response to severe stress, the body produces an increased amount of endorphins, which attack receptors. As a result, the system responsible for emotions (the limbic system) is unable to cope with the chaotic stimulation.
It is not only emotional response to stress but physical as well:
- brain damage;
- brain surgery;
- brain tumor;
Intoxication may lead to the release of endorphins. For example, drug abuse. That is why in the USA the phenomenon of depersonalization is studied by the Association for Addiction Professionals.
In rare cases, causes of depersonalization are hidden in genetic predisposition or pathologies of the nervous system.
How is depersonalization diagnosed?
Depersonalization is usually detected on the basis of the patient’s complaints, the description of his behavior by relatives and special tests. As a rule, physical examination and tests are useless in this case. On the contrary, people with depersonalization are healthy, have great immunity and do not suffer from chronic diseases.
However, MRI shows a distinct change in the activity of certain parts of the brain. A special laboratory tests can confirm violations in the work of the pituitary gland, modifications of protein receptors and other pathologies on the basis of which an accurate diagnosis is made.
Treatment of depersonalization
Depersonalization is individual and, therefore, it requires different treatment approaches. In cases when people complain of short-lasting discomfort, psychoanalysis is used. Your doctor may prescribe an additional treatment:
- soothing massage;
But in severe cases, especially when the patient has suicidal thoughts, hospitalization is required since neurotropic drugs or anxiolytics, antipsychotics and sedatives are prescribed in large doses.
Meds that are used for complex treatment of depersonalization and depression:
- Clomipramine, Amitriptyline, Quetiapine and Sonapax in combination with vitamin C;
- Nootropics with antioxidant effect ( Cavinton or Cytoflavin);
- Naltrexone or Naloxone (for the normalization of the opioid system);
- The combination of Anafranil and Seroquel (to reduce panic and anxiety);
- Antidepressants – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors;
- Decortin in order to eliminate disorders of the adrenal glands and others.
As soon as symptoms go away, psychotherapy is used. During the sessions, a specialist reveals psychological causes that led to depersonalization and helps the patient cope with similar attacks in the case of relapse.
The main purpose of psychotherapy is to help a person refocus on other people or surroundings: to meet new people, visit theaters and exhibitions, etc. Teaching a person not to be afraid of feelings is one of the most effective methods to defeat the disorder. The doctor asks the patient to remember (it is better to write down) the feelings that seem strange and describe them during the therapy. Over time, a person notices that there in nothing to be afraid of and there is no need to visit a psychologist.
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By Maria Shevtsova
Born in Belarus, 1985, a pedagogue and family psychologist. Taking action in support groups organization and social adaptation of the people with mental disorders. Since 2015 is a chief editor of the undepress.net project, selecting the best and up-to-date material for those, who want to get their life back or help someone dear, who got into mental trap.
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