The Dissociative World of Depersonalisation

 9th Feb 2016

Depersonalisation Disorder is one of the lesser known mental health conditions in the present day which, despite being less severe than other conditions such as depression and schizophrenia, can still have a great impact on a person’s experience in life.

What is Depersonalisation?

Depersonalisation (sometimes referred to as “derealisation”) is classed as a “dissociative disorder”, meaning those who live with the condition will experience an altered or distorted sense of reality.

Individuals may experience episodes of depersonalisation for as short as a few minutes, however, it can also extend over many years as a chronic illness.

An individual with this type of disorder may encounter feelings of dissociation such as:

  • Uncertainty of self-identity,
  • Doubting the reality of the world around them
  • Disconnection from their own body and mind
  • Behaving abnormally
  • Confusion over sexuality

Depersonalisation can manifest as a standalone disorder itself or, alternatively, it can appear as a symptom of other conditions. For instance, episodes can often occur in many non-dissociate disorders such as anxiety disorders, depression and schizophrenia.


Commonly, people who have experienced a severely traumatic event are at higher risk of developing the condition.

It has been found that (particularly during childhood) high levels of stress, abuse and other traumatic events can instigate depersonalisation, although it must be noted that non-domestic events such as war and kidnapping can also me major factors in its development.


Initially, dissociative disorders can be beneficial to the individual, as the body utilises dissociation as an adaptive technique to counteract the high levels of stress and trauma experienced from the specific event.

However, as the person moves on and the trauma is no longer a prevalent part of their life, the residual dissociation now causes feelings which can be detrimental and unsettling.

Dissociation can make it difficult for people to focus on day to day activities as well as to fully engage with other in social situations. Consequently, the dissociative disorders can often lead to the development of other symptoms such as depression and anxiety.

Unlike many conditions, depersonalisation is predominantly a result of environmental rather than genetic factors.  This means the condition is not hereditary and cannot be caused by substance abuse or specific injuries.

Encompass Dorset’s caring staff help improve the lives of people living with mental health conditions and learning difficulties every day.

To find out how we can help you or a loved one, click here.

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