Complex Trauma and Depersonalization/Derealization
Have you ever been daydreaming?
In the middle of a redundant office meeting? Driving home on “autopilot” or while cooking a family dinner?
I bet you have.
Nearly everyone has this kind of experience at least ones in a lifetime.
But what if you find yourself stuck in a dream world unable to escape?
Everything around you feels unreal. You see the world through a thick, dirty Plexiglas–witnessing, not belonging.
A Stranger In a Strange World
Your body doesn’t feel like yours either. It’s like watching yourself going through the life’s motions from outside. Detached from your feelings and with no control of your wandering thoughts.
Your memory plays games with you, too.
Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of a den wondering what you are doing there. Days disappear into nothingness–what have you been doing today? Or what was this book about?
You breathe, move and talk. You go to work and play with your kids. Smile to your friends and have conversations with your husband– it’s all like in a dream.
How do you even explain it to anyone?
It scares a heck out of you.
What’s going on?
Let me help you to understand.
Alien in “Wonderland”
Imagine a little girl.
She’s sitting in a bathtub playing with her toys. Her mother, restless as usual, tells her to be careful and go away for a while. Leaving her alone.
The girl reaches for the toy, her bum slides and she goes under the water…
I was about 3 years old when it happened. I remember watching myself from above–eyes wide open and holding my breath. Unable to move.
That’s how Mother found and pulled me up.
No hugs, no excuses or words of consolidation. What happened was my own fault.
It was the first lesson in not trusting myself, I remember. And one of the first dissociative episodes I’ve experienced as a child.
In time, they became longer and remissions shorter. I have been living with DPDR for the most of my childhood and adult life.
How Do We Get into a Fog of DPDR?
1. DPDR is one of the common symptoms of trauma–developmental trauma, PTSD, and C-PTSD. It usually begins in childhood or adolescence.
But it can also happen to an adult with trauma in her past.
2. Smoking weed, using marijuana, ecstasy, hallucinogens and some other substances are also known for triggering DPDR. When symptoms don’t go away, a question of chicken or egg has to be asked. For more information see here.
3. DPDR can also be a part of another psychiatric condition like severe anxiety and depression, schizophrenia, DID and others.
Why Do We Get DPDR?
According to Onno van der Hart and his colleagues, there are biological, social, and environmental factors that make people more vulnerable to dissociation.
- Some people may have a biological tendency to dissociate or perhaps have organic problems with their brain that make it more difficult for them to integrate experience in general.
- Young children have less ability to integrate traumatic experiences than adults because their brains are not yet mature enough to do so. Their sense of self and personality are not yet very cohesive, and thus they are more prone to dissociation.
- Children/young people without sufficient social and emotional support are more vulnerable to developing chronic trauma-related disorders, especially those who experience chronic childhood abuse and neglect.
- Families simply lack the skills to deal well with difficult feelings and topics; thus they cannot help their children who have been overwhelmed to learn effective emotional coping skills. Such skills are needed to overcome dissociation and resolve traumatic experiences.
What’s a Meaning of DPDR?
Dissociation is seen as a survival strategy in those who have experienced early childhood trauma.
Dissociation may be a protective strategy to cope with overwhelming emotions in traumatic/stressful situations [that cannot be prevented or escaped]. The cost of this subjective detachment appears to be a disruption of mental functions that are crucial to the development of identity, self-control, and emotion regulation.–Annegtret Krauze-Utz
Let’s say a person gets overwhelmed by extremely stressful, even threatening experiences, in the present and in the past, she can’t cope with.
Her brain can’t fully integrate these experiences so it “removes” her from the situation by turning off her feelings and allowing her to go on with her normal life.
States of subjective detachment (e.g., depersonalization, derealization, and numbing) may help to create an inner distance to the overwhelming experience by dampening unbearable emotions and reducing conscious awareness of the event. The traumatic situation may be perceived as an unreal film-like scene that is not happening to oneself but observed from a wider distance. Somatoform symptoms such as analgesia and out of body experiences (e.g., the sense of floating above one’s body) may reduce awareness of physical injury–Annegtret Krauze-Utz
For some, DPDR becomes a permanent state and a pain of its own. It keeps her stuck in the past.
Is there Treatment for DPDR?
Yes, it is.
Although it’s very individual as what happens to us varies from one person to another.
There’s no known medication that can take dissociation away. But we know that treating severe anxiety and depression can in some cases decrease the symptoms of dissociation.
Here’s what you can do to minimize symptoms of depersonalization:
Start with your body. Teach your brain that it’s safe to experience bodily sensations. It’s safe to be inside your body.
Try one of the following:
2. Dancing classes
3. Craniosacral therapy
6. Sing 5-10 min a day.
Find out what helps you best and do it.
We will talk more about treatment options in another article. Sign up for our updates and never miss an article again. If you don’t wish to receive our free opt-in, send me an email, and I will add you manually to the list. Thanks.
Living with DPDR
Chronic numbness, feelings of unreality and estrangement can be so painful that we use lots of time and energy trying to fight it.
I know from my own experience that it won’t help. Too much effort will probably make it worse.
Not being able to shake DPDR off may send your anxiety up in the skies. More anxious you get, stronger it becomes.
Depersonalization is not an enemy. It’s more like a stubborn, overprotective friend who keeps you stuck in the past.
Learn to co-exist with DPDR:
• Stay active
• Live a normal life
• Keep in touch with other people.
If it doesn’t help enough, you may have to look for underlying issues like trauma, severe anxiety/depression or possibly another psychiatric condition.
So at some point, you may have to get professional help.
Get more information here.
Note of caution: Don’t use these criteria for self-diagnosis but to educate yourself. If you have a suspicion that either you or someone you love is having the disorder, take a qualified talk with your physician.
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