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Depersonalization / Derealization Disorder: DO’s and DON’Ts

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Here’s a clear guide letting you know what you should do, and more importantly, shouldn’t do when going through DP/DR.

There’s no doubt that depersonalization/derealization disorder (DP/DR) is one of the scariest, most daunting, and frustrating mental health issues a person can experience. DP/DR is a strange mental health issue. People with this disorder feel like they are detached and watching a movie of themselves. The world can seem unreal to them, and life can feel like a dream.

Those who go through this disorder wish there were some sort of guide or manual that could help them through it. But unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation out there.

That’s why after my recovery, I started my blog to document all the ways you can recover from DP/DR. In this article, I want to cover some DO’s and DON’Ts when it comes to depersonalization and derealization. So, let’s get started. For each topic, I’ll start with the DON’T  and then let you know what you should DO instead. Here we go!

DON’T fight your DP/DR. This is a classic mistake that DP/DR sufferers make. By this, I mean that people try to resist feeling the unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and sensations associated with DP/DR.

They will try to block it somehow, only to find that they fail every time. Sometimes they can distract themselves for a short while, but they’re always afraid that there will come a time when they cannot distract themselves anymore. None of these tricks work. That’s because the more we fight, resist, block, or distract ourselves from feeling these weird symptoms, the more we stress ourselves out. Not only that, but stressful events like the COVID-19 pandemic can trigger depersonalization for some people. There’s a clear connection between stress and DP/DR. By increasing your stress, you are increasing the intensity and the length of the DP/DR. We want to lower our stress during this time, not increase it.

DO accept these symptoms, no matter how weird they are. I’m a big proponent of the acceptance approach. By this I mean, trying to let go and accept and allow these symptoms. Just feel them out without trying to distract, block, fight, or resist them. Some of you may have these symptoms present 24/7. Acceptance here means just letting them be there for as long as they want.

DP/DR isn’t here to ruin your life. It’s just a protective mechanism. Once you understand that, you’ll be able to let go, accept, and allow these symptoms without trying to fight them constantly. Doing so greatly helps with your recovery. Acceptance is the only method that can help you calm down during strong DP/DR symptoms.

I know. It sounds crazy, and it isn’t easy. The acceptance approach demands that you develop your inner strength and courage to face these feelings without trying to run away and hide. But let me tell you, it gets a tiny bit easier every time you practice it. You must understand that these tiny positive changes add up over time. Acceptance is one of the four core principles of DP/DR recovery.

So, the next time you feel DP/DR and its associated symptoms, try to face them with an attitude of acceptance instead of fighting them.

DON’T think DP/DR is dangerous. DP/DR robs you of your sense of safety. You believe that you are in grave danger. But the truth is that DP/DR is simply a natural reaction to stress or trauma. It’s not an evil monster out to ruin you. DP/DR is not directly harmful. It’s only harmful if you let it control you. Even then, all it can do is confine you to your room and make you lose out on life. DP/DR can never kill you or make you go insane. You must understand this on a deep level.

DO cultivate a sense of safety. In order to get your life back, you must try to cultivate a sense of safety that is missing. There are some simple strategies, like using a safety note, to feel safe during depersonalization. You’ll find that as you build your sense of safety, it becomes easier to accept and allow the DP/DR feelings since you now realize deep down that you are indeed safe. Because of this sense of safety, you can remain calm even when your instincts falsely tell you that these DP/DR symptoms are dangerous.

DON’T keep searching or googling your symptoms. We’ve all been guilty of this. DP/DR is a special condition that makes us read up for hours and hours on information about this topic. But the problem is that there’s so much conflicting information out there. This can confuse you. You may already be stressed out from DP/DR, and you’re adding more stress by reading conflicting, often inaccurate, information.

Not only that, but by going to DP/DR groups online, you may also expose yourself to other people’s suffering. If you can give and receive help in these places, then that’s fine. But often, you can easily get triggered by reading about someone else’s experience. Don’t put yourself through this. Just STOP the constant searching.

DO follow legitimate advice. The reason I started my DP/DR blog in the first place was to create the best site for DP/DR sufferers to get accurate information. Stick to reading just one or two blogs about DP/DR. Read from authoritative blogs such as this one, psychology today, etc. Ensure that what you’re reading is having a positive impact on your recovery.

DON’T compare your DP/DR experience with that of others. Something that a majority of DP/DR sufferers do is to constantly compare themselves with other sufferers. Don’t do this!

For example, you may read on DP/DR forums or elsewhere that someone has been struggling with DP/DR for 20 years! This can easily send you into a panic. What you don’t realize is that others’ conditions, life choices, the support they receive, and their past are very different from yours. Don’t compare your experience with others, especially when it comes to how long DP/DR can last. Everyone is different in how they experience DP/DR.

DON’T become impatient, DO develop some patience. Alright, I’m combining this DO and DON’T. Yes, the point here is clear: recovery from DP/DR requires patience. No one really knows how long your DP/DR can last, but the more we worry about this, the longer we may have to endure. That’s how paradoxical DP/DR can be sometimes.

Because when we constantly worry about how far we still have to the finish line, we are putting ourselves in a state of stress. But when we truly say, “I am going to be patient; this DP/DR can last however long it wants,” that helps us relax a bit. That’s when healing occurs. We’ve got to give up our expectation of a quick, overnight recovery.

As you start to recover, you may sometimes find that most of your symptoms start to fade away one by one. But a symptom or two will linger for a while. I often see people complain that they haven’t 100% recovered. If you’re one of them, then I’d advise you to be patient. DP/DR is an innate protective mechanism. We don’t control when it comes and goes. So why fuss over something we can’t control? What we can control is our reaction to DP/DR symptoms. We can accept them instead of fighting them. We can control whether we are patient or let ourselves be restless, impatient, and constantly stressing about how long DP/DR will last. The choice is ours to make.

DON’T put your life on hold. Ok, I realize it’s hard for you right now. You may have stopped seeing friends because you can’t connect with them as you did before. You even stop connecting with family members because every time you interact with them, it feels really weird. You may stop going to work because you can’t focus, and it can be panic-inducing to be in a professional setting.

Day by day, you withdraw more. You become alone. You stop doing the things you did before. Sometimes, I’ve seen people simply retreat to the safety of their rooms and stay confined there. You put your life on hold because of DP/DR, and weeks, months, and even years go by. You see no improvement. Is there a better way?

DO normal things. This might sound like an oversimplification, but to feel normal again, you must do normal things. That’s the hard truth. I know it feels scary to talk to people, but that may be because you are trying to hide your DP/DR when you talk to them. Open up to your close friends and family about DP/DR, don’t try to hide it. Learn how to manage your work along with your DP/DR.

You withdraw from life because everything is weird or fear-inducing to you. But if you keep doing everyday activities, despite the fear and the weirdness that you experience, you’ll see a breakthrough.

You don’t have to go crazy here. Start small. Can you meet up with one close friend and have a heart-to-heart conversation with them? If you feel depersonalized during your talk, then try opening up to them about your condition. If you haven’t gone to work in a long time, can you at least try to pick up part-time work? The new setting might be scary for the first few days, but you’ll get used to it, and then the fear will die down. You’ll start to feel confident again. This positive feedback loop will spread into other areas of your life. You’ll slowly be able to add back the activities you used to do. That’s how you get closer to recovery.

On the other hand, if you’re going to wait for a full recovery so you can connect with life again, then you’ll be waiting a long time. Connect with life now, in whatever small ways possible, and slowly over time, you’ll be able to have your life back.

DON’T care about day-to-day DP/DR changes, DO focus on the long term. Don’t make the mistake of carefully monitoring your DP/DR every day. Don’t think to yourself, “Oh, I felt better yesterday, but today I feel awful!” DP/DR intensity can sometimes change daily. Don’t worry about it. Zoom out and focus on the long term. How today is going is not an indication of how tomorrow will be. Today, you may be feeling intense DP/DR, but tomorrow, you may wake up to find that there’s only a mild case of DP/DR. Just give up this day-to-day, or even week-to-week, tracking. Let go of such habits. Be patient, and look far ahead. Tell yourself: “In about a year or so, I know that overall, I will feel better if I practice the right guidelines. Meanwhile, I’m not going to care about day-to-day DP/DR intensity.”

There you go. I hope these DO’s and DON’Ts were helpful to you. I know you are feeling tested right now, but it does get better. Follow these guidelines and keep taking those baby steps towards recovery.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Hi, I’m Swamy. I was once a depersonalization and derealization sufferer. After my recovery, I trained to become a certified counselor to help people recover from DP/DR, anxiety, and panic disorder. I share all the resources you need to overcome depersonalization, derealization, anxiety, and panic. If you feel like you could use some help and guidance along the way, do check out DP No More.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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2 thoughts on “Depersonalization / Derealization Disorder: DO’s and DON’Ts

  1. Anuj says:

    Hey! This was the most helpful one, I made a quick read and later I will to a detailed read. I will definitely try my best following these. Thanks for this!

  2. Eric says:

    I’m already doing all these things. I have seen more than twenty therapists about that. I have read books, i have talked with people, i have put it on the side for years. I have done all of that and I still have it for more than 22 years now.
    I don’t Google my symptoms, i know they are typical and boring now, i don’t care, and I don’t compare them with other people, now i know it’s dpdr and I am not “crazy”. I don’t even have that much anxiety. It’s too easy to disregard the testimonies you don’t like just by saying they probably did it wrong. I am also fed up with people who want to make me feel guilty of sharing my experience because it will frighten other people. My life and my feelings and my need to share them have the same value as anybody else.
    It’s funny how in the beginning people tell you it won’t last, and they tell you what to do, and when it finally does last they blame you and ask you to shut up and stay in the dark so as to preserve other people’s hope. When is the intermediate stage where people let you speak and question their certainties? Talking about acceptance. What about the acceptance of other people’s situation? If the solution is to stop trying to control our experience and suppress things, how about accepting the reality that for some people it can indeed last for decades even though they did the “right thing” and you don’t have the answers to their problems?

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