I had never heard of depersonalization disorder until watching the very disturbing film Tarnation a few years ago. This is an incredibly difficult condition to live with, as evidenced by the following quotes from DreamChild. She has had a lifetime of dealing with depersonalization, derealization, anxiety and depression, yet is able to describe her ordeal with amazing courage and clarity.
I feel at all times that I am dreaming, or more specifically that I am half-awake, incapable of pulling myself into reality. When interacting with others, I feel as though they are on the other side of an invisible barrier or pane of glass. I feel I can’t connect with them, not 100%, though I hear, see, and understand what they are doing and saying. And I of course appear “perfectly fine” and “normal” to those interacting with me.
My arms often feel they are not attached to my body, as though they are not mine. It is as though I have phantom limbs that I can see. This is most disconcerting as one’s arms and hands are so crucial to so many daily activities. This sensation waxes and wanes and is exacerbated by various kinds of stress.
I frequently feel certain areas of my body are “numb” or have “gone to sleep.” Everyone is familiar with sitting on one’s foot, cutting off the circulation and having it “fall asleep.” I have somewhat similar sensations that occur mostly on my right side, on my cheek and on my arm — but again I don’t believe these parts of my body have actually gone numb.
The numbness feels as though it only reaches down about a few millimeters into my skin. I will sometimes rub these areas to “wake them up” knowing very well this is again some irritating somatic symptom I have no control over though I know I shouldn’t feel that way.
When my DP is at it’s worst, I don’t want to move as it feels so odd, my body is not mine, I actually can’t feel my body, it feels nonexistent — it is though I am “merely a pair of eyes” and nothing more.
I talk in a whisper as I feel my voice is not mine. The world presses against my face and my face has a burning sensation. I feel as though I am only a thought — the only thought in existence. The world exists only in my own mind. I keep asking, “Who am I? Why am I here?” Though my “reality testing” is always intact; if someone asked me my name, where I was, what year it was, etc., I would be able to answer those questions. I haven’t “lost my mind,” I have “lost my sense of Self.”
I have obsessive thoughts about my existence; who am I? why am I here? what is this “lump of flesh” that is “Me”? Another DP sufferer once described this very well as a “stinging existential angst.” But this is not a philosophical, intellectual exercise (such as a Sartre-like discussion re: the nature of “being”). This is endless questioning about the nature of my very existence, and the thoughts seem to come in tandem with my perceptual distortions.
I feel as though my Self has “pulled back into my body,” that my Self does not “fill me out to my skin.” I literally feel that when touching something, I can feel it, yet feel it from a distance as I am removed from myself, or stuck too far inside myself.
Note, at no time do I actually believe these feelings are real. I know I shouldn’t feel the way I do; I want these horrible sensations to go away. In psychiatric terminology my “reality testing is intact,” I have “insight” into what’s happening to me and I know it shouldn’t be happening. I am not delusional or psychotic in any way.