Though the phrase may seem exaggerated, feeling “dead inside” is a real state, one that many people can relate to personally. The experience may be difficult to imagine for those who have not gone through it, and it can be hard for those going through it to explain their feelings to others.
When a person feels dead inside, it’s almost like someone has turned the volume knob down on all of their emotions. Happiness, sadness, anger, excitement, pleasure—all become much duller. People who are experiencing this phenomenon often feel as if life is boring, has no purpose, or stretches on with no end in sight.
The word sometimes used to describe this mental state is “depersonalization.” Sometimes, this emotional numbness (depersonalization) quickly recedes. In other cases, it might last for days, weeks, or even years. If the issue becomes chronic, it could be a sign of a serious condition called “depersonalization disorder,” also known as “derealization disorder.”
To help you through these periods, we’ll dive into what causes depersonalization disorder, as well as which coping strategies can help you when the sensation suddenly takes over you.
What is the Difference Between Feeling Down and a Depersonalization?
Though they may seem similar, there is a difference between feeling down and depersonalization. A person could describe themselves as feeling down if they are feeling quite sad or hopeless. The presence of strong emotions is key. Feeling down certainly could be a sign of issues like depression, but it probably isn’t depersonalization.
Most people feel “off” or detached from the world sometimes, though. Someone could mistake this transient depersonalization as feeling down if they had no history with the sensation. If the feeling is fleeting, there is no need for treatment.
It’s also worth noting that depersonalization is often comorbid with depression and anxiety. If you’re experiencing symptoms consistent with any of these conditions for more than two weeks, consult your doctor or a mental health professional for guidance.
What are the Symptoms of Depersonalization Disorder?
Along with emotional detachment, depersonalization disorder also features several other symptoms. Some people describe the condition as feeling like they are a robot that someone else is controlling. Others state that it feels like the world is a dream or like they are watching a movie of themselves. Another frequent description is the fear of losing their mind.
During a state of depersonalization, you might also experience anhedonia. This is a state where your motivation dips, you don’t really feel like doing much of anything, and you no longer experience pleasure.
Unlike psychotic disorders, depersonalization disorder does not entail losing touch with reality, and those who have it are fully aware that their perceptions are not real.
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What Causes Depersonalization Disorder?
Researchers are still attempting to uncover the root causes of dissociative conditions like depersonalization disorder. However, a number of potential triggers and risk factors have links to the disorder.
Many of these risk factors are lifestyle issues. A lack of sleep can dramatically harm a person’s mental health and contribute to negative thinking, emotional vulnerability, and depersonalization. Exhaustion from lack of sleep, overworking, or long-term caregiving can also worsen these symptoms.
Burnout, in general, is a major factor in depression and depersonalization. If you are bored or unsatisfied with your job or daily life, you might feel purposeless. Without a source of motivation, depersonalization, depression, and anxiety can spiral out of control.
Trauma can also increase the risk of depersonalization disorder. This may relate to abuse, the death of a loved one, or a serious accident.
As with many mental health issues, the causes can often feed each other in a vicious cycle. For example, if your workplace is causing excess stress, depression symptoms may flare up and you may experience insomnia, which can cause you to experience depersonalization. Because you’re depersonalizing, you can’t focus on tasks or relationships, which further compounds your stress.
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Diagnosing and Treating Depersonalization Disorder
When you think you may have issues with depersonalization, the first thing to do is receive an official diagnosis. This will allow you to seek help for your condition. Plus, many people find some relief in a diagnosis, as it confirms that the condition is a real, verifiable issue.
Diagnosing depersonalization disorder involves ruling out other potential causes of your symptoms. (Usual culprits include major depressive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other dissociative disorders.) To do this, your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam, study your medical history, and ask you questions about your symptoms and experiences. They might also refer you to a mental health professional who will perform a psychiatric evaluation and guide you to the best treatment options for your needs.
Once you receive a diagnosis, you can move forward with treatment and learning management strategies. Much of the focus may be on limiting stressors and symptom severity, as well as preparing you for moments when symptoms flare up.
Some of the most effective treatments are therapies. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a popular choice that aims to change negative thinking patterns and behaviors that are actively harming your mental health. Dialectical-behavior therapy focuses on stress coping tools like mindfulness and strategies for improving mood and emotion regulation.
Therapists may also choose a range of other treatments that suit your situation specifically, as no treatment is one-size-fits-all.
If your symptoms are more severe, you might also receive prescriptions for antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications.
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What are the Coping Strategies for Depersonalization?
If you find yourself experiencing depersonalization, there are a few things you can try to help yourself through it. These coping mechanisms are not cures, but they can make the episode more manageable.
Try connecting with others and explaining what you are feeling. People with depersonalization disorder often isolate themselves, but having a friend or loved one nearby can help ground you.
You might also choose to try engaging your senses to reconnect yourself to reality. Listening to your favorite song is a popular choice. Some people find it helpful to hold ice cubes, smell strong spices, or suck on a flavorful candy.
Relaxation techniques like meditation or mindfulness may allow you to tolerate the symptoms as they occur. Additionally, practicing these skills regularly may limit how often your symptoms occur.
Ultimately, if you are unsure of how to handle depersonalization, it’s best to speak with a professional. At FHE Health, our experts have a wealth of experience in managing depersonalization disorder and its various effects. Reach out to us at any time—24/7—by calling us today.
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