Pieces of one of the first DP articles I ever found.. I have read it at least a dozen times, but it still always makes me cry.
It may happen when you first wake up, or while flying on an airplane or driving in your car. Suddenly, inexplicably, something changes. Common objects and familiar situations seem strange, foreign. Like you've just arrived on the planet, but don't know from where. It may pass quickly, or it may linger. You close your eyes and turn inward, but the very thoughts running through your head seem different. The act of thinking itself, the stream of invisible words running through the hollow chamber of your mind, seems strange and unreal. It's as if you have no self, no ego, no remnant of that inner strength which quietly and automatically enabled you to deal with the world around you, and the world inside you. It may settle over time, into a feeling of "nothingness", as if you were without emotions, dead. Or the fear of it may blossom into a full-blown panic attack. But when it hits for the first time, you're convinced that you're going insane, and wait in a cold sweat to see when and if you finally do go over the edge.
What you don't know at the moment is that this troubling experience is distinctly human, experienced briefly at some time or another by as much as 70 percent of the population. In its chronic form, popular culture once saw it as part of a nervous breakdown. Some have called it "Alice in Wonderland" disease. Jean Paul Sartre called it "the filth" , William James dubbed it "the sick soul". It's been linked philosophically to existentialism, even Buddhism. Yet to its victims, it's anything but an enlightened state of mind. Welcome to the world of Depersonalization Disorder.
Depersonalization is a very unpleasant feeling, despite the fact that is often manifests itself by a seeming lack of feeling, says German psychologist Ursula Oberst. Stories by depersonalized people have a true flavor of existentialism about them. Philosophers wrote about it and theorized about it. But D-people feel it, and the feeling can be too much to bear.
The terror is inexplicable. In between attacks I experience feelings of unreality, sometimes lasting days. I deal with agoraphobia and panic, dread of dying. Sometimes just feel it is hard to move around. Like I will become disoriented and fall over (which really happens during my serious attacks). I avoid people, since they make me feel strange, especially if they are too close. Being in a store can make me feel strange too.
Accordingly, people with DP disorder become masters at maintaining a front, appearing quite normal to friends, family and co-workers. The sense of being an automaton as described in DSM-IV is consistent with going through the familiar routines of a lifetime. You do what you're expected to, and say what others expect you too, all the while feeling as if you're acting out of habit, says John, a 32-year-old filmmaker who has had the condition for six years. Your mind is always a million miles away. All natural spontaneity and joy of living is gone. You know something's wrong, and you're constantly battling with what it might be, and evaluating how you feel.
One key phrase in the disorder's DSM-IV definition is: reality testing remains intact, Janiger adds. While a degree of depersonalization may be present in other illnesses, like schizophrenia, this is not a psychotic condition. The person knows that something is terribly wrong, and grapples with trying to figure out what it is. If anything, it's the opposite of insanity. It's like being too sane. You become hypervigilant of your existence and things around you.
Indeed, chronic depersonalization often includes a sensation of overconsciousness wherein each thought seems too apparent, or too loud, like the volume of a low-playing radio suddenly turned up to its maximum according to one sufferer.
According to DSM-IV, Depersonalization Disorder, in part, constitutes the following:
... a feeling of detachment or estrangement from one's self . The individual may feel like an automaton or as if he or she is living in a dream or a movie. There may be a sensation of being an outside observer of one's metal processes, one's body, or parts of one's body.
... Various types of sensory anesthesia, lack of affective response, and a sensation of lacking control of one's actions, including speech, are often present. The individual with Depersonalization Disorder maintains intact reality testing (e.g., awareness that it is only a feeling and that he or she is not really an automaton) . Depersonalization is a common experience, and this diagnosis should be made only if the symptoms are sufficiently severe to cause marked distress or impairment in functioning).