What Is Depersonalization in Dissociative Identity Disorder?
What's it like to live with depersonalization in dissociative identity disorder ? Articulating the answer is challenging for me. Partly because I don't know what it's like to live without DID; partly because describing it requires a base-line level of awareness that dissociation by nature impedes. And partly because the question is so large, sort of like asking what it's like to be female. Breaking dissociation down into the five primary ways it manifests makes illuminating the experience of living with dissociative identity disorder easier. Depersonalization - the feeling that you're separate from your body - is the first.
From the Dissociation FAQs at the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation online:
Depersonalization is the sense of being detached from, or "not in" one's body. This is what is often referred to as an "out-of-body" experience. However, some people report rather profound alienation from their bodies, a sense that they do not recognize themselves in the mirror, recognize their face, or simply feel not "connected" to their bodies in ways which are challenging to articulate.
I used to take meditation classes. One of the exercises was to imagine yourself outside your body. The idea was to learn to recognize when we lose touch with ourselves and the present moment so we can re-engage. To achieve that, the instructor encouraged us to shift conscious awareness to other parts of the room and look back on our bodies sitting in the chairs. It sounds like depersonalization.
But as someone with dissociative identity disorder, I've been experiencing depersonalization for as long as I can remember. Those exercises in meditation class never produced it or any other form of dissociation. I felt detached, yes. Even so, I can drift up to the ceiling and look down on my body all I want. As long as I recognize that body as mine, it doesn't feel like depersonalization.
What Does Depersonalization Feel Like?
- I frequently become suddenly aware that I'm speaking but have no idea what I'm talking about or why I'm talking about it.
- Parts of my body often don't look like mine. I'm capable of realizing that my hand, for instance, is attached to me and therefore mine. But during these moments, my hand looks like it belongs to someone else.
- Sometimes I don't recognize my reflection. In television and movie depictions this always looks very dramatic. The person looking into the mirror is obviously not the person in the reflection. In real life the experience is not the same. I see the same body, the same face I see every day. Still, it doesn't look like me at all.
What distinguishes the detachment I felt in meditation class from true depersonalization is the sense that my body is foreign, belonging to someone else. When dissociation manifests as depersonalization, the effect is that you feel not just detached from your body, but like it's not your body at all.
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Photo of woman in mirror by michaelmelrose
Photo of woman with hands in front of face by Klearchos Kapoutsis
Gray, H. (2010, September 20). What Is Depersonalization in Dissociative Identity Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, March 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/dissociativeliving/2010/09/what-is-dissociation-part-1-depersonalization
Author: Holly Gray
My face is not mine. I wouldn’t know how to apply makeup to it. I cover my body in clothes that may or may not suit me, I don’t know. I adamantly believe the things I say even though I know I adamantly believed different things yesterday. I have difficulty connecting with my children, and my grandchildren, as products of myself. I feel fluid, like I just cannot grasp myself.
I do not know but all the comments I relate to as well. When I say my name out loud it feels weird and kinda awkward to say. When I see my name it’s also odd because who even has a name Francesca and looks like me? I look at pictures of myself and look at myself in the mirror and my mind is empty. I don’t connect to the face. I know it’s mine but so what. I feel nothing for the face. She’s conventionally pretty but again so what. When I do things and remember this feeling it’s like I become a robot. I learned the word Sonder a few weeks ago and have been researching main character syndrome and the realization that people actually see me is disturbing to me because I don’t even see me. It’s upsetting when I really think about it too much. But I must continue to live this life… living, loving, laughing 😐. And I’m pretty sure my bad mental state definitely plays a part in this as well. But alas it’s not that serious to me but wanted to see if other ppl experience this as well. I have accepted it by now.
I literally feel like I could throw up right now! As I was reading this it was like I wrote it. I'm so freaked out right now that I'm actually wondering if I actually did write this and I just don't remember. I also remember when I stumbled across the word "sonder"...I seen it on tik tok. When I looked it up and found out what it meant I immediately became so anxious. The past 2 days has been really hard for me. When i look in the mirror I become so angry...this isn't my body...I do not recognize the person who is staring back at me. It's odd because I know it's me but it doesn't feel like it should be. My name is also Francesca and I couldn't begin to tell you how many times I've told my husband that my name sounds so foreign to me. As if it isn't supposed to be mine. He keeps trying to tell me that it's low self-esteem...but he doesn't understand that it goes much deeper than looking in the mirror and not thinking I look "pretty", THIS ISNT MY BODY. THIS ISNT MY FACE. Am I insane? This happens often but isn't a consistent feeling. Sometimes i wake up and all is well, but im still feel like a shell of a person. I started looking all this up trying to get answers and figure what is wrong with me. And it led me here....
I have never identified my reflection as me. Mirrors or pictures, it does not matter. I don't imagine I appear better or worse or any specific qualities I have in mind. Just the fact that, that's not me, I have no connection to the reflection before me. I am completely detached from the Image. It doesn't seem disturbing due to the fact it has been this way all my life, the feeling is constant ANF therefore normalized. I wonder if this is common and maybe just a subject that has become taboo, or opens up a judgement that is uncomfortable.
This stuff happens to me too I think. I thought that this is just what happens to everyone, but only now did I know about this. I always felt so different from my body. I behave, and then I question myself why I did so? Was it me who did that? I sometimes after looking at myself realize that "This is the person people see" or "All the things I did in the past were done by me, the person in the mirror", or just simply "I am a human, and I am an individual person" and I have to remind myself by thinking after looking at the mirror "That is me". I feel like the body I have is someone else's, while when I am distracted I never feel anything about my physical body at all, and when I do start thinking I keep thinking deeper and deeper, then realize that this is who I am, and this is not someone else. I don't know if this is DID or just normal thinking.
I’ve been living with DID, and for me, sometimes i have to look into the mirror just to remember “who” i am, and then, just stare as i try to make sense of who this person is who is staring back at me!
I think that sometimes I will feel this, but normally I only feel this way when I remember that this exists. I know its kind of confusing, but basically, when I'm distracted, I forget that I might feel out of my body somedays. It can get really annoying though because as an example: I was minding my business in math class when I remembered about this and it just hit me. I stopped what I was doing, and just sat there, thinking for probably only a minute but it felt like longer. I'm still aware of my surroundings, I can hear the noise of people talking, but I still don't feel like I exist or am in my body. As you said, I'm aware that I'm speaking and that it would have to do with the subject and stuff like that, but at the same time, I feel like I have no idea what I'm saying.
Does this apply to seeing your own name written down? I admit when I look in the mirror sometimes I don't recognize myself as me but this feeling of not being me really hits home when I see my name.
I'd been wondering about this for some time now and stupidly thought "ah i'm just a bit mental i guess"... yet even today I spent 5minutes looking in the mirror to remind myself that this is the face people see when i talk.
It was fantastic to read that this an actual thing. Even though I don't really worry about it, reading your article somehow made me feel a lot more comfortable.
...so thank you Holly! Nice one
I have a much different theory.. But cool.
Same. Like adult survivors of childhood sexual trauma.
I am not in pain but I have never felt that , that face belonged to me. even when I was young. I feel like I am a different soul in a body I don't recognise. I'm not suffering, I live well.
How does one look at dealing with this, everything described rings an absolute truth to me and how i feel whenever i try to view myself... if that makes sense. The feeling of out of body is so complete... ive even punched walls... mirrors.... myself , if it is actually me. Ive always wondered what this was. Reading everything rinfs so true! Ive never seen myself , this is something that can be worked on? I dont like most therapists as i tend to out psycho analyzes hem. Ideas?
This disease feels awful to me. It makes my body hurt but I feel like I’m not in it. It’s really confusing. I wish I knew how to control it. Does anyone have any advice?
I do have some advice, but it may be difficult for you to follow. If you have the heart for it, it can take less than five minutes to implement. And, then, you just exercise it to get strong through it. What you are going through is actually incomprehensible to understanding. Therefore, it should seem obvious that it will take the incomprehensible, in an opposing way, to overcome it. You may have to manipulate your beliefs significantly, which can be a fearful thing. Just know, once having moved yourself, you can always reject your new position and return to your previous position. Everyone has to do this thing for themselves - just as I did. In fact, you can do this for yourself, by yourself. But, I would be full of joy to attend with you. Here is the 'recipe', which is all about Love: 1) accept Y'shua (Jesus) as your Lord, 2) receive the gift of the Spirit from the one true God, the Father, from whom it is sent, according to Y'shua's prayer for you (yes, for you, just as He did for me), 3) enunciate 1 or more languages you do not know as lead by this Spirit, which is one with you, 4) receive interpretation on the language(s) you have spoken by simply thanking Him for it, and 5) exercise groaning in the Spirit. It is this last event that brings the overcoming with true power. Y'shua groaned twice in His Spirit before He raised Lazarus from the dead: he who had been dead 4 days (John 11:1-45). Since I have been at this point, to which I just alluded, for 3 decades, I can say, with certainty, you will be awed by what you can affect through Love; for yourself and others. If you wish to pursue this - and you most certainly should - then I would rejoice at a call or Skype with you. The ball is now in your court, Lynn Morgan. -- Myron Chaffee
well preaching god is not an appropriate response to someone's mental health.
totally inappropriate and responses like this is partly what makes looking up stuff like DID, esp when it's been spiritual abuse, well, yeah. there it is again. Someone telling me, like my abusers did, how great their god is. Glad it works for you. Talk about it in church or with your friends. Sorry, this is almost selfish to talk about on a board when you know there are many kinds of abuse that have happened. Why would any of us do something that we know can be triggering to each other. People need to think. "Praise my god" is not advice. You can't say anything "with certainty" what will awe me or cure me. "Healthy Place", IMHO, should not have approved your post.
Don't tell us what we "most certainly should" do!!!!
i suffered from this after being with a toxic friend my only friend i put up with her abuse for years! after i broke free i saw her looking at me in my mirror - i grew out of it by praying and going out and interacting with people - i think i had a codependent relationship with MRS, who turned out to be a total b****. i was 14 at the time.
I have this thing that I suddenly feel like my arms and legs are needle thin or just like really swollen but like if I had to define it is would used the word marshmallow, this is had since kid I remember falling asleep and waking up with this feeling and I'm 21 it's 1:36 pm about to go to sleep and I had it again. _. Help
I know exactly this feeling. Usually get it when sick or very tired and stressed. Wish I could find literature on it!
Hi everyone, I've never experienced things like this before but today when I've looked in the mirror I see my face and I know it's mine but it's like I'm looking at it in a funhouse mirror like there's something's not right about it, is this depersonlisation or just a weird feeling I'm having?
Sometimes when I look at pictures that are suppose to be me, I never think they are me. Like, it feels like I'm looking a completely different person. Is that a normal symptom of depersonalization? Maybe I'm just seeing a bad angle of me, haha.
I understand about feeling your memories. For a long time my dr and I plunged into my memories. It took several mo. seeing him every week. Finally I didn't need to. It's not that I in anyway own my memories. I find now that if I think or talk about my past I feel very bad. Then anxiety stays with me for days. I believe I'm done with looking back. Sometimes I can't look forward only try to deal with the day, the hour, the minute. I do have good days.
I don't know what I'd do if not for the depersonalization aspect of DID. I have some horrid memories. Am still getting details of some memories but have no emotional or physical connection to them. I see the images of my art therapy and have the narrative. I did abreact some in therapy awhile ago. I just know it was so beyond what others would view as trauma. Living a Freddie Kruger (?) nightmare. I don't want to feel THAT terrified and THAT horrified and THAT scared. So it is a blessing in healing.
My therapist keeps telling me I am not completely healed until I feel that I own the memories. I don't know if that's true. I'm substantially healed without having that painful connection. Thanks for your explanation. It obviously got my mind reeling.
To be honest, I've never given much thought to how depersonalization specifically helps me, though I do often contemplate how DID as a whole serves me. So your comment is thought-provoking. It makes perfect sense that depersonalization would aid healing by creating some necessary distance between overwhelming pain and aspects of self that need to continue functioning. Thanks for sharing that! I feel like I have a bit of a new appreciation for depersonalization, something I've always regarded as rather annoying.
"My therapist keeps telling me I am not completely healed until I feel that I own the memories. I don’t know if that’s true."
I understand your ambivalence about that. I think if I believed I need to own it all in order to fully heal I'd never fully heal.
for more on the experience of depersonalization, check out Mathew Perry in the autobiographical movie "Numb", yes, it's on netflix
Thanks for the tip, kate!