In its extreme, this is called Depersonalization or Derealization Disorder. Symptoms include detachment from reality, feeling emotionless or empty (not feeling like you love those closest to you), not being able to relate to people, in a constant mental fog as well as constantly physically and mentally exhausted1.
This disorder is well documented and recognized by the DSM-5. I’ve certainly suffered some of the symptoms, perhaps not enough for a diagnosis. I felt I was “in there”… just waiting to return to…life.
It is interesting how we have the ability to experience our lives by proxy. That is, proxy: something serving to replace or substitute for another thing3. Examples of our “proxies” are social media, television and our own thought patterns. Some old, some new; research rushes to understand the world’s pace of change and its impact on human experience.
In a study done before the COVID -19 pandemic, quarantine’s effects on its participants is significant. Almost 30% of subjects had symptoms of PTSD and more than 30% suffered depression4. The longer the quarantine, the more prevalent the symptoms. Connection with family and friends through technology, (IE Social Media) seemed to have a positive effect. However, more research should be done.
It is known that social media is associated with higher levels of anxiety, loneliness and fear of missing out5. In one study, nearly half of the subjects reported feeling lonely some of the time or all of the time. In those who use social media as a replacement for person to person human interaction, feelings of loneliness are likely to increase6.
Studies show that people often post their “best” on social media. This may not be authentic. It certainly is not enough for the deep connections that human beings desire8.
Dr. Brene Brown says, “We are psychologically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually hard-wired for connection, love, and belonging.”8
Depending on how it’s used, social media can be beneficial. When there is already a person to person connection, it is valuable. When it takes the place of person to person interaction, the more negative effects of SM are more likely to occur.
How many of your friends on Facebook, are friends in reality?
Could you call many of these people on the phone? Right now?
Have you actually met these folks?
What does it mean if the answer to these questions is “not many”?
I don’t know. But it might point to the reason you feel like you can’t “get in” to your life.
Like Don Draper.
Depersonalization is a feeling of detachment or estrangement from yourself. This is the third most described psychiatric symptom after depression and anxiety. Under severe stress, it is theorized that half of adults experience depersonalization9.
Psychcentral.com lists six signs you may have depersonalization disorder.
- You feel separate from your body.
I’ve never felt this way, specifically. But, I did use to pinch my arms and elbows. It was a fleeting thought, but I used to be concerned that I didn’t feel it. At times, I did it hard enough so that I could.
How about you?
2. You don’t feel connected to your reflection.
I, like many of you, hate the way I look and feel like it is a deformed cactus with googly eyes looking back at me in the mirror. It’s just not me.
3. You feel a sense of detachment from your environment.
Sometimes, it’s like there’s a switch. Tnrow the switch and I have to remind myself of where I’m at. It’s brief but real.
4. You feel like a robot.
At a very dark time in my life, I remember waking up feel like I wasn’t going to work. I didn’t care if I lost my job. But as if I wasn’t in control, I got up and went to work. When I walked to my car after work, it was like the events of that day were years ago. At the same time, it felt like the day was very short. I started to wonder who was sailing the ship, if you know what I mean.
5. You think your memories belong to someone else.
Sometimes, I’ve told stories so many times, that I honestly don’t remember if they’re true or not.
6. You know there’s something wrong10.
I’ve known there’s something wrong my whole life. That’s one large reason that I started this blog.
How did you do on the signs?
Are you freaking out a little, like me?
As I began this post, it was because this episode of Mad Men left a mark on me. I thought it was interesting that I spent a lot of my life…trying to …get “in” to my life. And as I researched, I am beginning to understand why.
Love and Connection
People with Depersonalization or Derealization Disorder report not being able to feel love. “You know you love your family, but you know it academically – rather than feeling it in the normal way.”11
Leonard in Mad Men’s series finale, shares with the therapy group. He admits he doesn’t know what love is, though he supposes they do. “No one cares that I’m gone.” Leonard shares.
These themes echo through the caverns of my memory. These feelings, these…bouts of numbness and confusion. I intellectually know that others love me, but I didn’t know what “IT”, even was.
There is no consensus on the root cause of Depersonalization or Derealization Disorder. It does seemed to be related to or caused by exposure to traumatic experiences.
And so, talk therapy is a great way to treat depersonalization. An example of the impact of this is demonstrated in the Mad Men clip above. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, focuses on changing negative thoughts and feelings and is also very helpful. Of course, mindfulness and meditation help with Depersonalization Disorder as well.
Although I am gearing this request to a population who doesn’t connect, please share your experiences with me in the comments or at RPWatts@whoarewe.blog.