This is one area of PTSD I felt needed to be touched on, Cause I have battled it myself. It’s the one things I didn’t know that was stemming from PTSD, maybe you even battle it and I have just given it a name. This has been called the “Unreal” sub type of PTSD, it is called Depersonalization..
Depersonalization refers to the experience of feeling detached from one’s own life as thought what you are living and experiencing is a dream or movie that you are watching from the outside. It is often a reaction to trauma and can be one of the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In other words, people can experience depersonalization after being in an earth quake, a combat situation as in Iraq, a major hurricane, a severe auto accident or any related types of disasters. It is common for those who lived through child abuse and domestic violence experiences while they were growing up to experience depersonalization even though the original traumas occurred a long time ago.
I remember the 1st time I encountered depersonalization during my battle with PTSD. I was about 4 years old going through a traumatic event. I felt myself detach, I felt as if I was floating above my body watching the trauma happening to me like I was watching a movie. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I was thankful for it at the time because it helped me through that traumatic event as well as others I have gone through in my life. The problem was I was STUCK in it.
Symptoms of depersonalization include:
- Feelings that you’re an outside observer of your thoughts, feelings, your body or parts of your body, perhaps as if you were floating in air above yourself
- Feeling like a robot or that you’re not in control of your speech or movements
- The sense that your body, legs or arms appear distorted, enlarged or shrunken, or that your head is wrapped in cotton
- Emotional or physical numbness of your senses or responses to the world around you
- A sense that your memories lack emotion, and that they may or may not be your own memories
Most of my life I have been numb being stuck in depersonalization, I couldn’t explain how I felt to others because I was certain I was the ONLY one going through this..Even after I got diagnosed with PTSD I still had no idea. I once told a former therapist about my experiences with feeling like I was not within my body, she looked at me clueless. It took many years and the RIGHT Psychiatrist to find the answer. There were times when I would be having a meal with family and friends when sheer panic would overcome me. I saw the food coming to my mouth but I couldn’t register that is was my own. I have tried to hide this for sooo sooo many years, I swear I should win an award for acting “Most Normal” in life while being tortured inside my brain with PTSD. There are times in my life that I have turned to depersonalization to help me through, like losing my Grandma. My Family and I went to see her last year to say goodbye to her because we knew she was going to pass away. I had to detach to get through it, as I was saying goodbye to the human I loved beyond words I remained emotionless like a robot. I couldn’t let myself feel the pain of knowing it would be the last time I would see her. I told her I loved her which I did feel, just couldn’t express it emotionally, I was shut off.
Years upon years of dealing with being detached started to wear on me, After several years into therapy and on/off many medications I just wanted to FEEL, But my brain wouldn’t let me. I started to get more frequent panic attacks, I began to withdraw even more than I already was with my Family and Friends. After I had been told I had depersonalization from my Psychiatrist I went to several therapists desperate to find the CURE for it. There were no right words someone was going to say to make this stop, no magic pill, but I did what I could which was using grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can be very useful when we feel really distressed, particularly when the distress makes us feel very unreal or detached, or it feels like we are in a different situation to where we really are. My comfort came from cozy blankets, scented candles, different flavors of coffee pretty much anything that I could see, touch, taste, hear and smell it helped me (basically using the 5 senses). You can google “grounding techniques” to find some that may work for you. I also had DBT911 a free app on my phone that helped me through tough times. The best form of treatment for my depersonalization was DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) which deals with mindfulness, distress tolerance, for example, and EMDR helped get to the root cause.
The first time I felt ATTACHED was in February 2016. I had gone in for sinus surgery, I was really nervous but I knew I could “detach” or so I thought. I went into the hospital trying to convince myself that the person getting surgery was not me, and it wasn’t really happening. I changed into my gown, laid in the hospital bed when a nurse came in. She pulled her tray along side of me and told me she “Needed blood work”, I told her OK..Until I felt the pinch of the needle. I could FEEL, I started to have a panic attack because my security blanket (my ability to detach) was taken away as I prayed for but I needed it at that moment. The Doctor came in and gave me something for anxiety not knowing it was the first time in my life I could truly feel. I stayed strong before and after the surgery I had come too far to give up.
Since the surgery I have had minimal issues with detaching, it happens once in a while as it should because what is happening is your body is going into a fight or flight mode which is a normal response to a threatening situation. I like to take things one day at a time these days. No matter what you are going through there is a treatment for you, never give up! You are not alone in this battle.