Derealization and depersonalization disorder is considered to be a subset of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Depersonalization is a feeling of being disconnected or detached from yourself. It has been described as having the sensation of being an outside observer of one’s own body and thoughts. This can bring on a feeling of being out of control and disconnected from the self.
Derealization is an experience of being detached from the world or surroundings. The world can seem dreamlike, distorted, foggy, two-dimensional, or surreal.
How we deal with trauma: fight, flight, or freeze
When we feel threatened physically and/or emotionally, our nervous system has three available options of how to respond. We can fight who or what is trying to hurt us, we can run from the source of the threat, or we can freeze.
Each option takes an enormous amount of energy from the body and nervous system. When we perceive a threat, certain structures in the brain send signals that set off a chain reaction that serves to prepare the body for fight or flight. Stress hormones are released into the bloodstream and the heart beats rapidly in order to deliver maximum oxygen to the muscles. Blood is diverted away from inner organs and the digestive system in order to give us maximum chances to fight or run and save our lives.
The fight or flight alarm system of the body is useful and necessary in the context it evolved in. For example, if we encounter a lion in the wild, it makes sense to divert all our body’s resources so we can run fast and save our lives. When we are safe, we rest and recover.
However, the fight or flight system in the context of emotional trauma, childhood abuse, and neglect can create a lot of problems for us over time. This is because the situation is ongoing, and the body and mind were never meant to remain in a state of alarm continuously.
The third option, freezing, is also a survival strategy in the face of intense distress or danger. In the case of neglect or sexual/emotional abuse than one cannot fight or run away from, freezing offers a last resort solution. Let’s consider an example of a highly charged emotionally abusive situation with a young child. Whether the abuse is physical or emotional, as a last resort, the child enters into a “freeze” state. There is no crying, yelling, or physical movement. When all resources have been tapped, freezing allows the body to conserve energy. But freezing is not a rest state. During a freeze response, high levels of stress hormones continue to circulate in the brain and body, a situation that if allowed to continue will become toxic.
Trauma and dissociation
Depersonalization and derealization are symptoms of dissociation. In the case of ongoing helplessness such as with child abuse, dissociation offers a kind of escape. Dissociation allows for a certain kind of protection in the form of mental and emotional escape from what is happening. As this continues to occur over time, episodes of depersonalization and derealization can continue to occur and serve as a sort of coping response to the stress of daily life and reoccurring memories of trauma.
Therapy and coming back to yourself
Successful therapy can be a process of coming back to yourself. One of the main goals of therapy for depersonalization and derealization is to teach your body and nervous system to feel safe. In therapy, we have a range of strategies that will help to achieve this goal. As each client is unique, therapy is tailored to meet the specific needs and situation of the client.
Embodied therapy and mindfulness
One technique of embodied therapy is to focus your attention on a part of the body and allowing your consciousness to become rooted in the moment. The sensations of the body can bring you out of your mind and into your body. This state can bring calmness into the mind and body. An ongoing practice of this technique allows you to understand that your body is a safe place to be.
Talk therapy with a trauma specialist is also important for recovery. It is through connection with others that we can also learn to feel safe. Through connection and support, we can create a space of opportunity to explore and heal issues of the past.
Trauma therapy in Boca Raton
Are you looking for therapy for dissociative disorder, trauma, or anxiety? Lionhearted Counseling provides trauma-focused therapy in Boca Raton, Florida. Contact us today by calling or filling out the contact form and clicking send.Please share this post!