What Does Derealization Feel Like?


re-origin Team

Published on

January 12, 2024

Updated on

April 9, 2024

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Robert Stevens


What Does Derealization Feel Like?

Do you ever feel disconnected from reality, as if you are walking around in a dreamlike state, seeing objects from behind a screen or pane of glass? Do you notice this occurring and find yourself anxious about what is happening? If so, you may be experiencing acute bouts of derealization.

Derealization is a common symptom of anxiety where you feel disconnected from your surroundings and even reality.1 It may occur as a protective mechanism of the brain to minimize the intensity of other anxiety symptoms.

In this article, we’ll discuss the symptoms and causes of derealization, the difference between derealization and depersonalization, and the steps you can take to decrease the intensity and frequency of derealization. 

re-origin is a brain retraining program that helps people manage chronic disorders that impact their daily lives. By retraining the ways you relate to and experience derealization, you can begin to reduce symptoms and start feeling reconnected to your body and life once again. If you are interested in hearing more about the program, check out our program page.

Symptoms of Derealization

Derealization symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Having distorted or dulled perceptions of time, space, colors, or sounds
  • Seeing outside objects from behind a haze
  • Feeling anxious about your circumstances2
  • Feeling emotionally detached from reality
  • Feeling as though you are in a dreamlike state1

Symptoms of derealization can last minutes, hours, or even days. When you notice yourself experiencing symptoms, it is important to focus on grounding yourself in the present moment with deep breathing, engaging your five senses (touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste), moving your body, or reaching out to a loved one. These techniques can help shorten bouts of derealization.

Additional Anxiety Symptoms

Derealization is not a stand-alone symptom of anxiety. Other symptoms may include, but are not limited to:

  • Feeling restless, on edge, or irritable
  • Experiencing difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling tired often
  • Having difficulty sleeping due to racing thoughts
  • Having muscle tension or pain3

Other symptoms of anxiety can often contribute to derealization due to their uncomfortable nature. If you find yourself feeling anxious and starting to dissociate, it is important to remind yourself that your anxiety symptoms are not dangerous and you are safe even though they feel uncomfortable. When your nervous system feels safe despite discomfort, it is less likely to feel the need to “check out” by dissociating.

Examples of Derealization

Common examples of derealization include:

  • Feeling as though the world around you is not real– as though you are in a dream or movie
  • Feeling as though your surroundings are shapeless, colorless, or two-dimensional
  • Feeling disconnected from time itself– as though recent memories are from the distant past
  • Inaccurate perception of the size and distance of objects4

While these are general examples, no two people experience derealization exactly the same. If you feel disconnected from your surroundings and have trouble grasping reality, your experience is valid.

Why You May Be Experiencing Derealization

There are many reasons you may be experiencing derealization, although these are the most common:

You Have a Mental Health Condition or Medical Issue

Many health conditions aside from anxiety are linked to experiencing derealization. These conditions include, but are not limited to:

  • Epilepsy or other seizure disorders
  • Mental health disorders like schizophrenia, dementia, panic attacks, or depression
  • Episodes of amnesia
  • Drug or alcohol abuse5

It’s a Defense Mechanism For Severe Trauma

The most common contributor to derealization is childhood abuse or neglect. Derealization can be used as the brain’s defense mechanism to minimize difficult sensations, emotions, or memories.5 This can then create a negative association with present stressors, thus triggering an episode of derealization in moments that feel dangerous, even if they are completely safe.

Despite the challenge that comes with the brain’s pattern, it can be changed! Our brains are incredibly resilient, and we can rewire them!

You Struggle With Depression

Depression often occurs in people in the “freeze” state of Fight or Flight. When in that state, you may disconnect from reality in order to make yourself feel comfortable, thus contributing to a decreased motivation to participate in everyday activities. While it is not the only symptom of depression, it can be especially burdensome. 

In moments when you experience this sense of freeze or disconnection, it is especially helpful to ground yourself in what you know is real. For example, you can splash cold water on your face, take a cold shower, listen to uplifting music, or simply move small parts of your body. Reconnecting with reality can help you unfreeze and function again.

What Derealization Is Not

Derealization is not just feeling “out of it.” It is a culmination of symptoms and experiences that cause the nervous system to disconnect from itself and reality. It is also different from feeling disconnected from yourself, which is commonly referred to as depersonalization.

Derealization vs. Depersonalization

Depersonalization and derealization are both dissociative disorders that are slightly different than one another in that:

“Depersonalization refers to feeling like you're outside of yourself, watching your own thoughts or actions from a distance. Derealization refers to feeling like the world around you isn't real. People in [the state of derealization] often describe their external surroundings as unclear, lifeless, or foggy. It is possible to be in both states simultaneously.”2

In other words, depersonalization refers to a shift in the relationship between oneself and one’s body, while derealization refers to the relationship with the outside world. Many people experience both — this is referred to as “depersonalization derealization disorder (DDD).” 

Derealization vs. Psychosis

Derealization and psychosis are two separate conditions with one similar symptom: disconnection from reality. The aspect that makes them different, though, is that in an episode of psychosis, the person truly believes they are disconnected from reality. Those who experience derealization have a sense of conscious awareness that what is going on is a feeling and not their actual reality.6

If you find yourself experiencing acute episodes of psychosis, please seek help from your mental health provider.

When To Seek Treatment For Derealization

It is important to seek treatment for derealization as soon as possible. If left untreated, derealization can last months or even years, thus leading to functional disabilities. Long-term derealization may make it difficult to work, interact in social settings, drive, or even take care of yourself. If you are experiencing either acute or long-term bouts of derealization, please consider reaching out to your physician or mental health care provider.

Treatment Options For Derealization

Derealization does not have to be a lifelong struggle. You have multiple treatment options, some more accessible than others. 

Brain Retraining

Joining a brain retraining program, like the one we offer at re-origin, is something you can do daily at home while connecting with a community that understands what you are going through. Joining a brain retraining program does not require a visit to your health care provider or a prescription. 

Brain retraining follows the basic principle of neuroplasticity; our brains are designed to change. At re-origin, we use a simple technique designed to help you interrupt triggers or unhelpful thought loops that may contribute to a derealization episode. Shifting the way you relate to life stressors and understanding your inherent resilience may help minimize your brain’s natural tendency to disconnect from reality as a coping mechanism. The re-origin technique has proven extremely effective for those who struggle with both derealization and other mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Anxiety Medication

Medication can be helpful in managing derealization and other symptoms of anxiety. While medication does not cure the root cause of derealization, it may be helpful to take while engaging in therapy or a brain retraining program. If you are interested in learning more about medication for anxiety and derealization, please reach out to your mental health provider.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapy is a great option, although less practical than brain retraining due to cost. Talk therapy can still be extremely helpful in treating anxiety and derealization while discussing triggers, coping with symptoms, and gaining new perspectives on the disorder.

While in therapy, you may learn various coping techniques like deep breathing, visualization, reframing thoughts, or grounding and meditation.

Treat Your Derealization With re-origin’s Brain Retraining Program

re-origin has helped hundreds of people use the power of their own brains to minimize symptoms of chronic health conditions. Whether you have been struggling with derealization for weeks, months, or years, your brain has the capacity to change! And we are here to help you heal! If you are interested in hearing more, please join us for a free info call.


  1. Derealization - a scary anxiety symptom. (2023, January 17). https://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/symptoms/derealization
  2. Website, N. (2023, August 18). Dissociative disorders. nhs.uk. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/conditions/dissociative-disorders/#:~:text=Depersonalisation%20is%20where%20you%20have,lifeless%22%20or%20%22foggy%22
  3. Website, N. (2022, February 3). Signs of an anxiety disorder. nhs.uk. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/feelings-symptoms-behaviours/feelings-and-symptoms/anxiety-disorder-signs/
  4. Depersonalization-derealization disorder - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic. (2023, August 26). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depersonalization-derealization-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352911#:~:text=Symptoms%20of%20derealization%20include%3A,or%20are%20blurry%20or%20colorless.
  5. Slivinski, N. (2019, December 20). Derealization explained. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-derealization-overview
  6. De La Merced, A. (2023, August 21). Depersonalization vs Psychosis. Remedy Psychiatry, Inc. https://remedypsychiatry.com/depersonalization-vs-psychosis/#:~:text=However%2C%20the%20main%20difference%20between,not%20actually%20happening%20to%20them.


re-origin Team