Help! I Feel Like Nothing is Real

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Question for Dr. Debra:

I feel like nothing is real and like I'm watching a movie. I really don't know what's wrong.

Answer:

     It sounds like you are experiencing symptoms of depersonalization and derealization.  These symptoms often occur under the umbrella diagnosis of panic disorder. If you are etremely distressed by these symptoms, if you experience persistent concern about these symptoms, and these symptoms are impairing your functioning, there is a good chance you meet criteria for panic disorder. Depersonalization and derealization symptoms can be extremely distressing and often lead to thoughts of "going crazy" such as "I am losing it" or "there is something really wrong with me". What is actually going on is that the brain has become hyper focused to the sensations of feeling disconnected and is interpreting these feelings as a threat. Once the brain decides there is a threat to prepare for, it will continually to scan the environment (both internal and external) to assess for potential danger.  When we are operating in this mode, it is difficult to feel connected with are immediate experience.  For example, if an armed robber walked into a restaurant you were dining in, you would no longer be focusing on the taste of your food or the story your friend is sharing with you. Your only concern would be survival. When experiencing panic attack symptoms ( such as depersonalization and derealization ), there is no true danger. Instead you are experiencing a false alarm.  Given that there is no gun men to command your attention, you are only left with the mental state of depersonalization and derealization, minus the immediate threat.  Your mind then decides those sensations must be the true threat.  

     The key to moving past depersonalization and derealization is to practice anchoring your attention in the present moment.   Every time your mind offers up the thought "I feel like I am not really here", just notice this thought and than gently refocus your attention back to the NOW.   Your mind is going to want to ruminate on this topic and contemplate "Why is this happening?.... What is wrong with me?" but you need not go down the rabbit hole with these thoughts (because the more time you spend trying to figure out why you feel disconnected, the more moments interacting with present moment you will miss, which will only lead to feeling more unreal). Just notice these thoughts, and then remind yourself that you are choosing to return back to the NOW.  If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness training, feel free to check out thinkmindfully