Depersonalization disorder is a psychiatric disorder affecting emotions and behavior. It is characterized by an alteration in how an affected individual perceives or experiences his or her unique sense of self. The usual sense of one’s own reality is temporarily lost or changed. A feeling of detachment from, or being an outside observer of, one’s mental processes or body occurs such as the sensation of being in a dream.
Depersonalization disorder is characterized by persistent or recurring episodes of the loss of the sense of self (depersonalization). The symptoms of depersonalization disorder are sufficient enough to cause marked distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of life. The usual sense of one’s self or reality is temporarily changed or lost. A feeling of detachment from, or being an outside observer of, one’s mental processes or body occurs. The affected individual may feel as if he/she is in a dream. Affected individuals may experience various types of lack of sensory stimulation (sensory anesthesia) and a sensation of not being in complete control of one’s actions, including speech. This condition may not occur during the course of another mental disorder or be the effects of a substance or general medical condition.
Depersonalization disorder usually starts during adolescence or early adulthood. The disorder is usually chronic with periods of remission. More severe manifestations may be aggravated by mild anxiety or depression. The disorder usually disappears gradually.
The exact cause of depersonalization disorder is not known. A traumatic event such as military combat, a car accident, or being a victim of a violent crime may trigger an episode of depersonalization disorder. Substance use may cause depersonalization episodes, but not the disorder.
Depersonalization disorder is believed to affect women twice as much as men. The disorder most commonly affects individuals between the ages of 15 and 30. It is rarely seen in those over the age of 40.
The diagnosis of depersonalization disorder can be suspected after a complete physical examination and laboratory tests have ruled out any substance or geneal medical condition. A complete psychiatric evaluation should also be conducted.
Treatment of depersonalization disorder involves psychotherapy. The antidepressant drug desipramine may be beneficial. The drugs dextroamphetamines and amobarbital (Amytal) combined with chlorpromazine (Thorazine) may be beneficial if anxiety is experienced. Other treatment is symptomatic and supportive.
Information on current clinical trials is posted on the Internet at www.clinicaltrials.gov. All studies receiving U.S. government funding, and some supported by private industry, are posted on this government website.
For information about clinical trials being conducted at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD, contact the NIH Patient Recruitment Office:
Tollfree: (800) 411-1222
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For information about clinical trials sponsored by private sources, contact:
A study to determine the effects of fluoxetine on patients with depersonalization disorder was recently (2005) completed. This study was sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Further information is available on the www.clinicaltrials.gov web site.
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eMedicine – Dissociative Disorders : Article by Idan Sharon, MD
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