Treatments for Depersonalization Disorder: How to Treat Recurrent Feelings of Being Unreal or Outside One's Body

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Many of us have experienced a sense that things around us aren’t real or that we are an outside observer to our body or thoughts at some point in our lives. These feelings referred to as depersonalization are quite common and are usually no cause for concern.

However, when an individual experiences these feelings on a persistent and recurrent basis, he or she has a depersonalization disorder. In many cases, the symptoms may disappear on their own; in others, it may become so severe that it begins interfering with relationships, work, and other activities. In such cases, treatment is necessary and may include one or more of the below options.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy aims at changing the dysfunctional thinking patterns of the individual and the feelings and behaviors that may arise from them. The cognitive techniques can help block the obsessive thoughts that an individual has about being unreal. Once the thinking changes, the feeling of not being in control of one’s actions and being detached from reality accompany a change as well. The behavioral techniques used in this form of therapy also help the person in becoming absorbed in activities that keep him or her aware of the present moment and distracted from the feelings of depersonalization.

Grounding Therapy

Grounding techniques make use of the five senses of hearing, touch, smell, taste, and sight. The aim is to make the individual more aware of the present reality and ‘grounded’ in the moment. For example, a piece of ice may be placed on the hand. This sensation is difficult to ignore and the person, therefore, becomes more aware of the present moment. By making good use of the five senses, grounding techniques are able to help the individual feel more connected to their own body and the outside world.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic techniques are one of the most effective depersonalization treatments. People with this disorder often have conflicts that they find difficult to tolerate. The feelings associated with these intolerable conflcts get dissociated from consciousness and may lead to the symptoms typical of depersonalization. Psychodynamic therapy helps the person become aware of these conflicts and the feelings associated with it and helps him or her resolve them in a more healthy way. Once the underlying conflicts and feelings are dealt with, the sense of detachment from reality that these people experience often disappears.

Creative Treatments for Depersonalization

Creative treatments such as art therapy and music therapy have been found to be helpful for people with depersonalization disorder. People with this disorder are either unaware of their thoughts and feelings or find it difficult to express them. Art and music, when used as a form of therapy by a qualified practitioner, may help the person become aware of those thoughts and feelings that may be dissociated from consciousness. It also provides him or her means to express them in a creative and yet safe way.

Clinical Hypnosis

This form of treatment involves intense relaxation, concentration, and focused attention. The aim is to achieve an altered state of consciousness so that the individual can gain access to those thoughts, feelings, and memories that may be hidden from the conscious mind and may be the cause behind the depersonalization. Although it can prove to be quite effective, some critics claim that it can create false memories in the mind of the individual and should not be used.


There are no specific medications for depersonalization disorder. However, certain drugs that are used to treat depression and anxiety may help in relieving the symptoms of anxiety, panic, and depression that may accompany the feeling of things being unreal and being outside one’s body. Medications such as fluoxetine, clomipramine, and clonazepam are some examples of these drugs that can help the patient.

The goal of most of these treatment strategies is to deal with any triggers that may have led to the onset of the disorder. A combination of the above mentioned treatment methods can be quite helpful in treating the feelings of things being unreal and feeling like an outside observer to one’s body and thoughts.

References Depersonalization disorder

Merck & Co., Inc: Depersonalization Disorder

The Cleveland Clinic: Depersonalization Disorder