Depersonalization is a mental state in which a person feels detached or disconnected from his or her personal identity or self. This may include the sense that one is "outside" oneself, or is observing one's own actions, thoughts or body.


A person experiencing depersonalization may feel so detached that he or she feels more like a robot than a human being. However, the person always is aware that this is just a feeling; there is no delusion that one is a lifeless robot or that one has no personal identity. The sense of detachment that characterizes the state may result in mood shifts, difficulty thinking, and loss of some sensations— a state that can be described as numbness or sensory anesthesia. Twice as many women as men are treated for depersonalization, which can last from a few seconds to years. Episodes may increase after traumatic events such as exposure to combat, accidents or other forms of violence or stress . Treatment is difficult and the state is often chronic, although it may occur during discrete periods or increase and decrease in intensity over time. Individuals with depersonalization often feel that events and the environment are unreal or strange, a state called derealization.

See also Acute stress disorder ; Dissociation and dissociative disorders ; Post-traumatic stress disorder ; Schizophrenia

Dean A. Haycock, Ph.D.

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