My warped reality: A reflective essay


Helen Beebe

I struggled with coming up with a drawing to represent how DPDR affects me. In this, the teal and the red contrast to each other, representing the mental disconnection in a symbol of contrast.

Disclaimer: I am not officially or professionally diagnosed with depersonalization-derealization disorder, I only have experience with it.

Depth is the first to warp.

Every day I wake up with a feeling of emotional disconnection.

The pulse of the world around me is distant, like a far wave as the walls of reality echo with the drumbeat of time and space. “My mind doesn’t register clapping,” I wrote in a journal entry last June. “It seems distant and far away from me.”

The sounds of people surrounding me fail to reach my overcast mind. Half-conscious are my numb thoughts as I fail to perceive time in a straight line.

The walls of perception bend in my mind as my surroundings are obscured by a world I cannot reach, separated from me by a hazy fog which I have fought every day, ever since I could remember.

Even as I write this, my feelings detach from myself, and my words fall silent on my own numb mind.

I don’t know when my experience started. People on the spectrum of Depersonalization-derealization disorder (DPDR) often have a feeling of disconnection from themselves or the world around them, which is something I’ve felt for my entire life.

Dissociation is an episode of disconnection from the world around someone. Trauma responses, fatigue, sensory overloads and panic attacks are all things that can trigger dissociation. My episodes start with just these, and it’s always a sudden, dreamlike fall into dissociation. In my experience, it’s similar to a severe kind of zoning out. My focus is lost along with my feelings, both physical and mental.

I often experience dissociation a few times a month. My episodes range from light to severe disconnection, the time periods ranging from about half an hour to as long as a week. Episodes with smaller severity tend to last longer, and this is frustrating because longer episodes are harder for me to break out of. While the intensity is low, it’s hard for me to reach mentally.

I remember moments of sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car, looking out the window at the trees.

They didn’t look real.

“I was convinced that I was dreaming,” I wrote in a July entry. “Everything was two-dimensional and far away but big at the same time.”

At the beginning of my freshman year, I began to worry. I talked to my friends and parents about it, and I was a little relieved to find out that I wasn’t dealing with this problem by myself.

Feeling physically disconnected from the world in and of itself can trigger a dissociation episode. With the presence of this process comes constant dizziness, failure to perceive depth, fatigue and upset balance.

Depth perception failure comes hand-in-hand with my dizziness. I’ve had times where I couldn’t tell if the world around me was three-dimensional or two-dimensional. “The world around me feels unbalanced,” I wrote in a journal entry last May. “When I stand up, I feel like I am in the second dimension.”

The week of that journal entry was one of the longest dissociation episodes I’ve had. Depending on the severity of the dissociation, and without any outside control, I zone out for long periods of time.

Other instances of depth perception failure lie in how far away from things I am. “[The walls] appeared to be moving closer to me, in a way,” I wrote in an entry two days before the two-dimensional existential failure. “I had to reach out and touch [the wall] to confirm with myself that it was not moving.”

Another physical factor that I struggle with is the disconnection from myself.

My body.

I don’t see my face or my body as my own, with little to no mental connection to them.

I sometimes don’t feel anything during this state of dissociation, from my sense to my environment, I lose touch of everything. “Nothing is moving in the third dimension,” I wrote in an October entry. “[My music] seems to have no fixed destination. I am a part of the noise.”

Feeling physically disconnected from the world leaves me with a feeling of the need for social isolation.

“I’m scared. I feel nothing in terms of connection to anyone around me. I feel as though I’m never really here. The love for my family and friends is here, but I am not. There is no me. There is no I. There is no my. There is no first-person. No me. Not connected to my soul or body. Nothing.”

This was a journal entry I wrote in a September dissociation episode.

My experience with social disconnection is probably what makes me the most upset about my ordeal with this disorder, because connection with my loved ones is something that I value very much. When that connection is lost, I feel numb and broken in my heart.

There have been so many times where one of my friends was engaging with me while I was trying to hold on to reality. I felt so physically distant and sad in that distance.

In this process I also lose connection with my personality. “I feel like a totally different person, and I feel like the people around me are as well,” I wrote in an August entry. “I don’t recognize anyone’s personality.”

Emotional disconnection ties into this. As the world fades around me, my mind slips outside of reality as it lets go of any emotions I previously held. In many of my journal entries, I describe the experience as “emotionally numbing” and in one, I even used the term “sick” to describe how I felt.

I keep myself grounded to reality by linking my feelings, both physical and emotional, to my surroundings. Some things that I do are drink cold water, take a breather in a quiet/safe place and open my bottle of emotions and let it spill. I like to think of my emotions as a waterfall, too, and if I block them up they will overflow.

Even when I can’t mentally reach them, I’m forever grateful for my loved ones in life who have helped me throughout this experience. Disconnection from my mind is scary, but thinking about the mutual care I have with my loved ones encourages me to hold on to reality.

Love is what keeps me connected.