Depersonalisation Disorder

by Joe Perkins

Depersonalisation Disorder – DPD for short – is believed to affect 1% of the population at some point in their lives. So how is it that GPs, and even psychiatrists, usually haven’t heard of it and the average diagnosis time is 7-12 years?

Depersonalisation can be a transient symptom of anxiety & depression, among other mental health conditions. Dealing with those root causes should bring the depersonalisation under control.

As a sensation, it’s a very normal response by our brain to protect us from stress and trauma. If you’ve ever had a car crash or received a phone call telling you that somebody has died, you might have described it as “it felt as though it wasn’t really happening.” Then after the event, that dreamlike state disappeared.

But what if it doesn’t?

This is how I’ve felt for over a decade now. Notoriously difficult to describe to ‘non-sufferers’, we rely on metaphors to help them understand. The most reliable being, “I feel drunk all the time”. Everything feels as though it isn’t actually happening or real in any way. It’s like you exist on autopilot, floating through life and not being able to experience or relate to anything whatsoever.

But despite this, sufferers usually seem ‘normal’ to the outside world. There’s a complete disconnect between how they might appear and how they’re perceiving things internally.

For me, the worst part has been the emotional numbing that often comes with DPD. Looking at anything and feeling nothing is hugely demoralising. But worse still, explaining to your partner that you’re unable to feel love for them and don’t feel like they’re a real person is certainly a difficult conversation to have. It also puts a huge strain on relationships.

After a decade of (literally) hundreds of medical appointments, I eventually received a diagnosis of Depersonalisation Disorder. But only after discovering the condition myself through a newspaper article and ‘pitching’ it to the professionals.

There’s one clinic in the UK actively treating DPD – within the Maudsley Hospital in London.  However with every case in the UK funnelled into one hospital where the treatment is given by one clinician, one day a week and on a ‘one out, one in’ basis, the waiting list is horrendously long.

Plus, with every case being very different and usually much more engrained in who we are (prolonged stress & deep traumas usually being the main cause) it can be hugely difficult to treat.

Adapting to living with the disorder has been tough but sadly necessary. Understanding that we’re all on different paths through life has been important. When comparing yourself to friends or life ‘ideals’ it’s easy to become disillusioned. But staying busy and being productive as possible has proven to be the best approach for me.

I’m a musician by trade – and keeping focused on working towards my ultimate life goals in any small way I can give me hope for the future. Writing music is hard when experiencing no emotions. But with perseverance, I can still produce work that gives me a sense of achievement and which really helps to motivate me.

I do as much as possible to raise awareness of DPD. In addition to running a YouTube channel (DPD Diaries) dedicated to answering peoples questions surrounding the condition, I’ve recently released a short film depicting what life is like from the point of view of a sufferer. It aims to help people better relate to what their friend or loved one might be going through.

See the film here: https://youtu.be/Lx3iPmDVEms

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