What Is Depersonalization Disorder? 6 Things That Can Make You Feel Emotionally Detached From Your Body

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It might sound farfetched that people can go through an out-of-body experience, but this isn't a made up phenomenon. Depersonalization is a dissociative disorder that causes someone to feel detached from their own bodies and thoughts, almost like they are observing themselves. There are a number of triggers that can cause depersonalization, ranging from previous psychiatric disorders to brain diseases and even traumatic experiences.

"Many people have occasional, momentary flashes of what might be loosely-termed depersonalization," clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Marie Manly, tells Bustle. "Although reality testing remains intact, the individual experiencing the depersonalization may feel 'outside the self' as if observing the self in a movie or as a character in a play. As a result, the feeling of being detached or being watched from the outside can arise. Such experiences can be disconcerting, for people are accustomed to experiencing life through their own body and mind."

This out-of-body experience can be temporary, lasting for just a few minutes. But it is possible for the out-of-body sensation to last for longer periods of time, in which it would be classified as depersonalization disorder. This would require the evaluation and assistance of mental health practitioner, Dr. Manly says.

Although exact causes might be unknown, there are certain triggers that can contribute to depersonalization. Here are six things that can lead to an out-of-body experience or the feeling that you are watching yourself, according to experts.

1A Traumatic Experience

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One of the more common causes of depersonalization is a traumatic experience such as abuse, accidents, natural disasters, or violence, according to Cleveland Clinic. "This can occur when the brain is distracted by the trauma, as one struggles to integrate it into their current concept of self and life, in relations to the present and future self," licensed psychotherapist Laurel Steinberg, PhD tells Bustle. "Depersonalization can also be seen as a defense mechanism to distract someone during a traumatic event."

2Severe Stress

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Even if a situation isn't traumatic, if it's particularly stressful, it can also cause a fleeting sense of depersonalization that leaves you feeling detached from your own thoughts and feelings. "When an experience is too stressful for the individual to handle, a shift to feeling 'outside the self' can occur," Dr. Manly says. This can include anything such as major relationship, financial or work-related issues, according to Mayo Clinic.

3Drug Use

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The use of substances such as alcohol and certain drugs can lead to incidents of depersonalization, although substance-induced depersonalization is different from an actual depersonalization disorder, Dr. Manly says. "This is likely due to the changes in brain chemistry and subsequent function that occur from drug use/abuse," Dr. Steinberg says.

Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for substance use, call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357).

4Anxiety

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Extreme anxiety can also bring on a sense of depersonalization. "This can occur when someone is hyper-focused on specific worries, has a generalized sense of worry, or experiences the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a racing heart, tingly hands or seeing spots," Dr. Steinberg says. "It is possible that prolonged adrenaline production can redirect blood away from the brain and into the muscles that would move one away from trouble. The subsequent 'woozy' feeling can be interpreted to be feeling depersonalization."

5Depression

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Like anxiety, depression can cause feelings of depersonalization. "This can occur when current happenings take a backseat to the depressed view of yourself and the world," Dr. Steinberg says. This is especially the case in severe or prolonged depression, according to Mayo Clinic. If you are experiencing this, speaking to a loved one or mental health professional can help.

6Brain Disorders

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Those who have disorders such as epilepsy are more likely to experience an out-of-body experience or other feelings of dissociation and dream-like states. "An individual who suffers from seizures or other brain disorders may experience depersonalization," Dr. Manly says. "In such cases, the incidents of depersonalization arise as a result of abnormalities in the brain."

Usually an out-of-body experience is brought on by changes in the brain from stressful events. Taking care of your mental health can help you avoid depersonalization, but if you are experiencing a dissociation from yourself, speak with a mental health professional.