What is Depersonalization disorder? Please include etiology and differential diagnosis.

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crmhaske eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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Depersonalization occurs when an individual begins to view their self and their actions in third person. They feel as though they are an observer to their life with no control . It has been said by many who have experienced it that they feel as though they are living within a dream. When this state occurs chronically it is called depersonalization disorder, a dissociative disorder.


There are a variety of triggers that have been cited for the disorder, but a precise cause is unknown. The onset is frequently triggered by stress, major depression or panic. It can also be induced by taking psychotropic drugs such as LSD or mushrooms. Those who have experienced significant emotional trauma in childhood are more susceptible to developing depersonalization disorder.


There are four main diagnosticic criteria in the DSM-IV:

  • Persistent feelings of being in a dream like state where one is observing, and not participating, in one's life
  • Ability to distinguish what is real from what isn't is in tact
  • There is significant impairment in one's ability to function in daily life
  • Symptoms are not associated with another mental disorder or hallucinogen ingestion.

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