Derealization or derealisation (sometimes abbreviated as DR) can be described as an anomaly of self-awareness that consists of a feeling that the external world seems fundamentally unreal, dreamlike, distant, or lacking in substance, life, and spontaneity. People experiencing derealization often claim that reality persistently feels as if it is a dream, or something watched through a screen, like a film or video game. These feelings can sometimes instill the person with a sensation of alienation and distance from those around them.
Depersonalization is not an inherently negative altered state of awareness, as it does not directly affect one's emotions or thought patterns. However, derealization can sometimes be distressing to the user, who may become disoriented by the loss of the innate sense that their external environment is genuinely real. This loss of the sense that the external world is real can in some cases make interacting with it feel inherently inauthentic and pointless.
This state of mind is commonly associated with and often coincides with the very similar psychological state known as depersonalization. While derealization is a perception of the unreality of the outside world, depersonalization is a subjective experience of unreality in one's sense of self.
In psychology, chronic derealization that persists during sobriety for prolonged periods of time, is not attributable to another disorder and is distressful to the person, is identified as "derealization disorder", classified by the DSM-IV as a dissociative disorder. While degrees of derealization are common and can happen temporarily to anyone who is subject to an anxiety or stress provoking situation, chronic derealization is more common within individuals who have experienced a severe trauma or prolonged stress and anxiety. The symptoms of both chronic derealization and depersonalization are common within the general population, with a lifetime prevalence of up to 26-74% and 31–66% at the time of a traumatic event. It has been demonstrated that derealization may be caused by a dysfunction within the brains visual processing center (occipital lobe) or the temporal lobe, which is used for processing the meaning of sensory input, language comprehension, and emotion association.
Derealization is often accompanied by other coinciding effects such as anxiety and depersonalization. It is most commonly induced under the influence of moderate dosages of dissociative compounds, such as ketamine, PCP, and DXM. However, it can also occur to a lesser extent during the withdrawal symptoms of stimulants and depressants.
Compounds within our psychoactive substance index which may cause this effect include:
- Espiard, M. L., Lecardeur, L., Abadie, P., Halbecq, I., & Dollfus, S. (2005). Hallucinogen persisting perception disorder after psilocybin consumption: a case study. European Psychiatry, 20(5), 458-460. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eurpsy.2005.04.008
- The epidemiology of depersonalisation and derealisation. A systematic review | https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15022041
- Separating depersonalisation and derealisation: the relevance of the “lesion method” (bmj.com) | http://jnnp.bmj.com/content/72/4/530