A Reality Check?

Welcome to part 3 of the connection-theory series.This one is about something a bit more philosophical, which is about one way our perception of reality can go wrong.

Psychologically, we all normally experience the reality of ourselves, the world, and other people as being one interconnected whole. However, everyone will have some occasions of dissociation, which is when this perception is disrupted and the three parts of “reality” do not form a whole.  When this happens, people will experience derealisation and/or depersonalisation

In derealisation, people will see the world as the unreal part. Everything will seem separated, as if watching their life happen through a TV screen or through a pane of glass. It also means the environment is seen to lack depth, meaning, and emotional attachments.

Depersonalisation is when people see themselves as the unreal part. They will feel like they are watching themselves taking part in daily life, and hear themselves taking part in conversations etc, but they are not in the “drivers seat” of their body. In this experience, the world seems surreal and dreamlike, and also is seen to lack significance and depth.

What derealisation can feel like

Despite me writing about derealisation and depersonalisation separately here, they are not always seen to be separate symptoms. If they do both come from disruptions of the same self-world-other mechanism then it might be that there is only one “lack of reality” and the person could be confused as to whether they are unreal or the world is.

It is also important to say that when people experience any of the dissociative symptoms, it is only their subjective perception of reality that changes, not their knowledge. This means they are not removed from reality, and they still know what is real and what isn’t- their world just feels “strange” to them.

Mild experiences of dissociation are normal;  for example, someone driving or walking home will be thinking about something apart from the journey and then realise they have no conscious awareness of travelling for the time they were lost in thought. Another really frequent one is daydreaming, when we are “on another planet” or focusing on one stimulus and realising that many more have happened around it.

The amount that each person dissociates is on a continuum- some do it occasionally, while for others it can be a defence mechanism. For some people, it can be chronic and life-impacting, and at this point would be considered a dissociative disorder. There are also other things that make dissociative experiences more likely, such sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption, or a shock. Another aspect is stress and anxiety, where severe short-term stress is more likely to cause derealisation, and prolonged stress is more likely to cause depersonalisation.

A Dissociative Disorder is longer-lasting, and can also be more serious, than dissociation. There are also some personality effects of the disorder- one may be comfort with only using intellectual activity, not being able to get into the practical world. Another is over-sensitivity, and related to it is the ability to be very intuitive about other people while being oblivious to the self, due to being a stranger to the self but an observer of other.

In terms of psychological disorders and happenings, this is probably one of the most interesting ones I’ve come across so far, and one of the ones least understood by people.

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