“All of us at anxietycentre.com have experienced debilitating anxiety. But we’ve also overcome it and returned to normal and lasting health. Because we know the hardship anxiety unwellness can cause, we are committed to helping others, with over 30 years of service.” - Jim Folk, President, anxietycentre.com

Depersonalization Anxiety Symptoms

Marilyn Folk BScN medical reviewer
Written by: Jim Folk.
Medically reviewed by: Marilyn Folk, BScN.
Last updated: April 3, 2019

depersonalization anxiety symptoms

Depersonalizaton anxiety symptoms description:

Common depersonalization anxiety symptoms descriptions:

To name a few.

Depersonalization anxiety feelings can come and go rarely, occur frequently, or persist indefinitely. For example, you may feel depersonalization occasionally, feel it off and on more frequently, or feel depersonalization anxiety feeling all the time.

Depersonalization anxiety symptoms may precede, accompany, or follow an escalation of other anxiety symptoms, or occur by itself.

Depersonalization anxiety symptoms can precede, accompany, or follow an episode of nervousness, anxiety, fear, elevated stress, etc., or occur "out of the blue" (for no apparent reason).

Depersonalization anxiety feelings can range in intensity from slight, to moderate, to severe. Depersonalization can also come in waves, where it's strong one moment then eases off the next.

Depersonalization anxiety feelings can change from day to day, and/or from moment to moment.

All of the above combinations/variations are common for depersonalization anxiety feelings.

What causes depersonalization anxiety symptoms?

Medical Advisory
Because there are many medical conditions that can cause anxiety-like sensations and symptoms, including depersonalization, we recommend that you discuss this symptom with your doctor. If your doctor concludes that this symptom is solely stress related (including the stress that being anxious can cause), you can be assured that there isn’t another medical condition causing it. Generally, most doctors can easily tell the difference between stress and anxiety caused sensations and symptoms from those caused by other medical reasons.

If you are uncertain about your doctor’s diagnosis, however, you may want to seek a second and even third opinion. But if all three opinions concur, you can feel confident that stress, including anxiety-caused stress, is the cause of this symptom and not some other medical or biological problem.

There are many reasons why depersonalization can be related to anxiety. Here are four of the most common:

1. Anxiety and an active stress response
Depersonalization anxiety symptoms are common symptoms associated with persistently elevated stress, including the persistently stress that being overly anxious can cause. In fact, persistently elevated stress, such as that from stress-response hyperstimulation, is the most common cause of depersonalization.

When we perceive danger, stress hormones are released into the bloodstream to help prepare the body for immediate action–either to fight or flee. As these hormones travel throughout the body, they cause physiological, psychological, and emotional changes in how the body functions so that our defenses are maximized. The body readies itself by heightening its emergency functions and suppressing non-emergency functions.

While these changes affect many parts of the body, they also affect how the brain interacts with itself. For example, when stress hormones are at normal levels, the rationalization, learning, and emotional areas of the brain interact normally. This normal interaction allows us to think, remember, and experience thoughts and emotions normally. As a result, we FEEL normal, experience normal emotions and thinking processes, and feel complete within ourselves and in our reality.

When we perceive danger, however, this interaction changes. For example, stress hormones cause the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, to become dominant while causing the rationalization and learning centers of the brain to become suppressed. It makes this change because our priority becomes survival when in dangerous situations. All functions that aren’t involved in the emergency response mechanism are suppressed so that the body can maximize its resources to either defend ourselves against or run away from the threat. While this change enhances our emergency readiness, it impairs our ability to think clearly and remember short-term information.

The body makes this change because danger requires immediate action—to fight or flee. It’s better that we quickly take action rather than stopping to think things over in the midst of danger. Spending time thinking first rather than taking action could be hazardous to our health.

Remember, stress responses are supposed to cause these changes. It’s part of the body’s instinctual survival mechanism. As the perception of danger increases, so does the body’s level of emergency preparedness. When we believe the danger has passed, however, stress responses end and the remaining stress hormones are either used up or expelled. Eventually, the body calms down and the body and brain return to normal functioning.

2. Stress-response hyperstimulation
When we experience short-term fear, this mechanism works well, and the body and brain can recover relatively quickly. But when stress responses occur too frequently and/or dramatically, they can remain in a state of semi-emergency readiness (stress-response hyperstimulation), which can cause them to experience all sorts of symptoms, problems, and anomalies. The symptom depersonalization is an example of this.

For example, rationalization and short-term memory suppression due to sustained emergency readiness impairs the brain’s ability to rationally process and store new information. Consequently, the areas of the brain that normally communicate well have difficulty doing so. This difficulty is experienced as a disconnect between how we perceive, process, and store information, as well as how we feel about it, our self, our life, and others - because our rationalization processes are adversely affected, our emotions and feelings are affected, as well.

This combination of disconnects is at the root of feeling “separate” or “detached” from how we normally think, feel, and remember. “I feel like I’m living outside or separate from myself” is a common description of how this disconnect can be experienced.

The “processing impairment” caused by stress-response hyperstimulation can make us feel depersonalized, separate from our self, separate from our reality, and cause us to experience memory, emotional, and even performance problems because of how the rationalization, internalization, and emotional processes are disconnected.

We feel depersonalized because the brain isn’t communicating with itself correctly due to the negative effects of stress-response hyperstimulation.

It’s not that we are disconnected or detached from reality, but that our brain is having a hard time processing information correctly. So it SEEMS that we are disconnected. Essentially, depersonalization is a brain-processing problem due to it being overly stressed.

Depersonalization is not caused by a reality problem, consciousness problem, or by a real mental illness. Depersonalization is a consequence of stress-response hyperstimulation.

Because stress, including the stress caused by being overly anxious, increases the body’s stress hormone levels, anxious personalities commonly experience this symptom. When this symptom is caused by stress and anxiety, it’s NOT an indication of a serious mental illness. It’s just another symptom of persistently elevated stress. Again, many anxious personalities experience this symptom. In fact, many people who are simply scared or stressed experience this symptom. They don’t become afraid of it, though, whereas anxious personalities do.

The body and mind are tightly linked. What affects one, affects the other. This symptom is another example of how a hyperstimulated body, brain, and nervous system can cause odd or strange sensations, feelings, emotions, and perceptions. Much like how a psychoactive or recreational drug can alter one’s mental state, so can hyperstimulation.

3. Hyper- and Hypoventilation
Hyper- or hypoventilation is another cause of depersonalization. When we breathe too shallowly and don’t take in enough oxygen (hypoventilation), this causes the CO2 levels in the blood to drop, which can cause a depersonalization feeling.

If, on the other hand, you are breathing too aggressively and take in too much oxygen (hyperventilation), this can cause an increase in CO2 levels in the blood, which can also cause a depersonalization feeling.

Even though depersonalization caused by breathing issues can seem odd and even unsettling, they are harmless and needn’t be a cause for concern. They will subside when you normalize your breathing. Depersonalization caused by hyper- and hypoventilation is typically a temporary condition and isn’t the cause of persistent depersonalization.

4. Adverse effects of medication
Depersonalization can also be an adverse effect of medication, including anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications. If you believe your depersonalization is caused by an adverse effect of medication, you should discuss this with your doctor and pharmacist.

I (Jim Folk) also experienced depersonalization…and to a severe degree. It scared the daylights out of me when it first occurred. In my hyper-reactive state, having my reality altered was the last thing I needed. Since depersonalization really shook the foundations of my reality, I really reacted badly to it initially. I had no idea what it was or what was causing it, so I imagined the worst: brain tumor, MS, ALS, some other serious mental illness or neurological disease, or that I was actually drifting into another consciousness. Even though I found out that depersonalization was a common anxiety symptom, it still took me a long time to accept it and not react to it.

While depersonalization can be unsettling and impairing, it’s not harmful in itself or an indication of something more serious. It’s just another symptom of stress-response hyperstimulation, and therefore, it needn’t be a cause for concern. Similar to ALL anxiety sensations and symptoms, when you deal with your body’s hyperstimulated state and give your body sufficient time to recover, depersonalization subsides and eventually disappears.

Once again, many people experience depersonalization anxiety feelings when overly stressed. The difference, however, is that non anxious people don't worry about this feeling, whereas anxious people do...making the depersonalization symptoms seem more sinister than it actually is.

Since worry activates the body's stress response, worry can aggravate depersonalization and cause the depersonalization symptoms to persist.

Depersonalization anxiety symptoms treatment

When depersonalization anxiety symptoms are caused by apprehensive behavior and the accompanying stress response changes, calming yourself down will bring an end to the response and its changes. As your body recovers from the active stress response, depersonalization symptoms should subside and you should return to your normal self. Keep in mind that it can take up to 20 minutes or more for the body to recover from a major stress response. But this is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern.

When depersonalization anxiety symptoms are caused by persistent stress (stress-response hyperstimulation), it may take a lot more time for the body to recover and to the point where the depersonalization symptoms eliminated.

Nevertheless, when the body has fully recovered, depersonalization anxiety symptoms will completely subside. Therefore, depersonalization needn’t be a cause for concern. Simply reducing your body’s stress and giving it ample time to eliminate its hyperstimulated state is sufficient to eliminate depersonalization.

You can speed up the recovery process by reducing your stress, practicing relaxed breathing, increasing your rest and relaxation, and not worrying about depersonalization symptoms. Sure, depersonalization anxiety can be unsettling. But again, when your body has recovered from the active stress response and/or stress-response hyperstimulation, depersonalization feelings completely disappear.

Play the clip below for Jim Folk's commentary about the anxiety symptom depersonalization. Jim Folk is the president of anxietycentre.com.

Depersonalization is a common symptom of elevated stress, including the stress anxiety can cause. Jim Folk experienced depersonalization to a severe degree during his 12 year struggle with anxiety disorder.

For a more detailed explanation about anxiety and its symptoms, why symptoms can persist long after the stress response has ended, common barriers to recovery and symptom elimination, and more recovery strategies and tips, we have many chapters that address this information in the Recovery Support area of our website.

The combination of good self-help information and working with an experienced anxiety disorder therapist is the most effective way to address anxiety disorder and its many symptoms. Until the core causes of anxiety are addressed - the underlying factors that motivate apprehensive behavior - a struggle with anxiety disorder can return again and again. Identifying and successfully addressing anxiety's underlying factors is the best way to overcome problematic anxiety.

Additional Resources:

Return to our section that explains the hundreds of anxiety signs and symptoms, including trembling, numbness, tingling, shortness or breath, and racing heart, and so on.

anxietycentre.com: Information, support, and coaching/therapy for problematic anxiety and its symptoms, including the anxiety symptom depersonalization.