Explaining Derealization (Guest Post)

The emerging blogger series on Mental Health @ Home -background image of cherry blossoms

In this emerging blogger post, Elle Rose from Secretladyspider writes about experiencing derealization as part of derealization/depersonalization disorder.

Art by Elle Rose: woman falling surrounded by ballloons

I’m going mad again. Oh my god, I’m going mad again.

There’s something right outside the building, right outside the glass, but the world is flattened. It’s like we’re just some weird jigsaw puzzle and I will only exist if I go outside, but then if I go outside I won’t exist anymore. That’s it, isn’t it? But what sense does that make?

Should I just give up and give in to it? What am I fighting for?

The girl in the glass looks back at me with blue eyes and I see the freckles on the ridge of her nose and she is very pretty and very strange and very much not me. Not me, not me, not me.

I am hollowed out like a husk of a thing, just a hollow thing that nothing is left inside of. I know that. I know that or I wouldn’t feel it. But how do you explain to people? “Excuse me, sir, I have no bones.” Of course you have bones, you crazy person. Quit it.

What is my brain doing? What is it trying to protect me from?

The stall in the bathroom was shrinking down in on me, shrinking down, down, down. I opened my eyes and pushed out against it and it was where it had always been. My eyes are lying to me again, saying that the world is flat and rotten and I don’t exist. Of course you exist, you silly. Who’s dream would you be in anyways? Your own? Why would you dream up something so boring?

Dull, dull, dull, my mind and senses are dull. They were a blade never sharpened and now I cannot cut through anything at all. I feel as if I am sliced apart and clumsily glued back together, like my brain is full of water, my head full of cotton wool.

What is it like, to be mad? Is this what it’s like?

They called me delusional at the program last summer. Delusional. As if they have any idea that I don’t really believe these things, not really, I know they’re nonsense – but the fear that they might be true, that this is the split that my mind has been trying to make for years, is catching up to me. Where is my mind? What is happening to my body? Why is my body a hollow sort of thing? Where did my insides go?

There’s a robot controlling me known as tact and politeness, not letting anyone know that I am mad, I am mad mad mad. How could I explain it? Excuse me, sir, I feel like I’ve been in a dream for like six years and I don’t much like it, not at all. I know that my hands are solid, but I’m afraid they aren’t. I know it would hurt to slice them open, but I’m very afraid that there is nothing but space dust under my skin. Could you please give me a knife with which to slice myself open? I have to see the bones there.

No, no, no. Surely that is madness.

They call it “disassociation”, as if I could fully forget what happened to me, what being raped is like, what it is to be an object as a sex doll and a hollow husk of a thing all at once. I am not split, I am here, but I so much don’t want to be here in this brain. I don’t want this, I don’t want to remember this, take it away from me. Scoop me out and put something new in, something better, something grand and pretty and most importantly healed of this. I am robbed of my personhood, I am nothing. There is nothing inside me but blackness and dust, dust, dust. I am to become dust, I am dust, there is nothing inside of me.

I know how little sense this must make but I must try to write it down. I said I was going to start doing that, and here I am, trying so desperately to convey how distressing it is to be both mad and not mad – to know that what you are feeling is nonsense but to still be overcome by it.

I’m turning twenty-six very soon. I’m terrified. What will that day bring for me? Will I feel that I deserve to be alive? Or will the person in the mirror distort again, looking strange and hollow and very much not me, all the while “you are real” written there in the mirror to reassure me that this is not the truth? I am ill. I am disordered, and ill, and I want so very much to wake up from this and feel like myself, to feel present in my body and my mind and not as if I’ve floated away through the window.

Do you know how strange it is to watch yourself from above? It’s like looking at your life through a fisheye lens, all the while yelling what are you doing, maybe don’t do that, eat something for chrissake, stop biting your nails, TALK TO SOMEONE, just talk to someone – but I am far away from the surface of myself. It’s like I’m in “the sunken place”, watching my life through a movie screen, far away from any of the action but still able to empathize.

But then why does fear grip me so tightly when it gets like this? But then other times, what grips me is sadness, or terror, but they are all so far away. There is a plastic film over my body. I remember when I started feeling that, that second hellish semester of college, where I tried often to scrub myself as if to remove this invisible – thing. It keeps me from everything, everyone. I am so lonely. I am so alone.

There is no person under this skin, or at least I can’t feel her. Her pains are distant as are her pleasures, something else moving me when I hurt or make love. Sex is a strange territory filled with landmines. The wrong touch, the wrong sound, the wrong word, and I’m not there at all. I am told I don’t know who I am. This is a shame because I truly enjoy the moments where I can disconnect from my thoughts and simply feel my body, feel him pushing into me deeply, my own legs hitched up around him as I try desperately to bring him closer to my person. Those moments I feel whole, just a little, as if someone being inside me can assure me that yes, there are insides, yes, you can get well again.

I can get well again, they say.

And yet I hear a voice in my head sometimes, there, in that safe place with him, and I snap, and everything is gone from me all at once. When it comes back I find myself confused, and then I remember that there is something that rips me away from these experiences. I wish I could control it. I wish it wouldn’t happen anymore. I want to feel connected. I want to feel real. I want to stop feeling… this.

Don’t I?

I think it’s calmed down, for now. I think it’s calming down.

That is what it is like to try to explain depersonalization derealization disorder. It is like being Alice, talking to the Cheshire cat, knowing you aren’t mad but also knowing that any of your reasoning for it feels incomplete at best – after all, “You must be, or you wouldn’t have come here.” I have gone through the looking glass, fallen down the rabbit hole. Even now I am wondering, somewhere in my mind, if I am dreaming. I know I’m not, but there’s the rub – knowing I’m not does not in itself cure the disorder.

If I’m being honest, I’m not sure how wellness would feel. It’s a terrifying prospect.

I do think, though, it must be more pleasant than this.


Elle Rose is a writer, artist, Youtuber, and mental health advocate with ADHD, DPDR, and depression. She writes on her blog weekly at secretladyspider.wordpress.com and is active on other platforms as well.

9 thoughts on “Explaining Derealization (Guest Post)”

  1. Thanks Elle for explaining this so clearly. I deal with DP/DR sometimes too, but for me, it’s part of (possible, no longer diagnosed) DID/OSDD1B.

  2. anonymoussoberperson

    I’ve been dealing with this ever since relapsing on substances… Your experiences literally feel like youre in my head, its scary how similar it is. Thank you for this @secretladyspider

    1. Some folks deal with DPDR as a result of marijuana use, so maybe that’s something to look into? I hope that you feel better soon, and I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  3. This was great to read, I love the way you so fully describe your experience. I have what I call a “perspective shift” at times, my own personal brand of disassociation, but it is just a minor annoyance most of the time.

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