Chronic depersonalization refers to depersonalization disorder, which is classified by the DSM-IV as a dissociative disorder. Derealization is a similar term to depersonalization, and the two are often used interchangeably. However, more specifically, derealization is the feeling that "nothing is real," while depersonalization is the feeling that one is "detached" from one's body or world. Though these feelings can happen to anyone who is under temporary severe anxiety/stress, For chronic depersonalization, which individuals get for suffering severe trauma, see depersonalization disorder. Derealization and depersonalization disorder are most prominent in anxiety disorders, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, sleep deprivation, and some types of epilepsy.
One way to describe the physical manifestation of the feeling is to compare it to a film technique called the vertigo shot or dolly zoom. In this technique, the subject of the picture stays fixed on the shot while all the surrounding background is pulled away - providing a sense of vertigo or detachment. People may perceive this feeling in a cyclical manner, where the feeling is experienced back-to-back in succession.
Sometimes the physical manifestation is more like a strobe light of the senses. Information is processed at a much more staggered rate and therefore the subject feels as though his or her senses are being distorted and fragmented.
The symptom of depersonalization is the third most common psychological experience, after feelings of anxiety and feelings of depression. Depersonalization can also accompany sleep deprivation, stress and anxiety as well as being a symptom of anxiety disorders such as panic disorder.
A study of undergraduate students found individuals high on the depersonalization/derealization subscale of the Dissociative Experiences Scale exhibited more pronounced cortisol response. Individuals high on the absorption subscale, which measures experiences of concentration to the exclusion of awareness of other events going on around them, showed weaker cortisol responses.
If depersonalization is a symptom of neurological disease, then diagnosis and treatment of the specific disease is the first approach. Depersonalization can be a cognitive symptom of such diseases as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer's, Multiple Sclerosis (MS), neuroborreliosis (Lyme Disease) or any other neurological disease affecting the brain.
If depersonalization is a psychological symptom then treatment may be dependent on the diagnosis. Depersonalization is often a symptom of borderline personality disorder, which can be treated in the long term with proper psychotherapy and psychopharmacology.
Treatment of chronic depersonalization is considered in depersonalization disorder.