Have you ever had the suspicion that nothing is real? A student at Stevens Institute of Technology, where he taught, has endured feelings of unreality since childhood. She recently made a film about this syndrome for her graduate thesis, for which she interviewed herself and other people, including me. “It feels like there’s a glass wall between me and everything else in the world,” Camille says in her film, which she calls depersonalized; unfulfilled; deconstructed
derealization Y depersonalization they refer to feelings that the external world and your own self, respectively, are unreal. Grouping the terms, psychiatrists define depersonalization/derealization disorder as “persistent or recurring experiences of unreality, detachment, or being an outside observer regarding one’s own thoughts, feelings, sensations, body, or actions,” according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. For simplicity, I will refer to both syndromes as derealization.
Some people experience derealization out of the blue, others only in stressful circumstances, for example, while taking an exam or a job interview. Psychiatrists prescribe psychotherapy and medications, such as antidepressants, when the syndrome causes “distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.” In some cases, derealization results from a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, or from hallucinogens such as LSD. Extreme cases, usually associated with brain damage, can manifest as Cotard’s delusion, also called walking corpse syndrome, the belief that you are dead; Y capgras delusionthe conviction that the people around you have been replaced by impostors.
I am glad that Camille has brought attention to the disorder, because derealization raises profound philosophical questions. Ancient and modern sages have suggested that the everyday reality, in which we deal with living, is an illusion. Plato compared our perceptions of things to shadows cast on the wall of a cave. The 8th-century Hindu philosopher Adi Shankara stated that ultimate reality is an eternal, undifferentiated field of consciousness. The Buddhist doctrine of anatta it says that our individual selves are illusory.
Modern philosophers like Nick Bostrom posit that our cosmos is probably a simulation, a virtual reality created by the alien equivalent of a bored teenage hacker. The philosophical position known as solipsism implies that you are the only conscious being in the universe; everyone around you alone It seems aware. As I mentioned in a recent column, some interpretations of quantum mechanics undermine the status of objective reality. Could derealization have inspired all this metaphysical conjecture?
Many people, Camille suggests, go through episodes of derealization without knowing what it is. The feeling disturbs you, so you repress it. She tries to put it out of her mind and doesn’t mention it to the others. “You’re afraid that if you tell people, they won’t know what it is,” explains Camille, “and you don’t want people to see you differently.” I understand these reactions, because derealization can be unsettling, even frightening.
My most serious and sustained attack of derealization occurred after a drug trip in 1981, which left me convinced that existence is a fever dream of a mad god. For months the world felt wobbly, flimsy, like a screen on which images are projected. She was afraid that at any moment everything would vanish, giving way to… well, she didn’t know what, hence the fear. These feelings over the years have lost their visceral power over me, but their intellectual side effects linger.
Reflecting on derealization leaves me conflicted. I have moral doubts about claims that reality is not, well, real. These claims, whether it be Platonism, the simulation hypothesis, or my mad god theology, can easily become escapist and nihilistic. Why should we care about poverty, oppression, environmental destruction, pandemics, war, and other sources of suffering if the world is just a video game? I reject any philosophy that undermines our responsibility to care for one another.
Nevertheless, I have come to value derealization as an antidote to habituation. Our brains are designed to perform many tasks with minimal conscious effort. As a result, we get used to things; we take them for granted. We become zombies or automatons, performing tasks and interacting with other people, even those we supposedly love, without being fully aware of what we are doing.
Derealization is like a slap in the face. It cuts the monotony of life and wakes you up. reminds you of the rarity of the world, of other people, of yourself. by rarity I mean infinite improbability and inexplicability. Rarity it encompasses all the bipolar properties of our existence, its beauty and ugliness, goodness and cruelty, good and evil.
Seeing weirdness does not deny our moral responsibility to others. far from there By removing myself from the world, derealization paradoxically makes it more real. It helps me see humanity more clearly and care about it more deeply. What once seemed like a curse has become a gift.
That’s what I tell myself, anyway. Others, including those Camille interviewed for her film and Camille herself, experience derealization differently. She sees the syndrome as “her brain’s way of taking a break. She thinks you can’t handle certain things, so she turns everything off.” She has learned that “just letting the feelings flow” instead of fighting them helps her get through episodes. Whatever derealization means to us, no matter how we deal with it, we are surely better off if we can talk about it openly, as Camille and others do in her brave and revealing film.
This is an opinion and analysis article, and the opinions expressed by the author(s) are not necessarily those of American scientist.