Derealization is one of a range of symptoms coexisting in a panic attack. Some youth who have panic attacks don’t experience derealization but for those who do, it can cause them to think, “I’m going crazy,” or, “Something is horribly wrong with me.” Fortunately, they are not going crazy and probably are quite healthy. The following list includes some of the more common sensations that can be experienced during an episode of derealization:
- Distorted perception of time, space and size of things around you
- Feeling of unreality from the world around you, as if in a dream or trance
- Feeling like everything is foggy, fuzzy or warped
- Sense of being disconnected from those around you as if you’re trapped in a bubble
- Thoughts of going crazy or being very ill
If your child or teen comes to you describing what appears to be derealization, it is important you remain calm and attentive to his/her experience. Start by providing some empathy for what must be a scary experience followed by provision of information about what derealization is and is not. It may help your child feel less “crazy” if they learn that derealization is a common symptom of a panic attack, or extreme stress or anxiety, and that it is not dangerous or indicative of some underlying grave illness. Some teens worry these sensations might mean they have schizophrenia or are psychotic. While derealization feels very strange and unsettling, the individual does not lose touch with reality and s/he is able to recognize that their sensations are sensations versus actual events that are happening. This is a key distinction between derealization and other mental illnesses. Derealization can last for as long as the panic attack lasts, which can range in length from a few minutes to 20 or 30 minutes. In some cases, however, these sensations can persist for hours and even days or weeks. If you and your child remain concerned or uncertain about what these symptoms are, contacting a physician or mental health professional is a reasonable next step.