I am posting this article because last week a reader made his or her way to my Google blog by asking, “How can I recover from derealization?” By typing “derealization” into a search engine, you can find many good professionally-written articles discussing this symptom, and this clinical information can help you understand the phenomenon. However, my purpose in writing the following article is to help you see the symptom through my eyes, the eyes of a person recovering from C-PTSD. In addition, by describing this symptom  through the eyes of a client rather than a practitioner, I may be able to help you allay some fears you may have regarding derealization. At the end of this post you will find a link to a previous article I wrote on this topic. Embedded in the article is a link to a clear explanation of derealization. I believe that as you work to recover and heal your C-PTSD, you may find that incidences of derealization will become less frequent as your other symptoms fade–I say this based solely on my own experience.  None of the clinical articles I have read has speculated on a connection between reduction of general PTSD symptoms and reduction in frequency of derealization incidents. 
`Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English); `now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!’ (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off). `Oh, my poor little feet, I wonder who will put on your shoes and stockings for you now, dears? I’m sure I shan’t be able! I shall be a great deal too far off to trouble myself about you: you must manage the best way you can; –but I must be kind to them,’ thought Alice, `or perhaps they won’t walk the way I want to go! Let me see: I’ll give them a new pair of boots every Christmas.’ (From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Project Gutenberg.)


If you have ever struggled through an episode of derealization, you understand the surprise, consternation, and panic poor Alice experienced after she ate the little cake labeled “Eat Me.” When I was a child, I understood Alice’s feelings all too well, for I sometimes struggled just as Alice struggled in my attempt to make sense of my distorted perceptions. Usually these episodes took place when I was on my way to and from school or when I was sitting in my classroom. Trees, normally perpendicular to the earth, swayed menacingly and at odd angles; my feet, though safely tucked beneath my desk at school, appeared to be so far away that I couldn’t reach them; the teacher’s familiar face became the face of a stranger. Scary? Certainly! But what could I do? Nothing. When I was a child, I felt powerless to do anything about anything.

The episodes came and went, and I said nothing to anyone about them. As time passed, they were simply part of my life–like eating, brushing my teeth, and doing schoolwork. By the time I was in high school, though, I seldom experienced the problem, and the derealization episodes faded into the past. When I entered college as an undergraduate, however, I was once again plagued by the symptoms, but as before, my fear rendered me unable to reach out for help. I thought, in fact, that there was no help for my condition, and I did not want to risk being labeled as “crazy” and locked away in an institution. Again, I felt there was nothing I could do but endure the symptoms and try to forget them.

After I graduated from college, I found a job, married, and had a baby. The symptoms did not return until late in my marriage, near the time in 1981 when I caught my husband abusing our daughter and reported him to the police. After that, I had episodes of derealization from time to time, but because they did not occur frequently, I simply got through them and tried not to think about them. As I look back, a pattern emerges: My episodes of derealization have occurred most frequently at periods in my life when my anxiety and stress have been most intense and when I have felt physically or emotionally threatened. This insight is supported by the information in the professionally-written articles I have read, such as this one– http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/Dissociative_Subtype_of_PTSD.asp

Recently, since I’ve been in therapy with my present therapist, I was surprised by my old nemesis once more. Here is my account of the episode as I described it in a previous post (see link at the bottom of this page):

One day a year or so ago I left my apartment to go to my therapy appointment. So far, very ordinary. I caught my bus and rode to the transfer point. The closer I got to the transfer point, the odder I felt, but I simply forced my mind to focus on what I knew was the here and now of reality. When I reached the place where I had to leave the first bus and catch another bus, forcing my mind to focus was becoming a struggle, but I was determined to keep the ground beneath my feet and get to my therapist’s office without incident.

As I waited for the next bus, the world outside me began appearing more and more distorted, and when the bus finally arrived, I had to fight internally to get onto it. You see, the bus should have appeared to me as a rectangular shape having 90-degree angles, but instead of a rectangle, the bus was a parallelogram, a four-sided figure with parallel lines but not having 90-degree angles. I can’t tell you what anything else looked like because I seemed to have tunnel vision at the time. I managed to figure out where the steps would be and got into the bus and sat down heavily, hoping nobody noticed that I was having a problem knowing where to put my feet. Nobody did notice, thank goodness.

As the bus traveled the few blocks to my next stop, I regained my perception, and the feeling of unreality faded. I was so glad to arrive at my therapist’s office and to wait in her peaceful waiting room! By the time I saw her, my mind was fairly clear, and I told her about the experience. She appeared interested but not surprised.

The incident described above is the last incident of derealization I have experienced. For two years, now, derealization has not loomed large in my life; no, now it is just a symptom among other C-PTSD symptoms. My guess is that the Ego State Therapy work and the EMDR work I have done to alleviate my PTSD symptoms in general have probably reduced my chances of experiencing derealization. However, if I should have more of these episodes, I know that I do not need to suffer by myself. In addition, now that I have information about derealization, I am not afraid of the symptom. I know I’m not crazy, and I know that my various PTSD symptoms are part of the big picture, just another pesky reminder that C-PTSD is a condition that may always “be there” for me to some extent but a condition that I am learning to manage and control as I heal.  If there is a “next time” and I find myself experiencing an episode of derealization, I plan to keep my cool and do my best to focus and remain rooted in my surroundings–just as I managed to do when I climbed onto the bus.  Mindfulness–that’s what it’s called. 

“If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh, Dutch Painter

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