Bodily-experience/Experience of the self

As for many people the body is perceived as the vessel or home of the self, bodily-experience and experience of the self shall be considered in combination on this page. The altered bodily experience within depersonalization disorder leads to an altered experience of the self in many of those affected.

Many of those affected feel detached from their body. They experience a large distance to their body. If the body does something, moves or speaks, it feels to them as though a robot was performing those actions. Because of these reasons, many of those affected have the feeling as though their body was paralyzed. They believe they are no longer able to react, even if something bad was to occur in their immediate surroundings. Many of those affected complain that they are unable to recognize themselves in the mirror. Even though they know it is themselves looking back at them, they are unable to classify the image they see.

Some describe themselves as having retreated entirely into the innermost part of their bodies. Others perceive themselves as being spread far beyond their physical and bodily boundaries. In extreme cases, this can lead those affected being unable to perceive subject-object boundaries. They are unable to distinguish between whether it is themselves touching something, or if they are the object touching themselves. Being unable to define this leads some of those affected to perceive themselves as likely to disintegrate, or perhaps to already perceive themselves as fragmented.

In some cases, out-of-body experiences can also occur. Those affected are able to see themselves from the outside or perceive themselves in double as the second, identical person. Sometimes, there is also a double visual perspective linked to this experience (perceiving themselves from the inside and the outside at the same time).

For many of those affected, being unable to find themselves in their own bodies in the correct way is one of the worst experiences of depersonalization disorder. 

When it comes to this robot-like feeling, many of those affected describe it as being helpful to not think about it too much and not to lose themselves in endless what-ifs. (Depersonalization as a permanent problem) Instead, they make the experience that they can trust their bodies and can trust it to act correctly in difficult situations. Instincts and reflexes also function correctly for people with depersonalization disorder.

Those affected by depersonalization disorder describe those tools that help strengthen the connection to their own body or that help re-establish it as being the most helpful. As many perceive depersonalization as “not being right in their own body”, those tools that help perceive their own body, as well as physical and bodily boundaries in particular, are supportive.

This can take place by showering in warm or cold water and by rubbing themselves with a massage sponge. Also, a massage, either given to themselves or by someone else, can be perceived as useful. It is important to not be too gentle, but rather to be a bit stronger (pressing, knocking, squeezing) and also to work on the entire body.

Many of those affected describe sports as beneficial to better perceive themselves in their own body. The sports activities perceived as useful are as different as the people are: yoga, jogging or also team sports like basketball are mentioned often.

Grounding describes different methods that seek to help feel one’s own body more and to come into connection with it. Any attempt to adequately describe this topic would exceed the scope of this website. Walking barefoot, putting stones into one’s shoes or controlled breathing are only some of many examples. Deceleration is a vital keyword: taking time to perceive oneself and one’s surroundings.

Also, mindful based meditation goes into a similar direction. In this kind of meditation, a person sits or lies down calmly and concentrates on their breathing, letting thoughts pass by without letting oneself be disturbed by them. There are countless guides in books or CDs. Meanwhile, also free information is available on the Internet or via specialized apps.

Autogenic training is yet another method of perceiving one’s body. A person goes through their body in thoughts and tries to reach a state of calmness through deliberate relaxation. There are countless guides available. After some time, autogenic training can be conducted alone and without guidance.

Another method is progressive muscle relaxation following Jacobsen. Here, bodily relaxation is attained through targeted relaxation and clenching of particular body parts or muscle groups. The progressive muscle relaxation often feels better for people with depersonalization disorder than autogenic training or other strongly meditative methods, as in progressive muscle relaxation the chance of “drifting off” is smaller.

The body scan is also an exercise in which a person consciously goes through their entire body and deliberately perceives every part of it. A complete body scan takes roughly half an hour. There are countless guides available for free on the Internet.

All these exercises can help to better perceive the body and to get into contact with it again. It is important that the selected exercise(s) are conducted over a longer period of time with some regularity, best every day, in order to have a positive effect on depersonalization symptoms.