Book Reviews

Feeling Unreal: Depersonalization Disorder – Book Review

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Are you craving for reassurance on Depersonalization? 

You are not sure if you suffer from Depersonalization Disorder and would like to know more? 

Feeling Unreal is a good place to start.

Essential Book Information

This is among the first books ever written about an experience many young adults have but cannot give a name to it. Feeling Unreal explores in depth Depersonalization Disorder. The key challenges presented are the process of diagnosis and finding a treatment.

This book results from the collaboration between Daphne Simeon and Jeffrey Abugel. Daphne is a respected American psychiatrist. She is well known for her work in Depersonalization Disorder. Jeffrey is an American medical journalist. He experienced DPD for 11 years until he received a diagnosis of Depersonalization Disorder.

What Can You Expect?

The authors introduce the reader to Depersonalization and how it affects depersonalized patients. They discuss the estrangement of the self and the difficulty of being aware of this.

The second chapter tells the stories of people who suffered from Depersonalization. Then the authors follow up with some questions and answers that review each story. It makes you think of a university seminar where students analyze with their professor the key points of a work. The questions start from a specific point: Does Eric suffer from depersonalization disorder or from depression? And then go towards more general ideas: Is marijuana the only drug associated with chronic depersonalization?

Depersonalization is often misdiagnosed

If you thought DPD is something new, well, this book will change your mind. The authors explore a century of theories that were formulated around Depersonalization. This shows how difficult it has been to distinguish Depersonalization and understand it. 

The book focuses a lot on diagnosing Depersonalization. And this is a good thing because undiagnosed Depersonalization takes a heavy toll on people who suffer from it. Not knowing what is happening is worse than facing a diagnosis like DPD. The major studies mentioned in the book are the ones in UK (Kings College) and USA (Mount Sinai School of Medicine).

Neurobiology, Literature and Philosophy

There is also an impressive chapter focused on the brain. The authors try to explain the dissociative phenomena of Depersonalization by looking at the brain. It’s a bit hard to follow if you do not have clinical experience or you are not familiar with the medical jargon.

What makes this book so engaging is that it doesn’t cover only clinical experience. The focus shifts to expressions of Depersonalization in literature and philosophy. What authors explore here is a ‘library of Depersonalization’. There is a wide range of books and stories that describe experiences similar to those who suffer from DP. The analysis of those books it is so engaging that there must be the hand of a writer or a journalist here.

Medication treatment is also explored in the book. Can medication successfully treat DPD? The authors try to answer to this question by reviewing the studies made about it. At the moment there is no established cure. No one can guarantee to a patient that X treatment will make DPD go away forever. Some treatments can help a bit, but there is still a lot of clinical research until we will get a potential ‘cure’.

“Medications have helped my depersonalization a lot, but they’ve been like showing a cross to a vampire. The cross keeps him at bay, but I’m still looking for that spike in the heart that will finish him off.”  

A last question the authors explore is ‘Can Depersonalization be treated with psychotherapy?’ There is a grey area here as well. They can’t say that psychotherapy is successful in all the cases. Still, it can lead to symptom improvement and better life adaptation for some people. An experiment was done at Mount Sinai on how psychotherapy helped a patient. After 10 sessions, he was not symptom free, but DPD was no longer a constant presence in his life. Because he was able to recognize the triggers, DPD became episodic and more manageable.

Why Reading This Book?

The authors translate their clinical material in a very digestible way. Anyone who wishes to find out more about Depersonalization Disorder can follow easily the ideas presented in this book. The only difficult chapter is the discussion of neurobiology. That is a bit dry and difficult to plough through.

Another thing is that the book emanates compassion. It’s not a cold book with cold facts. The authors get quite close to the readers and speak to them. Also, the stories of depersonalized patients give hope. First, because if you suffer from DPD, you realize that you are not alone. Second, some stories tell how depersonalized people found slight relief with medication or psychotherapy.  

The book does not offer any magic trick to cure DPD. Still, the information presented is rich enough to give you an idea of what may happen further within DPD field. 

Final Recommendation

Informed readers may find the neurobiology chapter interesting or the literature chapter enjoyable, but overall does not bring much to them. However, for those just exploring the subject, this book is an excellent introduction to Depersonalization Disorder.

To be able to name an experience and have it be shared can be deeply healing in itself.

Karen Hopenwasser

Hi! I'm Maria and I am a mental health advocate! I am determined to learn as much as I can about mental and emotional wellbeing.

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