Explain What DPAFU Is?

DPAFU stands for depersonalization and feelings of unreality.

To the depersonalized person the world appears strange, peculiar, foreign, dream-like. Objects appear at times strangely diminished in size, at times flat.  Sounds appear to come from a distance. The tactile characteristics of objects likewise seem strangely altered . . . The emotions likewise undergo marked alteration. Clients complain that they are capable of experiencing neither pain nor pleasure; love and hate.

They experience a fundamental change in their personality, and the climax is reached with their complaints that they have become strangers to themselves. It is as though they were dead, lifeless, an automaton.

The term derealization was coined by an Irish psychiatrist, Edward Mapother. He used the term to refer to the way people’s experience of their surroundings is odd or unusual (psychologists call this altered feelings).  For example, occasionally people complain of visual distortion involving the size of objects, their three-dimensionality, or the sharpness of colours.  Some complain of an unearthly stillness in the world: The world looks perfectly still like a postcard, like there is no point in it. Everything in vision is dead.

People with DPAFU often report that their actions feel robotic, as if they were on automatic pilot and ‘spectators’ of their own activities – like watching a movie of their own lives. Their voice may sound unfamiliar, and their thoughts, speech and actions no longer feel spontaneous.

Despite the fact that people with DPAFU feel they are robotic and on automatic pilot, this is often not noticeable or obvious to other people.

Another major factor in DPAFU is that sufferers describe an inability to feel emotion, even towards those close to them. On an intellectual level, you may be able to say that in circumstance ‘A’ you should feel happy, but in reality you may feel nothing whatsoever. As you can imagine, this is a very distressing experience.

While other conditions such as depression can have elements of this numbed state, they are more extreme and central in DPFU.  Many sufferers describe feeling as if bodily changes have taken place such as their head feels strange, large or numb or the body feels dead and lifeless.  In some people this experience is so intense that they touch, punch or prick themselves repeatedly to try to feel ‘normal’ again.

Alongside these symptoms, there can be an additional feeling of being cut off from the world and even from one’s own self. This can lead to doubts and confusion about one’s own identity. For instance, sufferers often describe how their reflection in the mirror can seem unfamiliar to them.  They fear lapsing into a void and losing their identity. 

Not surprisingly, people generally find these symptoms create a fair degree of anxiety.

There is hope for sufferers, with programmes being developed that have shown promise in helping people to understand and overcome these distressing symptoms.