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Behav Res Ther. 2003 Dec;41(12):1451-67.

Depersonalisation disorder: a cognitive-behavioural conceptualisation.

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Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK.


Depersonalisation (DP) and derealisation (DR) are subjective experiences of unreality in, respectively, one's sense of self and the outside world. These experiences occur on a continuum from transient episodes that are frequently reported in healthy individuals under certain situational conditions to a chronic psychiatric disorder that causes considerable distress (depersonalisation disorder, DPD). Despite the relatively high rates of reporting these symptoms, little research has been conducted into psychological treatments for this disorder. We suggest that there is compelling evidence to link DPD with the anxiety disorders, particularly panic. This paper proposes that it is the catastrophic appraisal of the normally transient symptoms of DP/DR that results in the development of a chronic disorder. We suggest that if DP/DR symptoms are misinterpreted as indicative of severe mental illness or brain dysfunction, a vicious cycle of increasing anxiety and consequently increased DP/DR symptoms will result. Moreover, cognitive and behavioural responses to symptoms such as specific avoidances, 'safety behaviours' and cognitive biases serve to maintain the disorder by increasing awareness of the symptoms, heightening the perceived threat and preventing disconfirmation of the catastrophic misinterpretations. A coherent model facilitates the development of potentially effective cognitive and behavioural interventions.

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