There can be times in life where it seems like you stop emotionally reacting to the world around you. Foods, events or people that once made you happy might only produce limited feelings of pleasure, or upsetting occurrences will turn you numb instead of unhappy. In other circumstances, you might feel as though you’re completely disconnected from your own experiences.
Why do I feel nothing?
Feeling nothing, or like you’re not living but rather watching yourself living, is part of a process called depersonalisation.
Depersonalisation is a dissociative disorder, normally caused by childhood trauma. However, it can also be the result of trauma in later life, or as a part of PTSD.
Symptoms of depersonalisation include:
- Difficulties concentrating
- Loss of memory or difficulty in accurately recalling events
- A sense that time is moving slowly
- Feeling detached from your body
- Feeling as though you or the world around you is the wrong shape
- Feeling spacey or not in control of themselves
- Feeling unconnected, as though you’re a character in a book or film rather than you
What is depersonalisation?
To understand depersonalisation, there are two systems we have to understand:
The limbic system
The limbic system (lizard brain) holds and processes our behavioural and emotional functions, and our core survival instincts.
Two of the core instinct of the f’s are part of the depersonalisation process, namely ‘fight’ and ‘flight’. Anxiety is a natural reaction to external stresses, like being in the presence of a predator or having to explain to a superior why something was delivered late.
The vestibular system
The vestibular system are the parts of the brain and inner ear which control your balance, eye movements, and bodily perception.
What’s going on during depersonalisation
Part of our survival depends on dampening our fight or flight instinct in the face of extreme threat. This instinct might be triggered by perceived threats often (even by non-threatening things) or even triggered when there is no perceived threat. At this point, the dampening of this instinct becomes a natural reaction.
This dampening effect also impacts signals sent to us by our vestibular system – you may have experienced this during bouts of extreme feeling, like laughing so hard you fall over, being angry to the point of swaying, or so shocked you need to sit down.
In summary: Feeling emotionally numb or disconnected from yourself is the result of your brain powerfully dampening an erratic fight or flight response.
How can I feel things again?
The first step to recovery is wanting to make things better and taking action, no matter how small it might be. There are three easy things you can do to start the healing process:
Seek professional help
Seeing a psychologist or other mental health specialist can help you find the source of your trauma, and depending on their expertise, provide guidance and processes to help you find mental wellbeing.
Eat healthier foods
Eating healthy foods can lead to better mental health, like those rich in omega-3 (salmon, walnuts), magnesium (nuts and seeds, dark chocolate) and B-complex vitamins (beef liver, mushrooms, spinach). You can start by finding what foods are good to eat when stressed, as well as understand when and why you’re going to eat badly.
Any exercise is great for mental health, as it provides challenge, reward, and a reliable source of successes. It might start small, with brisk walks, jogging, or easy hikes, and gradually work into something more difficult.
Want to find more on mental health?
Healthline – Feeling Numb
Better Health Victoria – Disassociation and dissociative disorders
The Dissociative Initiative – About Disassociation
Anxiety Changes Depersonalization and Derealization Symptoms in Vestibular Patients
Recent developments in the theory of dissociation
The limbic system
University of Queensland – The Limbic System
Stanford University – Bodily Awareness
Vestibular.org - Symptoms
If you need support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au/gethelp or call the Beyond Blue Support Service on 1300 224 636 or visit www.beyondblue.org.au/about-us/contact-us
If you’re a CBHS member with hospital cover or packaged product, you maybe eligible for our Mental Health Program. For more information on the program, contact CBHS’ Health and Wellness team on 02 9685 7567 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified medical practitioner. CBHS endeavours to provide independent and complete information, and content may include information regarding services, products and procedures not covered by CBHS Health Cover policies. For full terms, click here.