Feelings of Unreality: A Conceptual and Phenomenological Analysis of the Language of Depersonalization

The paper offers a conceptual and phenomenological analysis of the language of depersonalization. The depersonalization syndrome or disorder has no known common pathogenesis and shows no characteristic behavioral manifestations. A conceptual analysis of the key terms in the subjective complaints would therefore have consequences for clinical research into the phenomenon of depersonalization.

Characteristic reports of depersonalization symptoms are arranged according to their conceptual and psychological kinship. A scheme, which aims to separate reports that reflect an underlying depersonalization experience from similar remarks that are common in everyday language but are not considered to be connected with depersonalization, is outlined.

Further, we focus on the two dominating criteria found in the literature on depersonalization, the feelings of unreality and the so-called as-if character. Two different uses of the phrase "I feel unreal" are made explicit in order to avoid conflation. The as-if element, which usually accompanies depersonalization complaints, is discussed in the light of potential epistemologic reservations, which may motivate the use of as-if locutions. Finally, we suggest how occurrences of metaphorical language may be understood when patients verbally attempt to articulate depersonalization symptoms.