Where wild minds come to rest
Events in the last few months and most notably the last couple of weeks have had me thinking about the possibility of there being "stages" to a maladaptive daydreamer's condition over time, different for everyone down to the details but apparently similar in their general structure. Thus, I've been wondering whether or not, once stripped of the more personal details, these stages could be charted by those who have been through them and used as a reference to maybe help others who still haven't.
So far it seems to me that it always boils down to the same sequence:
1) Innocent, relatively harmless pastime. Nothing too serious, just some fantasizing every now and then.
2) Integration with reality. The world is experienced through one's senses, but the work of the mind enriches that experience. This tends to result in hyperinterpretation and misunderstandings with others who didn't process the information in the same way. Might cause the curse of knowledge.
3) Swapped priority. The pleasure/relief offered by the fantasy world, while known to be fake, has made it preferable to the real one with all its disappointment and suffering. Hence, more and more time is allocated to ever more sophisticated imaginings. This is where I consider the addiction to have started.
4) Downward spiral. The effects keep worsening over time as issues pile up in the real world, prompting a deeper and deeper escape into the fake one. The isolation becomes more severe, further disconnecting the daydreamer from the outside and eventually "trapping" them inside. Stress levels seems to affect the speed at which this process progresses, with higher stress accelerating it and relative calm slowing it down or stalling it altogether. Late into this stage, the instability can become apparent to an observer, with potential fits of apparent insanity.
5) The crash. The weight of the issues caused/amplified during stage 4 has become unsustainable, and no amount of escapism is enough to shove it off. The accumulated power of the friction between reality and perception then makes the whole system collapse into a one-instant experience of overwhelming (infinite?) pain, which in turn sparks a wakeup. The wakeup triggers a chain of realizations that bring to light the previously unknowable root cause of the entire stack of diversions that ultimately culminated into addictive daydreaming, with said root cause apparently being always emotional in nature. Sharp changes in behavior are a possibility.
I have yet to discover any stage beyond 5, but it would come to little surprise if there were several. I'm curious about how much this resonates with how the rest of you would describe the process, and if it turns out to match, which stage you think you have reached.
By your own account, I'm wrestling with Stage 5. I'm trying to figure out where to go from here. Right now I feel more or less dead inside. I have no passion, no enthusiasm, very little hope for the future. It's very tempting to dive back into fantasy, because it provides comfort and distraction.
Right now I am becoming more aware of anger, hatred, and more intense feelings of abandonment. They were always there, but I had completely suppressed them. I feel like i'm trapped in a wasteland, and I'm having trouble deciding what to do. I think i should have more social interest, more involvement with others, but i feel cut off somehow. I feel like i can't make the connection to anyone else. This leads me to despair. So if i can describe my general attitude right now it would be just that, a sense of despair and hopelessness. I don't know what comes next. :/
I doubt you would be able to truly connect to other people either way, that would require a way of communicating that basically involves linking the minds directly, and we obviously can't do that in this age. Even without the exacerbation that comes with MDD, communication as we know it is wrapped in several layers of distortion and secrecy. Have you ever talked to someone and felt like "That's it? That's all that there is to this person?"? That's what I'm talking about.
This feeling of despair and hopelessness is the most prominent effect of the flood of daydreams suddenly vanishing, leaving you exposed to the relatively immense void that's left where the fake mass used to be. You're simply feeling the way things have become while you weren't looking (read: you couldn't see). However, a lot of empty space is a lot of space, and you can use that space to build stuff.
Side note: I forgot to mention what the curse of knowledge is, back up in the post.
 The curse of knowledge is a phenomenon in which a person explaining something to someone automatically assumes that the other person knows enough to understand, which may not be the case. See here for the juicy details.
Step 2, Integration with reality.
I remember being young and and trying to 'play' in my world or with my characters, sort of like trying to force them to become imaginary friends but never quite bridging that gap into the real world. I've seen other people mention things that make me feel like they had at some point attempted to do the same thing. Is this the kind of stuff you're talking about with this step? If so I didn't realise it was so common to MDers, if not I'm afraid I don't know what this step means.
Also, it looks like you actually have six steps; The Crash and then The Wake-Up (the realisation that something less innocent is effecting you, possibly leading to reaching out for support) seem to me to be seperate steps.
Stage 2 isn't MDD yet, imagination is taking power but it still doesn't have the uncontrollable, all-consuming aspects that MDD has. It's still in the "incubation period" range, for lack of a better term. This leaves a window for escaping it, in fact I don't think that stage 3 comes naturally, instead requiring a "push" in the form of a bad enough (or ever worsening) situation.
About stage 5, yes and no. The crash itself isn't exactly a stage because it's really one moment between stage 4 and the wakeup, but I put it in there for convenience and also because it isn't guaranteed to happen. There could be cases where the downward spiral lasts too long, if you catch my drift.
Are you saying that you reached stage 2 and then managed to escape?
No, I didn't escape it, I think I just misunderstood that you were saying. I was a child and the only template I had to understand MD with was "imaginary friends". I wanted it to be like that, to actually interact with my characters in real life, in real time, in my real surroundings rather than just carry them around in a world in my head. It never worked, I could never get them out of my skull. I don't think this was an 'incubation period' like your step, I think I already had MD at this point, I was... maybe... trying to come to terms with the weirdness and make it something that I knew other people did? That's what it looks like with hindsight, I can't say for sure though.
Childhood is tricky, to be sure. In that age range, it's hard to define things clearly when it comes to imagination. Children have a readiness for creativity that grown-ups don't. That applies to me as well, I clearly wasn't the only one playing pretend with the other kids when I was 7, the problem is that I didn't grow out of it.
I think you're confusing the stages a little. You can't be at 5 and 3 at the same time. Judging by what you said it sounds more like you actually reached stage 5 and now you're simply awake with your daydreaming no longer controlling you like it did before.
You can't really "escape" stage 5, because by that point there's nothing left to escape. What happens there is that you bust out of stage 4, which feels like the flip switch and all the pieces falling into their places like you described. Which, by the way, is the sort of thing that happened to myself and, I guess, Matthew as well.