Two years ago when I joined this community, I think I was more dead than alive. I've been waging quite a brutal war with maladaptive dreaming and the array of issues that underlie it ever since then and I'm on my way out of this prison. I wanted to do something for you guys so here is a little essay with insights on MD and what you can do to understand better and finally tame this beast. Hopefully, someone will find it useful.

 The split and the life between two worlds

Do you think the vague feeling of being split in two and existing between two worlds but belonging to none is exclusive to maladaptive daydreamers?

“If you try to have a conversation with me, I can’t bring myself to listen to you. I pretend to listen and you really think I do but my mind is somewhere else, thinking about it. Every time I try to stop doing it, I genuinely feel as if a part of me has been torn off and a deep sense of personal loss ensues. I feel as if I’m not here but I’m not there either and I can’t shake off this feeling of being split in two.”

This is what a recovering heroin addict once told me. Heroin addict. But it’s also what a regular maladaptive daydreamer could have told you, isn’t it?

Maladaptive daydreaming is, among other things, a typical psychological addiction. Most of the negative issues associated with maladaptive daydreaming come from the fact that it is an addictive coping mechanism and not some unique disorder with specific symptoms just recently discovered. You have heard million times that addictions are encoded in the primitive part of the brain associated with survival – which means that if you don’t get your fix right now, you feel more dead than alive and you need your drug of choice to bring you back to life. Your brain is sending a false message to you – it is issuing an urge that is blown out of proportion, compelling you to constantly indulge in daydreams and making you think that if you don’t, the world will end and you will lose a part of yourself. Drugs usually invade your sense of self – they fuse with it and by giving up the drug, you feel as though you are giving up a dear part of yourself.

Addiction is addiction but different types of drugs and addictive behaviors tell you different things about their users. So what does fantasy reveal about you? MD is like a guardian angel that tries to protect you too much and eventually causes more harm than good. But it’s still your guardian angel that tried lifting a burden off your brittle shoulders. It’s destructive in its own way but it was originally born to protect you from something. To realize and accept what you are trying to run away from is your first step towards recovery. Maybe it’s depression, maybe it’s low self-esteem and loneliness or it’s anxiety or PTSD.

Fall of the self

Maladaptive daydreaming isn’t the act of random mind-wandering – it’s a highly immersive mental activity, where all attention is gathered and directed towards happenings of the fantasy. This would be parallel to a so-called flow state, which is characterized by immersing intensely in an activity to the point of losing the sense of self. Which means, whatever happens in fantasy, happens, but not to you. It is a selfless experience, never integrated into what you call yourself, into sense of identity, into what makes you you. It exists as a detached, ecstatic, fleeting moment that slips through the fingers the moment you try to make sense out of it and process it as your own experience. You witness traces of happiness but the happiness is never yours.

Fantasy is an egoless state of mind where we are not ourselves. And by temporarily cutting ties from your own ego, the conscious identity, you’re also cutting ties from all insecurities you have ever had, from all the problems that are currently bothering you and this is why daydreams feel so damn good. Everything bad is just cut off from your perception. The part of your brain that defines your sense of self, along with all the negative things and mental illnesses attached to it, is turned off.

As you venture into this egoless place that is MD, you make up imaginary people you sometimes end up loving dearly or even fall in love with or you conjure imaginary places you’re desperately drawn to, and then suddenly – you wake up from your dream and you’re violently pulled back to reality and to being yourself. And this is where the problem arises: all those things you’ve done in your dreamworld and all those made up people you’ve come to love have nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with real YOU. They are not attached to your conscious sense of self. All those dreams and false memories you made – you made them in an egoless state of mind. And it’s this that makes you feel split. It’s not the fact that you’re physically apart from the content of your fantasies. It is the fact that your subconscious feelings, fantasies and desires do not connect to your sense of self. Even if everything you’ve been daydreaming about came true, you’d still feel like garbage, empty and miserable. If your imaginary friend came to life to make you less lonely, you’d still be lonely – because MD isn’t about made up friends or lovers or getting a new life. It’s about you not wanting to be you. Everything else is irrelevant.

In other words, you’re not addicted to your fictional characters or your imaginary love or to a fantasy about being a famous singer or writer. You’re addicted to not being you. You’re addicted to this erratic state of consciousness that is MD – regardless of its content – that provides a temporal relief.

I’m not saying that you don’t genuinely care about the content of your daydreams (quite the opposite, more on that soon) – what I am saying is that it’s not your love towards whatever is the content of your fantasies that creates this ugly feeling of being split between two worlds. One thing I can assure you (and this comes from my own experience) is that the moment you feel comfortable being you, those two worlds will reconcile, they will merge into one, and you’ll finally feel at peace with yourself.

Will a part of you be taken away as you give up your daydreams?

Maybe the saddest question I have ever asked myself was ‘how much of myself will I lose when I give up the only thing that makes me happy?’ Here’s a glimmer of hope: you’re not supposed to give them up. To give up the feelings you experience in your daydreams is self-mutilation. As strange or silly as they are, they still represent a censored part of your subconscious; maybe they are an epitome of your loneliness or your sadness. They are a testament to how hard you’re struggling and how hard you’re trying not to be dead – and to give this up is a crime towards yourself. Maladaptive Daydreaming isn’t just about wishful thinking and getting your wounds licked. It is that one place where your life flame stillburns while you may be dead in all other planes of existence. That’s enough to know that this MD thing isn’t all that entirely wrong. Maybe your real life is all emptiness and void but what you do in your daydreams – you do it with passion. And that’s enough to know that you are still capable of loving and caring about something just like other people. So passion exists and don’t you dare ever doubt that. It exists in a wrong place but it exists nonetheless. What you have to do is find a way to redirect those emotions from daydreams to reality and, as stated before, this causally happens once you’re finally you. All the positive emotions from your daydreams will flow back into you and you’ll feel as though these two worlds between which you have lived for so long have at last coalesced into one.

So what you want to do is focus on healing the self. It’s a tough one but there’s no quick fix here. Now comes the irony which you’ve been waiting for: in order to heal yourself, you need to let go of your daydreams. But didn’t I just say that you aren’t supposed to give them up, you ask? Don’t give up the passion, don’t give up the love you have for the content of your daydreaming, don’t give up the feelings – because they are all, real or not, a reminder that you’re alive. What you do have to give up is the false sense of comfort your daydreams give you. Try giving up all those countless hours you spend stuck in your own head pacing back and forth because you’d rather be there than here. Try giving up the temporal fix when you feel miserable. If someone angers you, don’t impulsively lock yourself in your room and act out a revenge in your head; go kick a sofa or something, lash out at something external.

You have to wean yourself off of this strange dissociative painkiller that’s fantasy, then let yourself feel all the pain with every ounce of your being, let all the negative emotions resurface, let them swallow you alive, don’t resist, don’t run away, accept them, let them ravage you, and somewhere along this process, a part of the you will be reborn. Something will awake. Not all of you, maybe just a small part but that’s enough to gather what’s left of your strength and continue the struggle. If you feel the urge to daydream, this is okay – as long as it doesn’t censor the pain which you shouldn’t run away from anymore, it’s fine to give in and indulge for a while if you feel like you have to. Don’t ignore temptations, this sparks the fire of addiction even more. It’s a well known pattern: if you fight the urge to engage in an addictive behavior, it makes it stronger. If you acknowledge it, analyze it, this is what breaks the cycle of addiction. In other words, the imperative is not to block the pain and negative feelings. If a sudden sense of self-disgust or low self-esteem suddenly hits you, welcome it. Welcome it, analyze it, let it consume you, and you will realize it is just a false message your brain is sending to you because that’s what brains of depressed people do, after all. The more you let yourself feel and process the negative feelings without censorship, the more will the urge to daydream weaken and the less you will run away.

Who are you really?

Depression usually enters people’s lives like a tempest – yesterday you were an optimistic person enjoying simple pleasures of life and today you feel like a suicidal or apathetic piece of shit, and this is how it is for most people. Depression that underlies MD, however, takes a different route. It enters your life stealthily, slowly, so slowly you don’t even notice it, then it gradually robs you of emotions, ambitions, memories, motivation, identity, empathy, and you end up thinking: “I don’t remember a time when I wasn’tmiserable,” or “these bad feelings must be a part of my personality, they have always been here. Because of this, most of us fail to realize where depression (or anxiety or any other kind of chronic mental illness) ends and where we begin. So if this illness isn’t you, then who are you?

Let me make a digression here. MD is usually born when you can’t express yourself properly because you’re anxious, depressed or sometimes simply shy or lonely. Mental illnesses are like lenses which distort your perception. Everything you see appears more tragic, senseless or uglier than it really is. And your both eyes are infected with these lenses. But here your subconscious decides to play a trick on your mental illness and tells you: ‘well, if your both eyes are infected and make things appear worse than they really are, then why don’t you just close them?’ You do and this is the beginning of the addiction to fantasy. You stop paying attention to the outside world and you turn it inwards and use your mind’s eye to create things inside you: your daydreams. This mind’s eye, which is fantasy, cannot get infected with depression and this is why MD is a safe haven. Depression doesn’t reach there. What your subconscious forgets to tell you before it’s too late is that if you close those two eyes used for perceiving outer world, for things outside of yourself, you’ll be completely cut off from reality. But none of this is your fault – this is a war between mental illness, the attacker, and your subconscious, which is your protector, and you are their battlefield. You don’t have a single choice, they are the ones who decide – you only observe. So if you ever blamed yourself for being too weak to make a decision to cease this addiction, stop it. It’s wasn’t your fault.

Back to my question, who are you then?

The daydream version of you isn’t the true you but it’s not a fake one either. It’s a highly filtered product of your subconscious that tried to protect you. Then we have this other real-life you imbued with low self-esteem and negative thoughts that seem to go on a loop forever. Well, that’s certainly not your true self either. Heck, if it’s any comfort for you, the daydream you is far closer to the true you than this real-life depressed version of yourself will ever be.

Can you remember the time when you didn’t have MD? Can you remember your sense of identity when you were a child free of MD? Try conjuring up all those times when you knew how to live in the present. It doesn’t matter if you were 6 years old the last time you were here. Just try to pinpoint all those moments and try to remember the feeling of being in the now. Here’s one pretty handy trick you can use. I always joke that music is a drug that takes you on a trip down a memory lane. It’s like an emotional psychedelic. It transports you emotionally back in time, to another place, another reality, to wherever you wish. It helps people with Alzheimer’s remember who they are and regain a sense of identity for a short while. Maladaptive daydreamers often use music to help them imagine an alternate setting – but what if you used music to transport yourself to the past when you had neither depression nor anxiety or MD or whatever is bothering you? If you can remember a forgotten song which you used to listen as a child who at the time hadn’t had MD yet, listen to it again, try to remember who you were, and if the song is meaningful to you, the old you and your sense of self, which you used to have back then, will come back to you for those few minutes while the song plays. You’ll feel the warmth of finally being you. You won’t quite be in the present – you’ll be in the past, but it’s your real past, it’s your true self. Try to capture this feeling and then try to reenact it. It’ll strengthen your identity in the long run.

I’ll give another example on what set me free from my own MD for a short while. You all know what fight or flight mode is. What you also probably know is that most people with PTSD or chronic anxiety are stuck in a constant state of fight or flight. Spending too much time in this state eventually leads to a burnout and is a sure ticket to depression since you go from fight and flight into freeze mode where all your functions are off and you feel like an emotionless zombie. You don’t care, you don’t live, you don’t get angry or sad or happy, you only exist on autopilot. In order to feel normal and alive again, you usually need a fix so strong which will set your body back on fire. Someone or something has to attack you so fiercely in order for you to rethink your existence and regain your instincts and the will to fight back. This is what happened to me. When one of my daydreams violently crumbled some time ago, I got so ridiculously pissed off that for the first time after several years spent in freeze mode, I felt genuinely alive. I was me. The anger acted like a stimulant and the state lasted for 15 minutes until the anger wore off. But hell, during those 15 minutes, I was me. I was so mad but I was also indescribably happy. I could feel. I could let go. I was defeated but I also won. The thirst, the cravings, the split, this strange nostalgia for my daydreams all dissolved. But instead of just disappearing, every positive feeling that was limited to the daydream world only, such as sense of purpose, motivation and normal self-esteem, flew back into me. I didn’t lose a single part of me – quite the opposite – I regained back that detached part of my soul that existed only in daydreams. What took for me to awake was extreme anger, being defeated, my world crumbing to pieces. The moment I genuinely accepted that my dream world crushed, the moment I let go of all attachments holding me back for years, I was reborn. The anger, which is a natural stimulant, made something in me click. But note: this feeling of finally being alive and the desire to fight back woke up in me once my daydreams were in danger, not me. It’s because we’re so displaced, because fantasy is where we had hidden the core of our souls.

In the long run, you’re destroying neither the daydream you nor the positive feelings that come with it, you’re not giving anything up – you’re just transferring it to reality, to where it should be. But for this change to occur, before you can be reborn and whole again, you have to self-destruct, you have to let go.

-

If you made it until the end, thank you. I hope you found it at least a little bit useful. This is just a part, you can read the rest here: 

Part 2

[nature of fantasies]


Part 3

[return to reality]

Part 4

[emotional bluntness]

Part 5

[root of MD]

[Letting go]

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 I'm just blown away! This was the best thing I've ever read and it describes me totally just like so many others.What a great talent you have for writing- so beautifully and honestly.I can't describe how thrilled I am to read the other parts.This was incredible, really.I feel really emotional after reading this.Thank you!!!

Hey Bee.

You said you think your MD started out of the blue without you having self-deserting tendencies or wanting a psychological reward or relief, which implies that it has no particular function and I'm having hard time agreeing with this. I'm not doubting the fact that you developed it at young age without an obvious emotional trigger but I do think that MD has to have a function, it has to give you something you otherwise can't get. If a child starts exhibiting excessive mind wandering at a young age, then that's attention regulation problem and it surely can be neurological or it can stem from things such as impaired stress response regulation - and this of course can happen just because your brain happens to be wired like that, so it's obviously without any negative emotional trigger. But that alone is not what we call MD in my opinion. It can be a precursor to it, or a catalyst, but it's not MD itself. What distinguishes MD from excessive mind wandering, or rather, the point where mind wandering becomes MD is when we become addicted to feelings we get in those fantasies. We get emotional fulfillment from daydreams, which we can't get from real life, and that is why we repeatedly keep coming back to MD. If you're just daydreaming without getting your emotional reward, then that's just simple excessive mind wandering.


I pretty much believe that a person first has to experience the feeling of being cut off from the world before MD can get triggered for the first time. Whether this feeling of being cut off comes from neurological factors like ADD or some other attention regulation problems or more psychological stuff such as reactive depression, prior to getting addicted to fantasy, I think we need to experience alienation and isolation. Your problem can start off as normal mind wandering in childhood and then escalate to MD once you cannot cope anymore with the fact that you're growing emotionally disconnected from the world - or rather, yourself.

Also Bee, I never really said that MD is a purely psychological phenomena. Of course it has deep physiological root. But that doesn't mean you cannot change it by merely "changing our mindset" as you say it. Yes, you can reprogram your brain just by positive thinking or positive behaviors. It's one hell of a flexible organ but it's also one hell of a hard process. People recover from stoke where damage is far more serious by merely reinforcing certain cognitive processes, don't they? They sometimes recover from severe clinical depressions without medication. Positive thinking isn't just thinking positively. Strengthening and reinforcing certain brain patters can work very smoothly but it requires triggering specific emotional states and networks where those changes can happen in the first place. If you're just going to repeat to yourself: "today I'm going to be strong and I'm not going to be anxious," of course you're going to fail miserably. But if instead you expose yourself to what makes you anxious again and again, then after 10 or 20 or 50 attempts, you are going to alter your stress response and become more resilient to anxiety. And this changes the structure of your brain just as efficiently as medication.

As for the cure thing, I'm not offering a quick fix here. I'm not offering a pill that can either work or not work for you. This is an essay, not a research, and I'm just throwing a bunch of speculations hoping they will make sense for someone. What I am saying is that this thing can be overcome. And I desperately want to break it down, I want us all to break it down together until we can understand it.

Those are just my views, feel free to knock them down.


Sophie, I'd also like to add that dissociation doesn't need to be caused by trauma at all. Dissociation can be extremely subtle and can result from seemingly banal problems. Low self-esteem can cause you to become so heavily disconnected from your emotions that it prevents you from leading an emotionally functional life. Some are prone to it, some not, and it's probably genetics behind it. Mild depression or dysthymia in itself causes the feeling of being cut off from the world, which is the perfect ground for dissociative coping mechanisms to bloom.

Satchi R, oh, thank you! :)

I'll quote myself for clarity:

"Now, not everyone who suffers from dissociation has been traumatized in the way that I describe. One visit to dissociation support forums will reveal that many people can get dissociated permanently from light drug abuse or a bad relationship."

So, yeah. In case I wasn't clear, most people from the dissociation forum I'm talking about(I think it's called dpselfhelp) has not experienced trauma.

I'm quite surprised that people in the study with MD did not also suffer from other dissociative traits. Furthermore, judging by the way it is written, it implies that MD is not even considered dissociative in and of itself. What's up with that?

I have always treated my MD like dissociation and spoken about it as such. Before knowing the term 'maladaptive daydreaming', guides on cures for dissociation were - in times with less depression - treated as guides for getting my life back on track, and they were very effective.

Where does MDD come from, if not trauma? I have a great family and unbelievable support (my family thinks it's depression) and I've never had some horribly traumatizing event, yet looking back on my childhood and High school years, I can see there was great loneliness, desire to fit in, timid, shy, afraid and I think a really low self-esteem.I would never want to repeat my youth. I just want to stop MDD, but how does one begin to love themselves? What is one supposed to do?

As Sophia said, the study is very interesting, if we're not dissociatin, then what's really going on in our brains? This places researchers on whole new ground. It's gonna be exciting to see how it turns out - we might be seeing the beginnings of a whole new field of research. (And if we've been 'misdiagnosed' how many other disorders could've been listed as dissociative and aren't really?)

Secondly, I think it's important to point out that the popular idea of MD being connected to trauma and abuse came from Dr Eli Somer's first paper. But as we all know that had only three (?) subjects and they were already seeing Dr Somer for severe cases of abuse or trauma - which is where I believe the link between the two came from. Even Dr Somer now believes that confirmation bias was build into the study. Somer never expected that a 'plain Joe" on an average street could have MD, since he'd never heard of case, until the e-mails started to flood in. Because MDers rarely speak about it to anyone, medical science never knew we were around. We had totally gone under the radar. This might also be were the dissociation link came from.

Also, the subjects in Somer's study suffered from severe trauma and abuse which still is he's field of study.

Right now? No one seems to really have an idea why we have MD, but from the last study, I believe only 1 person out of those who participated said they had suffered trauma or abuse which could've lead their MD. What I can't remember is the scale they were using - were they testing using Dr Somer's original scale for what was considered trauma and abuse severe enough to cause MD? I can't seem to find the questions - if someone still has a copy, that would be great.
(Since it won't let me edit the above post *sigh*)

Just to clarify and correct - the study sample was a third of Dr Somer's case load. They had all suffered from abuse relating to their childhoods. Dr Somer has a YouTube vid were he explains the history. It should interesting for anyone who wants to hear how the whole MD 'story' started. Dr Somer's channel is fascinating.)

I wonder if it would be possible to set up a Q&A directly with the Dr's and researchers involved MD- see if they would answer and clarify some basic questions the community might have. Has that been done before? I know their busy, but we kinda are they're main 'study sample'. Might be useful for them as well.

Bee, fantasy is a dissociative state and fantasy has been a dissociative state long before any study on MD was even made. The problem with dissociation is that it somehow always ends up being brought in the same context as trauma or abuse, as Sophie also mentioned. No one is talking about trauma or abuse here. If a person is not in touch with their feelings in real life yet gets in touch with them in an altered state of consciousness such as daydreaming, that's plain old dissociation. Dissociation experienced in fantasy is probably even normal - but the problem happens when you start getting too attached to it and consequently become too detached from emotional experiences in real life.

Another thing to consider is that MD is one hell of a versatile fix. It's not a cigarette that can only relieve your tension when you're stressed. It's also not a stimulant that can only make you feel alive when you feel as if you were run over by a truck. MD is whatever you want it to be. It can be a stimulant, an antidepressant, it can increase your adrenaline, it can decrease it, it can fire you up or it can calm you down, it do whatever you subconsciously want it to do. This is your mind at its finest. This thing has an extremely shifting nature and you cannot examine it unless you delve really deep into the brains of sufferers.

Yes, it'd be cool to have a feedback from actual neuroscientists but I have no idea how interested their community is in MD. Because it's already been several years and you'd expect there would be at least some talk about it but everything is still silent.

Satchi R, where does MD come from, you ask?

From desire to come in touch with your feelings, me thinks. Feelings that were taken away from you by banal things like low-self esteem or chronic anxiety, for example. You enter fantasy in search of yourself, your lost calm and self acceptance. But when you're in fantasy [fantasy being one of those states where sense of self becomes labile], you're not you anymore. You find that calm but you're not you. You are your characters, you're everything and nothing at the same time. Then your brain gets confused and you're not sure anymore if those feelings you're trying so bad to experience are yours or your characters' which leaves you with more inner conflicts and widens dissociation. And once when you're back to reality, your brain has a hard time attaching those fulfilling feelings felt in fantasy to your real self which makes you even more hungry. Because you've seen the paradise in your dreams, but this paradise is not yours. It's your characters'.

How does one being to love themselves?

Ah, it's one of those questions. I don't know. I have no idea. It's a self-discovery process that's different for everyone. For me, it took destroying my dreamworld and then facing a lot of self-hate and guilt that were released in turn. After that, there was a period when I was trying to run away from my daydreams before I actually realized that if I run away from them, I'm also running away from that detached part of me that's stuck in them. So, I revived my dreamworld and this time, instead of perceiving it as something separate from me that I could never have, I started to view the feelings experienced in MD as a dissociated part of me that I had to reattach to myself. By reattaching them one by one, my self-acceptance started to grow. It was slow, so slow but it was happening.

Wow.

It's going to take a while for me to fully take this in and understand it...

this was pretty amazing. recently ive crumbled because of the fact that im fed up with MDD  and the fact that my reality and fantasy lines have been blurred for way to long. because of my age and living situation and some recent frustrations ive wanted this fantasy over.  and whenever i have a  love interest IRL - like if id even see someone online and realize i could contact them , i idealize it way too much in my mind and then i see that this person has a love interest IRL or a life of their own i feel the shame of either not reaching out enough or at all or reaching out at the wrong time and im back in la la land or realize i have nothing with that  person or anyone. ive only done this with two people ive seen online recently but most of the time its either just someone made up or someone from the past.i usually feel sick and sad like a divided loser and its remarkable that the sense of loss he describes mirrors what ive just recently just all said to myself. its pretty remarkable and freeing and devastating.its amazing how all of this reflects on what i just asked myself the other day. this whole time i could have been trying to mold my life to LIVE A DREAM instead of being stuck in one.

Ok, this is driving me kinda mental now - dissociation is becoming a buzz word around here...;-)

The following is the definition of dissociation:

"In psychology, the term dissociation describes a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis."

From the MD research:

"Importantly, virtually all of you have stated that you have no trouble distinguishing reality from fantasy; and that you are acutely aware of the difference between what is imagined and what is real.So far, it doesn't appear that any of you suffer from any sort of dissociative disturbance; which will continue to be a salient factor in describing and ultimately classifying this syndrome."

So maybe there are more than one level of MD or maybe if you're dissociating from reality, you have something related to MD, but not what Dr Cynthia Schupak is studying. It another interesting aspect of this "disorder".

The quote from the study is kind of weird. I assume Dr. Schupak is referring to far more complex aspects of dissociation (eg. amnesia, inability to recall one's actions) by dissociative disturbances, otherwise the phrase makes no sense. Because daydreaming in itself by definition is dissociation.



Daydreaming is not dissociation, because then every person on the planet would suffer from dissociation.  Dissociation has a specific meaning in psychology as shown in the first quote. 

The study is pretty clear - this was written by a doctor and researcher who'd interviewed and seen nearly a hundred submissions from MDers. I'm pretty sure she knows what she was talking about - this is her specialist field.

MDers and daydreamers don't dissociate  - we know the difference between fantasy and reality at all times.  

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