Different Mindfulness Facets Have Differing Associations with Depersonalization Symptoms

Different Mindfulness Facets Have Differing Associations with Depersonalization Symptoms


By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“Depersonalization symptoms can be tough to deal with, especially when you’re experiencing them 24/7. But just remember they’re caused by anxiety, and they’re part of your body’s defense mechanism to protect you from a traumatic experience.” – Shaun O’Conner


Depersonalization is defined as “Depersonalization/derealization disorder involves a persistent or recurring feeling of being detached from one’s body or mental processes, like an outside observer of one’s life (depersonalization), and/or a feeling of being detached from one’s surroundings (derealization).” – Merck Manuals. It is not known what the relationship is between mindfulness and depersonalization. In some ways it would be expected that mindfulness would be the antithesis of depersonalization. But in others it may actually exacerbate it as there are similarities with spiritual awakening.


In today’s Research News article Mindfulness and Depersonalization: a Nuanced Relationship.(See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9043097/ ) Levin and colleagues recruited healthy adults online and had them complete measures of depersonalization symptoms, anxiety, depression, perceived stress, and the five facets of mindfulness.


They found that the higher the levels of depersonalization symptoms the higher the levels of psychological distress and the observing and nonreactivity facets of mindfulness and the lower the levels of the acting with awareness and nonjudging facets. The relationships of depersonalization with the mindfulness facets were still significant even after controlling for the levels of psychological distress.


The reported relationships of depersonalization with the acting with awareness and nonjudging facets of mindfulness makes sense that they are clearly indicative of attachment with the outside environment. On the other hand, the positive relationships with observing internal experience and nonreactivity makes sense as they have internal focus and depersonalization involves detachment from the internal experiences. So, using mindfulness training as a treatment for depersonalization is probably not a good idea.


So, mindfulness has a complex relationship with depersonalization.


Sufferers of depersonalization and long-term meditators make surprisingly similar reports about reductions in their experience of being agents of their actions and as owners of their thoughts and behaviors.” – George Deane


CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Twitter @MindfulResearch


Study Summary


Levin, K. K., Gornish, A., & Quigley, L. (2022). Mindfulness and Depersonalization: a Nuanced Relationship. Mindfulness, 1–11. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-022-01890-y




Although depersonalization has been described as the antithesis of mindfulness, few studies have empirically examined this relationship, and none have considered how it may differ across various facets of mindfulness, either alone or in interaction. The present study examined the relationship between symptoms of depersonalization and facets of dispositional mindfulness in a general population sample.


A total of 296 adult participants (139 male, 155 female, 2 other) were recruited online via Qualtrics and completed the Cambridge Depersonalisation Scale; Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale; and Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire.


Controlling for general distress, depersonalization symptoms were positively associated with Observe, Describe, and Nonreactivity facets and negatively associated with Acting with Awareness and Nonjudgment facets. After controlling for intercorrelations among the facets, depersonalization symptoms remained significantly associated with higher Nonreactivity and lower Acting with Awareness. The overall positive relationship between depersonalization symptoms and the Observe facet was moderated by both Nonjudgment and Nonreactivity. Specifically, higher Observing was related to increased depersonalization symptoms at low levels of Nonjudgment and to decreased symptoms at low levels of Nonreactivity.


The current study provides novel insight into the relationship between depersonalization symptoms and various aspects of mindfulness. Experiences of depersonalization demonstrated divergent relationships with mindfulness facets, alone and in interaction. The results may inform theoretical models of depersonalization and mindfulness-based interventions for depersonalization.



One thought on “Different Mindfulness Facets Have Differing Associations with Depersonalization Symptoms

  1. I am concerned about this research. Meditators working within a Buddhist framework often find that their experience of identity, ego – the felt sense of I – changes. The ego’s perceived command of experience evaporates and its sense of being in control of experience is found to be illusory.

    This kind of investigation – namely, the exploration of what identity is and how it is constructed by the mind – is not the same as depersonalisation or derealisation in any sense whatsoever. In the latter, experience is fragmented due to traumatic events. There is a lack of integration or coherence, giving rise to a felt sense of oddness, of a world that isn’t quite right.

    It is possible to be aware of such outcomes and to bring mindfulness to this felt sense of a world that feels ‘weird’. This does reduce reactivity in so far as the awareness factor enables the meditator to understand that what they are experiencing is problematic and that caution is called for where action is concerned.

    But awareness of depersonalisation and awareness of how identity is constructed are fundamentally different arenas within which mindfulness can be brought to bear.

    Also, people who experience depersonalisation do not, to my mind, have a stable identity structure, from which they distance themselves during traumatic episodes. The problem is that the kind of traumatic experience that creates depersonalisation and derealisation happens when identity is still in the process of being formed. There is no discrete, strongly functioning sense of identity which is disrupted by trauma which then leads to derealisation.

    This is a serious problem area for Buddhism, in so far as Buddhism does not address how incoherent identity structures, disrupted by traumatic experiences, can be resolved. Buddhism usually attends to deconstruction of experience, not its construction, if you take my point.

    Many Buddhist teachers will instruct students to see therapists for help with incoherent ego structures. Therapists will then suggest to clients that mindfulness might be helpful. It’s a mess.

    If anybody knows of any work that is being done in this area, I’d appreciate feedback.

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