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When you see yourself in the mirror, do you feel lost?
Perhaps you don’t know who exactly is staring back at you.
Maybe you get stuck gazing into the eyes of the reflection, wondering why you don’t feel anything.
Or perhaps it makes you feel sad and disconnected.
When you’re lost in this, it’s hard to understand why you feel the way you feel. You might search for an explanation for these feelings and want to understand why it is that you don’t recognize what you look like in the mirror anymore. Or maybe you never did?
It’s important to understand why you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror so you can take healthy steps toward changing it. So here we go; let’s unwrap some of the many reasons for this.
We’re going to start with the elephant in the room: depersonalization disorder. It’s going to be the main culprit in many cases. But we’ll also explore some of the other reasons later on in the article.
Depersonalization disorder is a mental illness characterized by feeling disconnected or detached from your body, mind, and thoughts. It’s sometimes described as feeling like you’re seeing yourself from outside of your body.
This disorder can exist on its own but is often a symptom of another underlying condition such as substance abuse and seizure disorders.
Depersonalization disorder can cause people not to recognize their reflection. It’s a game of perception that gives an entirely out-of-body experience to the victim. The person with the disorder generally realizes they are the person in the mirror but just can’t feel anything about it.
Typically, this disorder doesn’t bring hallucinations or paranoia. A person with depersonalization disorder can understand that their perception of themselves isn’t accurate.
Depersonalization disorder can also signify other health conditions that require treatment and care, such as brain diseases, seizure disorders, and various psychiatric conditions. In addition, depersonalization disorder is a dissociative condition and causes many challenges.
Symptoms of depersonalization disorder.
The three core signs that you’re experiencing depersonalization disorder are:
- Feeling like you’re a robot.
- Feeling like you’re not in the driver’s seat of your mind or speech.
- Feeling like body or limbs are misshaped and missed.
Causes of depersonalization disorder.
There isn’t a single known cause of depersonalization disorder but there are thought to be a few risk factors.
Childhood trauma and severe emotional stress might be a risk factor for developing the disorder, as well as certain personality traits and other mental health conditions.
Unfortunately, much like other mental health conditions, little is known about where this disorder derives from and how to prevent it.
How does depersonalization disorder affect life?
This disorder can have a significant impact on life.
Imagine just waking up, your eyes wide open, but unfortunately, you’re not sure what you see. Your vision is distorted, and everything is speckled. You’re not sure what’s going on.
You slowly glance down and notice your hands. Whose are these? They turn. Did you do that? Your hands don’t feel connected to you. Are they even yours? Slowly, you get up. You’re not sure why you feel so weird, but something is definitely odd. Your balance is off, and things just don’t feel right.
Your gaze catches your reflection, and you’re positive you’ve seen that person before. Who is it? The name is right on the tip of your tongue. You shake your head as if that might eliminate this feeling and continue putting on your clothes for the day.
Glancing down at your leg, you’re not even sure you can feel it. You’re confused when it raises to put itself into the pant leg. Who did that?
You pass the mirror again. Maybe you stop and spend a few minutes there. You’re left drowning with thoughts wondering why you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror. Who is this person?
Can depersonalization disorder go away?
Unlike many other mental health conditions, depersonalization disorder can go away. It is vital to get treatment and help as soon as you recognize the symptoms. The feeling of not being able to recognize yourself in the mirror can be temporary and related to a particularly stressful season in life. (For example, a death, job loss, tragedy, etc.)
For many, with treatment, episodes become less and less and decrease in intensity until they’re finally gone. Most people who take active participation in their treatment for depersonalization disorder eventually rid themselves of all their symptoms and can fully recover from it. Often this disorder is triggered for an amount of time, but it may also extend for a longer period.
What can you do if you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror?
Talk to your medical healthcare provider. Currently, psychotherapy is the only approved way to treat this disorder. However, psychotherapy is talk therapy and can only occur with a licensed professional. It aims to give the sufferer control over the disorder’s symptoms and teach coping tools to lessen their intensity and severity.
Coping with depersonalization disorder.
Though living with these feelings can be challenging, it’s not impossible. Here, we share some tangible tips that can be used and applied in everyday life. These tips are good for the in-the-moment realization that you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror, but ongoing psychotherapy is best for long term coping and thriving.
1. Acknowledge the feelings.
When you’re feeling something, it will probably get even louder if you attempt to ignore it. Your inner narrative needs you to acknowledge the feelings, almost like permitting them to exist in the real world.
A person might do this by verbally saying their feelings out loud, exploring them through journaling, or acknowledging them through another form of creativity.
Your feelings are only trying to keep you safe, and often this gets all mumbled and jumbled in the brain. This might be because of trauma, PTSD, or any emotional stress.
By acknowledging your feelings, you’re releasing them from your mind and letting them take up space in the real world. Slowly you can retrain your brain as to what your feelings are and what they’re called.
2. Breathing exercises.
Finding that you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror can create feelings of panic, anxiety, and fear. Take control of this by bringing awareness to your breath and senses.
The brain can only focus on a limited number of things at once, so slowing down the breath and drawing awareness to your senses can hinder these feelings and increase focus and calmness.
3. Listen to music.
Music has been shown to decrease stress levels, and because the thoughts associated with depersonalization disorder take energy and focus, they can be deterred with tunes.
So, create a playlist of feel-good songs that make you feel great so that when you feel the symptoms popping up, you can reach for your headphones and press play.
4. Call a loved one.
A loved one can help you to understand what is real and what isn’t. By voicing your feelings, you give them space and energy, allow them to exist, and invite love and support by sharing them.
It might feel hard initially if you’re not overly open, but it’s very beneficial. It helps to create an emotional connection, increase feelings of worthiness and belonging, and decrease feelings of “I’m going crazy” and “what’s going on?”.
Calling a loved one can help you to pull out of your thoughts and remind yourself that it is you in the reflection.
5. Limit the use of drugs, alcohol, and caffeine.
Drugs, alcohol, and caffeine can all play a huge role in your feelings and mental health. Don’t stop taking prescription medication prescribed by your doctor, but rather limit recreational drugs, alcohol, and caffeine consumption. These three variables can cause unstable moods along with intrusive and catastrophic thinking.
6 more reasons why you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror:
While depersonalization disorder is a significant factor when considering the feeling of not being able to recognize oneself, it isn’t the only factor.
Below, we share other reasons why a person might not recognize themselves in the mirror and a few tips for coping with those feelings. As always, talk to your medical provider too.
1. You feel disconnected in life.
Feeling disconnected in life can happen at any time and for any reason. It might feel like you don’t have control over your life or that you’re there but not really living.
On the other hand, it could feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to but that you’re going through the motions and not fully there in a mental or emotional sense.
A few ways to improve this are:
- Find a hobby that you’re passionate about.
- Start a meditation practice.
- Connect with loved ones.
- Make a photo album of happy memories.
2. You’re not used to seeing yourself.
Perhaps you’ve avoided mirrors for a long time? Or, you’ve been away recovering from a health condition and haven’t seen yourself yet. It’s okay not to recognize yourself.
A few ways to help are to get in front of your reflection more often, explore self-portraits, and look at yourself as you pass puddles, windows and doors. The more you see yourself, the more used to yourself you’ll be.
3. You don’t like yourself.
Who is this person in the reflection? If you’re often wondering why you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror, it could be because you don’t like yourself.
Maybe it’s that you don’t like how your life has turned out or the decisions that you’ve made. So you see yourself in the mirror, but it doesn’t click that that is actually you.
A few ways to work on this are:
- Personal reflection and development.
- Identify what you don’t like and set out to change it.
- Make a list of things you like about yourself and refer to it in these moments.
4. The reflection doesn’t align with what you want to see.
Sometimes what we see in our reflection doesn’t align with what we want to see. Or perhaps it isn’t what you thought it would be.
If you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror, spend more time with yourself. Spend more time being comfortable with yourself, getting to know who you are and what you look like. Avoid using filters with any photos you’re sharing, and work on being comfortable with your reflection.
5. A change in life seasons.
Life has lots of ups and downs. There are great joys and deep tragedies, and collectively, they make our mosaic of life.
A change in life seasons might be why you’re wondering, “why don’t I recognize myself in the mirror?” Maybe you’re wondering, “who is this person? How did I get here? Who have I become?” All of these are normal and valid feelings.
Life is full of change, and even when you’re in your darkest season, you’re getting ready for the bright. And with all of the ebbs and flows of life, change happens, and feelings happen. All of these things are what our life story is created with.
6. You feel disconnected from yourself.
Do you feel lost? Are you not even sure who you are? This can leave you feeling hopeless and isolated.
Perhaps you’re not even sure how you got here. Maybe you’ve been on autopilot for years and just woke up. However, you just realized that this is the only life you get to live, so you better start living it.
Below are a few ways to feel more connected to yourself and improve your relationship with your reflection.
- Start habitually checking in with yourself.
- Notice your feelings.
- Recognize and acknowledge your triggers.
- Practice being present and in the moment.
If you feel like you don’t recognize yourself in the mirror, it’s okay, and there is help. Reaching out to loved ones, acknowledging your feelings, connecting with your doctor, and listening to music are all things that can help.
In addition, psychotherapy (talk therapy) is an exceptional tool for depersonalization disorder. So, if you catch yourself wondering who is staring back at you in the mirror, it might be time to use a few of these tools and talk to your doctor.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.
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