Feelings of depersonalization/derealisation

A severe trauma or being prolonged or repeatedly exposed to traumatic events can trigger the feeling of being detached from one’s body or mental processes. This can include both an altered perception of oneself (for example, “I am not myself.”) and the environment (e.g. “My environment is far away and distorted.”).

Feeling disconnected from one’s own thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity

  • Some children feel like an outside observer of their thoughts, feelings, and their body.
  • Some children feel like a robot or are insensitive to sensory stimuli, e.g. sounds, colors, or smells.
  • Some children have problems to show or deal with emotions.

Experiences of unreality or detachment from one’s environment

  • Sometimes children also experience other people, objects or the environment as unreal, strange or spatially altered (e.g. having the feeling to be in a movie).
  • It can also happen that children experience the world like “behind a fog” or “behind a glass wall”.

Associated responses

  • Some children have difficulties to express what they went through and fear that other people don’t understand them or call them crazy.
  • Affected children are sometimes afraid of losing control of themselves.
  • Some children have difficulties with their memory and, for example, can’t remember the trauma at all, or only in fragments.
  • Some children report diffuse physical symptoms such as head pressure, tingling, dizziness or numbness.


Reality check

  • If you get the feeling that you child is starting to disconnect, try to get your child back to the here and now. Do so by asking questions regarding the surrounding (“Where are you right now?”, “What do you see, smell, or hear?”, “Who else is present?”).

Further tips

  • Give your child something sour or spicy to eat (e.g. sour candy, slice of lemon, chili sauce, etc.).
  • Turn up some music or clap your hands.
  • Let your child smell on a fragrant scented oil or tiger balm (can be obtained at a pharmacy/ drug store).
  • Let your child take a cold shower.
  • Try to get your child moving (trampling, running up and down stairs).
  • It’s important that you discuss all these strategies with your child beforehand so you know what they want you to do when it happens.