Depersonalisation: The loss of personal identity
The aim of this chapter is to identify certain factors that foster the experience of depersonalisation. Although the term ‘depersonalisation’ is used in several different ways in the literature, the meaning that concerns us here is the loss of a sense of personal identity, characteristically accompanied by a sense of unreality. Campbell (1981, p. 163) defines depersonalisation as ‘a nonspecific syndrome in which the patient feels he has lost his personal identity, that he is different and strange and unreal’. Webster (1985, p. 340) defines depersonalisation as ‘a psycho-pathological syndrome characterized by loss of identity and feelings of unreality and strangeness about one’s own behavior’. In Bleuler’s (1950) classic description of the condition, depersonalisation is described as the feeling that one is not oneself. A patient may do something but think that someone else is doing it; or the patient may feel that what is happening to him or her is happening to someone else. Depersonalised people may experience themselves as separated, detached or disconnected from themselves, as onlookers of their own actions.