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People who get Lost, Literally, in Their own Daydreams


Determining to what extent daydreams are a mental illness is the basis for a scientific study…

From the time when we’re all very young, the determination of the border between real life and the life of fantasy and dreams is a part of most children’s normal socialization. For some people, though, daydreams are a bigger part of their daily lives, and they may even interfere with interpersonal relationships and with the meeting of social responsibilities.

Eli Somer from the University of Haifa, Israel, along with his colleagues, has been studying the phenomenon of “maladaptive daydreaming” in patients who self-diagnose. Excessive daydreaming, as it’s also called, has never been integrated into any clinical psychiatric diagnostic manual, but the phenomenon has brought together many people within virtual communities to discuss their symptoms. A 20-year-old patient described her own experience with daydreaming:

I have been lost in daydreams for as long as I can remember […] Some daydreams involve people I know […] Others do not include me at all […] These daydreams tend to be stories- […] for which I feel real emotion, usually happiness or sadness, which have the ability to make me laugh and cry […] They’re as important to part of my life as anything else.

Dr. Somer’s current project has been to link these daydreams with other psychopathological symptoms to try to better understand their functioning, and if possible, to design mechanisms for coping with them. In the most recent study, Somer and his colleague Nirit Soffer-Dudek, recruited 77 patients who’d self-diagnosed excessive daydreaming. They were from 26 countries and each tried to detail routines like food, sleep, and other environmental components.

The study’s findings suggest links between excessive daydreaming and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which can be treated through cognitive-behavioral therapies. It also seems to be a disorder linked to a decrease in serotonin, a neurotransmitter which plays a preponderant role in OCD.

A tendency to daydream shouldn’t be confused with any pathological disorder in the absence of intervention by a mental health professional. No medications have ever been prescribed for those who suffer from it. Thus far, it’s only the testimony of those who suffer from excessive daydreaming who provide the only source of information about the disorder. And they too, shouldn’t be discredited for having done so. One of Somer’s study participants stated: “I am torn between the love of my daydreams and the desire to be normal.”



 Image: Creative Commons

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