Daydreams are a respite from the mundanity of everyday life. For example, your body could be physically in an office meeting. But, in your mind, you could be exploring the hills of New Zealand or a colony in a different galaxy. Daydreams are welcome, inspiring, and at times refreshing, but there is a flipside–maladaptive daydreams.
Professor Eliezer Somer of the University of Haifa in Israel first described this condition in 2002. Maladaptive daydreams are frequent daydreams that are intrusive and disruptive. They can be so distracting that they can take you out of reality. At times, maladaptive daydreams can occur because of sensory stimuli or real-life events.
Sadly, this condition shares features with other behavioral addictions such as alcoholism and internet gambling.
Maladaptive is a behavioral addiction that arises as a coping mechanism. It is a way your brain distracts itself from a distressing situation or task. For some, it may be a response to trauma. It is a common symptom in those with anxiety, PTSD, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
While it can be a psychological shield, it can also cause harm. Prolonged bouts of maladaptive daydreams can make it difficult for you to separate reality from fantasy.
- Daydreaming for long periods.
Daydreams are like clouds passing on a clear sky. They are beautiful but ephemeral. You hardly remember what you were daydreaming about, but you have a general sense of how long you daydreamed.
In a maladaptive daydream, you don’t know how long you have been dreaming. The main reason for this is that you are so engrossed in the daydream that you don’t realize that you are in a daydream.
- Extremely vivid daydreams
Daydreams are usually vague and fuzzy. However, maladaptive daydreams are incredibly vivid.
You remember everything that occurs in detail to the point that you may mistake a maladaptive daydream for a memory.
- Talking or making facial expressions while daydreaming
In a maladaptive daydream, you are engrossed in that fantasy world that you lose the ability to tell if you are in a daydream or real life. Hence, you begin acting out your responses in the daydream.
- Difficulty sleeping at night
Maladaptive daydreams disrupt your circadian rhythm and prevent you from sleeping at night.
According to Marcusson-Clavertz and his colleagues, people who daydream generally have trouble sleeping. But, it can be worse for maladaptive daydreamers since they spend 4.5 hours a day in a daydream. Hence, maladaptive daydreamers have trouble grounding themselves in reality.
- Awareness of the daydream
Daydreams or the realization that you were daydreaming comes after the fact. Gaining awareness of a daydream is similar to how a camera pulls focus–a gentle shift back into reality. However, maladaptive daydreams are different.
There may be times when you know you are daydreaming but are unsure how to get back to reality. This can be distressing as you cannot trust whether what is happening is real or not.
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Marcusson-Clavertz, D., West, M., Kjell, O., & Somer, E. (2019). A daily diary study on maladaptive daydreaming, mind wandering, and sleep disturbances: Examining within-person and between-persons relations. PloS one, 14(11), e0225529. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0225529
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