0:00 / 0:00

The Body That’s Not Real


Lauren Black

Illustration: Lily Wright,

Martha describes what it feels like to depersonalize


The Body That’s Not Real

Produced by Lauren Black

L=Lauren M=Martha

L: This piece is about something called depersonalization. It’s a kind of psychological event where the person experiencing it feels a distinct and uneasy separation between their mind, body, and self. Depersonalization usually comes on as an after-effect of something else, like intense tiredness, migraines, or a traumatic experience. There won’t be discussion of trauma in this piece, but there will be descriptions of how it feels to depersonalize, so if that’s not for you today, you can pause here and move to another story.

M: What if you made me a soundtrack that I could like listen to, to help me through the experience?

L: Like what sounds, what kinds of sounds would be helpful to you?

M: I don’t know, I’m trying to think. Water? Probably water sounds at the beginning? Um. Like fire sounds potentially because I feel like there’s some aspect of like me losing heat in my head. Um. Probably like, nice laughter, haha, but like not creepy, but like laugh laughter. Probably.

L: Specifically laughter, not talking?
M: Uh uh. No. Not talking. Or maybe, yeah.
L: Would you like to feel like you’re in a group of people?

M: No. That feels too overwhelming. Probably just with like two people. Two good friends like looking over me and like gently laughing or something.

M: My earliest memory of these experiences is when I was about 12 I think. It has a name, by the way. It’s called depersonalization.

L: And, and so what is that memory, can you describe it?

M: It’s always, it’s always when I’m by myself. And I was in my mom’s bathroom at the mirror, I think I was like washing my hands or something, and then I like looked up into the mirror and suddenly this like weird soul thing came over me and like, like kind of forced me to be like who is this person in the mirror? Like what is who is, Martha, like what is she?

M: In the, in the seconds before it’s coming on I suddenly become really aware of my body and my skin and the way my breath sounds and like… if I’m talking on my voice sounds like. And

like what position I’m in in space, and if I’m moving. It sort of comes on over the course of maybe like 10 seconds or something, and slowly, and then—

[voice semi-muffled]—all the sudden I feel like my, um, body, and my regular self is like totally disconnected from like this other part of me that’s like—it almost feels like I’m sort of behind my head, like in the back of my head. I’m not looking down on my body, I’m still in my body, but it feels like there’s a sudden like real separation from like my whole identity as Martha who exists in the world and does things and has a name and has this body and has all these memories and experiences with this with, with this body and also this brain. Like that is suddenly being viewed from a little bit behind me, or like in my, in the top of my brain

M: I keep, I keep track of time, I like know where I am in space, I know where my body is like reality is not actually bent at all, but it’s like… it’s almost like… uhh, uch.

[garbled voice sound]
M: everything is me, but it’s just like not accepting that it’s me anymore [body sound interlude]

M: I remember one time, I was like doing my laundry in a sink with a mirror, and then I like happened to look up at the mirror and saw my face and then it, it like suddenly came on and it hit me and then I knew that I had to like get out of the bathroom because even in my peripheral vision I could still see myself in the mirror, and then I just dropped my clothes and like, like slowly, I tried to stay calm, but I like slowly walked towards the door of the bathroom, and then I just found the even the movement that I was making was, was too much acknowledgement of like my body. And then I like, in that in that instance, I got really, really freaked out. Like maybe more even than usual. And I felt so, so aware of like everything that I was doing, and everything that I was doing was sort of making the situation worse, and then I just remember like, it getting to the point of such extreme like separation that I—and I like almost felt like at that moment my soul could actually like pop out of the back of my head, and then I just remember like dropping down onto the ground. I like didn’t pass out, but I just like collapsed. I like to crawled to the doorway of this room that I was in and like open the door and like—

[faint voices]

M: I heard like voices of my friends like down the hall and then I felt all this rush of heat to my face, and then I felt like I was, like it was going to be okay, and it was going to pass.

L: When was the most recent time that this happened? M: When was the most recent—like last night, I think.