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The American Psychiatric Association defines depersonalization as follows: "Periods of detachment from self or surrounding which may be experienced as "unreal" (lacking in control of or "outside" self) while retaining awareness that this is only a feeling and not a reality" - it's a dissociative disorder.

To put this into real-life terms, it's finding that your persona, the essential you, is sitting outside your body, maybe just above and behind it, watching it behave like an automaton, continuing to do what it was doing but without you inside its head to control it. You might be passing a wry commentary on how well or badly your body is doing, but you can't influence it.

Before this weekend I'd only experienced this condition just once before - I used to race UK BRISCA F2 stock cars (little single-seaters, pushing and fencing allowed, quarter-mile oval tracks), and during one night-time meeting I got a flying start in the Final and was out in front, hotly pursued by 20 other cars. Oval racing from the front is a matter of accelerate, corner, accelerate, corner - totally rhythmical, no cars to avoid, utterly fixated on not screwing up, scanning mirror, oil pressure and revs, floodlights flicking past, waiting for the first impact from the cars behind catching me up, intense concentration and stress. After about ten laps of the twenty-five I suddenly went into depersonalisation without warning, and was viewing myself driving from above and behind, criticising the puppet in the driving seat - "you're losing it, cornering's getting sloppy, you never were any good..." and so on. It ended a couple of laps later when my car got whacked from behind, the rhythm was broken and I ended up spun out in the fence - I was back in my head but out of the race.

This weekend, I was gigging with my covers band. I play several alto numbers one after another - usual pub fodder, Dock of the Bay, Never Tear Us Apart, Lily was Here, and then Baker Street, during which I suddenly found myself disassociated from the puppet that continued to finger the keys and blow the horn. Instead, I was above my head looking down and thinking about the spit leaking from my embouchure (ugh!) the imperfections in my tone, the certainty that I would never dance or anything else with that pretty young lady cavorting in front of the stage, and asking myself *** I was doing here anyway...

...and my sax played on... and fortunately the puppet didn't miss any notes - this time!

Has anyone else experienced this weirdness?
 

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I've definitely experienced the feeling that the music was playing me vs. me being in control. In fact, when that happens the music generally benefits and the bliss of those moment are one of the main reasons I do this.

I'm not sure that what I experience is what the APA would define as depersonalization, though. There's another psychological concept known as flow that is associated with peak performance and is often described in a similar way.

Of course, psychological experiences are difficult to define with precision.
 

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No. I didn't know this happened to people. Guess I've led a sheltered life.
 

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That’s a lot of words for “being in the moment”.
 

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Isn't this what people call “ being in the zone”?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)

If that’s what you are talking about, I am sure than most people experience a particular state of mind when engaged in a number of activities, one of which may be playing music. I certainly have.

I wouldn’t go as far as describing it as OP did (depersonalization under stress, that is not it, quite the contrary ,in actual fat, for me) , but I have felt encapsulated in a universe of my own while engaged in a concentrated manner with a number of activities.

I have been a photographer for many years and I had long sessions in the studio when I experienced this too, the same I have with scuba-diving.

I am there , in the moment, but I am in a particular cocoon where I am aware of the surroundings but at the same time engaged in a more profound dialogue within myself with an apparent “ detachment” from “ others" reality.

Another thing is that this state of mind seems to relax me more than anything else because I find that the riddle of thoughts suddenly , as you get there “ in the zone", stops and you are left with great clarity.

If fact I am not even sure that I have tinnitus while “ in the zone” ( I have to make sure to notice).
 

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Seems to me we are discussing different things here that may manifest in some similar ways but by no means identical.

"Bliss of the moment" and in the zone" must be far from "a dissociative disorder" as mentioned in the OP.


  • dissociative disorder = a bad thing
  • in the zone = a good thing

Not the same

The human brain can do strange things, including all kinds of hallucinations - viral, oral, physical etc. We tend to associate the word mostly with visual hallucinations though.
 

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thu human brain can also think that is doing one thing while, in fact, experiencing another :twisted::whistle:
 

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I'm a clinical social worker, and by definition, depersonalization dissociative disorder involves a breakdown of perception and is persistent. It's rare (I've only seen it when I worked inpatient) and most patients with it were severely abused or witnessed someone else being severely abused. It's extremely unpleasant to people. Anyone who has had a seizure has experienced depersonalization (I have) and it's scary and just a horrible feeling. Being "in the zone" is not any kind of dissociative disorder.
 

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yes, and I think that one might feel the effects of “ being in the zone” and think that one is experiencing something completely different. Every and any medical diagnose is best let to the qualified people.

I have always to think of the “ Three men in a boat” and the appointment with the doctor and more importantly his prescription.
 

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I think a lot of music making happens in a subconscious, non-verbal part of the mind. We're not usually thinking, "OK, this measure has ii-V that begins in G minor, and I am going to play a descending phrase that starts on Bb three, which I will finger using the side key and the first two fingers of my left hand plus my thumb on the octave key etc...." Most of the time, I think we just start playing and our fingers start moving, and all those mental processes are happening somewhere in the back of mind, but we're not really aware of them. We may even be thinking about something completely else--what we're having for dinner, what somebody said before the set started, whatever--in the conscious part of your minds. But I don't think that's the same thing as depersonalization, even if it share some traits.
 

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I have had the "in the zone" and (what I call) "stepping back" experiences, usually immediately next to each other.

When I'm "in the zone," I am not conscious, I am not thinking, I am playing without existing in an intellectual sense; I'm grooving. When my mind sees that, I have a moment where I "step back" and have a few thoughts, usually, "Wow, this gig is fun" or "I can't believe I'm playing this tune." I soon realize that my body is playing without my brain and have to kick myself beck into the moment.

I rarely have the "step-back" moments, but more frequently are "in the zone." Frankly, I find gigs where I'm not "in the zone" to be tedious because 1. the band isn't playing well so I have to concentrate harder than I should and/or 2. I'm not prepared enough and am holding on for dear life.
 

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I read the OP wrong. Apologies.

I do experience a “watcher” mind, but it is an awareness of making choices, rather than an inability to make choices or influence the process of making choices.
 

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Short answer: yes. But it's a good thing. I think many of us have experienced playing, similar to your race car driving experience, where we're not playing the horn or thinking about playing the horn, it's just coming through us and we're not in control, it's just happening to us. It's a magical, mystical experience that those of us who have experienced it are always seeking the experience again, like the first time we had a drug or sex or any other peak experience. Don't you want to be out in front in that race car again? :mrgreen:

My training is in psychology (i've run mental health research projects for many years) so I'm familiar with the terms depersonalization and dissociative disorder. Psychiatry always defines these things as bad, as a symptom of mental illness. But the experience you describe is not bad or mental illness. Instead, it's a state of mind that many people seek to achieve repeatedly. It can be considered a form of enlightenment or heightened mastery or other positive phrases that describe the same thing, something to be achieved rather than something to be concerned about. The way the American Psychiatric Association uses the terms of depersonalization and dissociative disorder is to label particular ways that people go crazy. But many of us seek to go crazy is that specific way when we're soloing on the bandstand and the groove is mighty and something takes over our minds and we have a sort of out of body experience when the horn plays itself and we just sit back and let it happen. It's a great high. Many musicians have this experience (hopefully). Then we spend the rest of our playing lives trying to get there again. :toothy8:

Edit: I wrote the above before I read all the responses. Roundmidnite, the clinical social worker, is right. Depersonalization dissociative disorder is a very different thing that what people are calling "in the zone." It's a form of mental illness that is often a reaction to being severely abused. It's how you take yourself out of an untenable situation that your mind can't handle. People who have depersonalization dissociative disorder are extremely miserable and have great difficulty dealing with everyday life. My only quibble with what she said is that, while being "in the zone" is not any kind of dissociative disorder, it is a form of dissociation. But now I'm nitpicking semantics and that's not helpful. I want to say to the OP that you did not experience mental illness or a disorder or something bad. Instead, you had a peak experience which I think is good for your mental health. "I was above my head looking down ...and my sax played on..." Yes.
 

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I find that it is actually a desirable goal. When it happens to me, though, I don't usually hear all the crappy stuff I usually associate with my internal "Sh*tty Committee." We all have that internal voice. However, what you are talking about only rises to become a "disorder" when it creates negative results in your life. It's not in, and of itself a problem, unless you make it one. Music is an inherently transcendent process, especially MAKING music. Leaving your body is just a natural part of the process. I don't mean this next part to imply there's something wrong with you, just a suggestion. I suggest you talk to a qualified therapist about these experiences. The self-critical messages that come through are something it would be helpful to "rewrite." I know people get all freaked out about seeking therapy, but it's really about skilled people who genuinely know how to help you through stuff. It's not about being "crazy." Unless you demonstrate something that comprises a threat to yourself or others, trust me they're not gonna haul you off or lock you away anywhere. Those places practically don't exist anymore, anyway.
 

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Oh, come on kids, you're BOTH pretty! Yes, you're right, and so is the person who used the term "dissociation" to describe the "in the zone " experience. Granted, a disclaimer would be nice so as not to confuse it with the psychological disorder, but it's the textbook definition of it, really. If you're doing it right, anyway.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Guys, thank you for your thoughtful replies on this difficult topic. It's not easy to deal with the experience - when it happened there was no warning and afterwards I was left wondering whether the connection could somehow become totally severed, resulting in a physical or metaphorical car crash... however, as a result of what I've read above I'll now definitely make an effort to treat this as something potentially positive as long as I can exert some degree of control over it. Maybe it needs practice - do you remember the craze for those weird random graphics that (after concentrating hard while freeing your mind and eyes) magically re-rendered themselves as a 3D picture of a dinosaur or whatever? Maybe it's a bit like that...
 

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The best players I play with seem to stop being themselves physically and almost disappear into the music. Get into the zone or whatever you want to call it. Really we as musicians don't have time to instruct our fingers one a time to move now, now up in real time. It has to be conceptual and then muscle memory. For me. when I have lots of instructing in my head I don't like the band im with. If I like what I'm hearing , my critics mind goes to sleep and I just try to fit in.
 

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When I'm soloing, on sax or keys, I don't know how I do it. I mean, where do the note choices come from? Why do I do this instead of that? What makes me do this run, or flutter tongue, or hold a high note for a long time, or go for the low note here and not there. I don't know. My conscious mind is sort of off (not entirely) and sometimes the fingers and embouchure and tongue just take over and do what they do. I'm sure that's true for most of us when we solo, at least those of us who have done it a bunch. In the beginning of course, I had to think about what notes to play and what worked and what didn't and try to stay out of my own way. But the more you do it, the more you can let go and let your subconscious sort of run things while you sit back and let it happen. Feels good, don't it?
 

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Zone and depersonalization: Two different things. Being in the zone to me, is being so in control of your faculty, that thought instantly translates into action without any additional effort of filter. The musical zone to me is the classic ability play what you think at will. The OP's topic, is a different phenomena, that I don't think many folks experience, and involves an almost dual consciousness - bear with me as I avoid meta-physical babble. I had this feeling not long ago, as I was in a deep analytical conversation at work (science and engineering), and began to hear myself speaking, and listening to myself, as if someone else was speaking. I even noticed it, and was thinking how odd it is to hear myself speak, and not know what was going to be spoken next - simultaneously while I was speaking. I even was able to look at my listeners, and took note how they were all listening and paying attention. I then thought how this was like an out of body experience, as if I were observing myself - sort of a Charles Dicken's moment. I don't how I was still speaking on such a deep topic, without breaking speech, and thinking about all this other stuff at the same time. It was a little disturbing.

I wasn't sure what it was, never read about it, didn't have a word or description, but I remember it really well as it left a significant impression. With music, I could see the same thing happening, but I've worked hard to be able to play "in the zone", where its about control first, then release of constraints and fear. I don't think I'd ever give up that control while playing music, but I can see where a person might, similar to the OP's experience.

Ok, that was too damn deep for Saturday morning, but I do have the bari out, and getting ready for a studio session this afternoon, so maybe I'll be ok....
 
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