When Does Obsessive Daydreaming Become a Mental Illness?

People with maladaptive daydreaming disorder spend countless hours engrossed in vivid, complex daydreams—and many say they can't stop, even though their elaborate fantasy life is destroying their reality.

by Rebecca Kamm
Jan 10 2017, 4:33pm

Andrea does it for three hours every day, rolling from side to side on her bed to music. It makes her feel "safe, warm, excited, happy, content and balanced," but she also suspects it is the reason she has never married. She's a police detective. She would be horrified if anyone knew.

Bill's sessions can last eight hours. The facility manager does it in the dark in his bedroom or on long solitary walks as he listens to the same playlist on repeat. He once walked five hours straight without realising; when he finally stopped he looked down and saw his heels were bleeding.

For Julia, a job is out of the question because "triggers are everywhere." Instead she laughs, cries, sings, talks out loud, then re-emerges from the fog hours later, drained. It swallows up to seventy percent of her time. She thinks her friends might have noticed something's up.

In 2002, Dr Eli Somer, a professor of clinical psychology from the University of Haifa in Israel, noticed that six of the 24 child abuse survivors he was treating at the time "occasionally alluded to this secretive, internal fantasy life that they lived."

This wasn't the stuff of everyday mind wandering. These were hyper real, minutely detailed scripts that played on the walls of their minds for great chunks of their waking hours. They dreamed of idealized versions of themselves. Of close friendships, fame, romance, rescue and escape. Famous actors and singers dotted their dreamscapes.

They engaged in repetitive movements—pacing, rocking, spinning, throwing a ball up in the air. And they played emotionally charged music, explaining that it helped trigger and prolong their favorite scenarios.

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