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Fast, I. Chethik, M. (1976). Aspects of Depersonalization—Derealization in the Experience of Children. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 3:483-490.

(1976). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 3:483-490

Aspects of Depersonalization—Derealization in the Experience of Children

Irene Fast and Morton Chethik


This study was begun in the context of the contradictory observations that, on the one hand, depersonalization rarely occurs in children and, on the other, that adult patients suffering depersonalization often remember their first such experience as having occurred in childhood.

Our observations suggest that children do have experiences of depersonalization. Their descriptions of them are very like those of adults. Like adults, they describe the loss of a sense of reality without disturbance in reality testing. They recognize these experiences as distinct from other feelings and can articulate them in the clinical context. Depersonalization states are recognized in a fairly wide age-range. They are observed in a wide range of pathology from the severe disturbance of Gary to the relatively mild one of Ruth. They may be triggered off easily in the context of severe ego disturbance, as in Gary, or in the context of severe stress as in the other children. The experience is intensely unpleasant and children react to it with marked anxiety.

In our attempt at conceptualization we have argued that the sense of reality lost in depersonalization is the one established in the period of primary narcissism, and that the other characteristics of narcissistic experience as well as the sense of reality are lost when depersonalization occurs. The phenomenon itself appears to be rooted in the period subsequent to that one in which major reorganizations in the sense of reality normally occur. It is associated with a narcissistic experience of object loss, specifically the loss of the internalized object, one of whose functions is to validate experience. A defensive intensification of narcissistic experience is discussed as one possible mode of attempting to ward off the threat of depersonalization.

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