A Brief History of Depersonalization Disorder -- Early Research
[Revision in Progress]
I felt it imperative to add this chapter to my website. There is a great misconception that depersonalization and derealization are “a product of modern society” or have only been encountered and researched in the past few decades; this is patently false.
The bulk of this clarification was culled from Dr. Mauricio Sierra’s comprehensive medical textbook, Depersonalization: A New Look at a Neglected Syndrome, published in 2009. I drew heavily from Chapter 1 of the book, “A history of depersonalization” (pages 7 through 23). I expanded on some minor details (names of researchers and dates, etc.) by searching Wikipedia.
I placed the information in chronological order going back to the early 1800s. I have not always included quotation marks as this would become extremely confusing to the reader.
Early Depersonalization Disorder Research Chronology:
1828 - Zeller reported five patients, all of whom complained of sensations endured by those having depersonalization and derealization as we know it today.
1845 - Wilhelm Griesinger a German neurologist and psychiatrist born in Stuttgart (1817-1868), quoted a letter written by a patient of Esquirol, the famous French psychiatrist … “each of my senses, each part of my proper self is as if it were separated from me and can no longer afford me any sensation.”
“Griesinger seemed well acquainted with such descriptions as he had commented earlier:
We sometimes hear the insane, especially melancholics, complain of a quite different kind of anesthesia … I see, I hear, I feel, they say, but the object does not reach me; I cannot receive the sensation; It seems to me as if there was a wall between me and the external world.
However rather than being an accompanying symptom of depression, Griesinger seemed aware that at times [sensations of depersonalization] seemed to lead an independent course … “
1894 - Ludovic Dugas (French psychologist) introduced the term to medical literature. The word “depersonalization” itself was first used by Henri Frédéric Amiel (Swiss philosopher, poet and critic, 1821-1881) in his Journal Intime.
The July 8, 1880 entry reads:
“I find myself regarding existence as though from beyond the tomb, from another world; all is strange to me; I am, as it were, outside my own body and individuality; I am depersonalized, detached, cut adrift. Is this madness?”
1898 - Ludovic Dugas published Un cas de depersonalization. Revue Philosophique de Paris et l’Etranger, 45, 500-507
1912, 1915, and 1936 - Ludovic Dugas published a series of papers on the subject.
1911 - Ludovic Dugas and Maurice Moutier (French neurologist) wrote a monograph entitled La Depersonalization.
1938 - Jean-Étienne Esquirol (famed French psychiatrist) described similar experiences in patients.
Further theories were addressed by innumerable experts in the field including (to name a few):
Finally, from Wikipedia:
1952 - The concept of DP/DR as a defense mechanism was introduced in the first DSM by Sigmund Freud, Austrian Neurologist, (1856-1939):
"Psychodynamic theory formed the basis for the conceptualization of dissociation as a defense mechanism. Within this framework, depersonalization is understood as a defense against a variety of negative feelings, conflicts, or experiences.
Sigmund Freud himself experienced fleeting derealization when visiting the Acropolis in person; having read about it for years and knowing it existed, seeing the real thing was overwhelming and proved difficult for him to perceive it as real. Freudian theory is the basis for the description of depersonalization as a dissociative reaction, placed within the category of psychoneurotic disorders, in the first two editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders."
The DSM - Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders subsequently evolved over the years:
DSM-II, Seventh Printing, (1974)
Mauricio Sierra, M.D. receives total credit for this summary. One must read his entire textbook and primary sources to comprehend the scope of research into the Dissociative Disorders -- Depersonalization Disorder in particular. This summary is only a guide and should not be cited as a definitive source on the topic.