It’s common to get lost in your thoughts every once in a while. Experts estimate we spend about 47% of our waking hours in a daydream, momentarily distracted from the world around us as we let our mind wander. If your daydreams are so intense that they interfere with your daily life, however, you may be a maladaptive daydreamer.
What Is Maladaptive Daydreaming?
Sometimes known as daydreaming disorder, maladaptive daydreaming describes a condition where a person regularly experiences daydreams that are intense and highly distracting — so distracting, in fact, that the person may stop engaging with the task or people in front of them. These daydreams may be triggered by real-life events or stimuli, such as a noise, smell, conversation topic, or movie.
Maladaptive dreamers may dissociate from reality to absorb themselves completely in their daydream and may unknowingly act out the behavior or speak dialogue for the characters in their daydream. The content of the daydreams is richly detailed and fantastical. Some have been described as a soap opera, while others feature an idealized version of the daydreamer.
Maladaptive daydreaming may develop as a coping strategy in response to trauma. The inner world may feel safer than the experience happening outside. For example, people with maladaptive daydreaming found themselves engaging in the behavior more frequently during the COVID-19 lockdown. They felt less able to control their urge to daydream, and the vividness of their daydreams intensified.
Maladaptive daydreaming was first defined in 2002 and is not yet recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The prevalence of maladaptive daydreaming is unknown, but the condition appears to be more common among people with anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Over half of maladaptive daydreamers have a mental health disorder.
Symptoms of Maladaptive Daydreaming
Symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming may include:
- Intense, vivid daydreams that present as a story, with characters, settings, and plotlines
- Daydreams that are triggered by real-world events or sensory stimuli
- Unconscious facial expressions, repetitive body movements, or talking or whispering that accompany daydreams
- Daydreams that last for several minutes to hours
- A strong or addictive desire to keep daydreaming
- Trouble focusing and completing daily tasks due to daydreams
- Trouble sleeping