Filmmaker: Temporary psychiatric disorder left me ‘living in a dream’

Filmmaker: Temporary psychiatric disorder left me ‘living in a dream’
Shaun O'Connor

A CORK based filmmaker and theatre director has revealed how a psychiatric disorder cut him off from reality, leading him to feel like he was “living in a dream.”

Shaun O’Connor, from Dillon’s Cross, has opened up about battling depersonalisation disorder (DPD) — a condition that results in persistent or recurrent feelings of depersonalisation or derealisation — before carving a career in the film industry.

He suffered from DPD along with chronic anxiety and panic attacks.

In the years since his recovery, he has campaigned for awareness and penned a guide to depersonalisation recovery called The Depersonalisation Manual.

He explained his personal experience of the condition. “I first got DPD as a result of a massive panic attack,” he said. “For the most part of the following two years, I felt like I was living in a dream, constantly frightened, unable to concentrate and feeling quite depressed at times.

“Depersonalisation Disorder is a frightening feeling of being cut off from reality, like you’re living in a dream. Temporary feelings are a natural response to stress and anxiety, but for some people, it can turn into an ongoing condition. It’s becoming very common with young people, and can often be triggered by drug use, especially weed and marijuana.”

He is keen to dispel myths associated with the condition. “The main misconception is that it’s a rare condition. Recent studies estimate that one-in-50 people may have chronic DPD. However, because it’s so hard to describe, it’s often misdiagnosed or lumped in with general anxiety.

“The other misconception is that you can’t recover from it. The feelings associated with it, such as disconnection can be very disorienting but it’s fundamentally an anxiety-based condition, in the same way that panic attacks, agoraphobia etc are. And just like with those conditions, people recover from DPD all the time.”

He offered reassurance to young people struggling with a diagnosis. “DPD can be particularly scary, especially if it’s drug-induced Depersonalisation Disorder. For example, young people can worry that because the condition has been triggered by smoking weed they’ve somehow ‘damaged their brain’, but nothing could be further from the truth. The main thing to remember is that though the feelings are frightening, they’re not permanent and they can’t hurt you.

Shaun is now helping people around the world with the condition through Skype coaching sessions.

He is also enjoying his theatre directorial debut of Primal, a story about an accusation of plagiarism, penned by Ciarán Collin, which runs in the Cork Arts Theatre until this Saturday.

To find out more about Shaun’s book the Depersonalisation Manual visit

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