Is maladaptive daydreaming a psychiatric disorder?

Is maladaptive daydreaming a psychiatric disorder?

Whether at work, in the middle of a boring lecture or while traveling, one often finds one’s mind wandering into a world of its own. Lost in their own thoughts, people end up imagining, exploring, fantasizing and creating a world distinct from reality. This is commonly known as daydreaming. While some studies regard daydreaming as a sign of a strong memory, another segment of researchers have concentrated on getting to know the darker side of the phenomenon.

A person daydreaming can be seen blankly staring at an empty wall or out of the window or listening to a song but thinking of something else, etc. However, according to some studies, these signs could indicate a psychiatric disorder. This is because researchers have suggested that many people often find it difficult to transcend to the real world from the imaginary realm.

Debate around daydreaming

One of the proponents of the theory that daydreaming is a psychiatric disorder is, Eli Somer, a professor of clinical psychology at Haifa University in Israel. He has defined the phenomenon as an “extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning.”

He termed the phenomenon as maladaptive daydreaming (MD) after he discovered that six of his patients found it difficult come out of their fantasy world and return to reality. His patients reportedly spent more and more time daydreaming and found it difficult to return to reality, which in turn affected their real-life relationships. Consequently, Somer strongly advocated that MD be formally recognized as a psychiatric disorder by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

However, those opposing the appeal argued that none of the people suffering from MD had problems in distinguishing reality from fantasy nor did they hallucinate. The sufferers were completely conscious of their mental state and the fact that they were daydreaming. They further argued that their daydreams involved characters and plots or a life that was completely contradictory to real life.

According to a study conducted by the University of Wisconsin and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science in 2012, daydreaming is beneficial as it helps in strengthening the brain’s functioning since the phenomenon includes thinking about several thoughts simultaneously. A “wandering mind correlates with higher degrees of what is referred to as working memory. Cognitive scientists define this type of memory as the brain’s ability to retain and recall information in the face of distractions,” added the study.

Probable causes of daydreaming

Despite extensive research, definite causes of daydreaming have not been identified. However, researchers consider a wide range of factors as probable triggers of the condition. Some believe that daydreaming is triggered by traumatic events in the past such as abuse and is often mind’s escape route or a form of defense. In some cases, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has been observed as a precursor to the condition.

Symptoms of MD

Looking out of the window purposelessly, staring at a blank wall for hours at end are some of the signs of daydreaming. Excessive MD is often compared to an addiction, wherein a person faces problems in coming back to the real world. While anybody can daydream, it often begins in childhood due to triggers such as books, movies, music, videos or other media. Besides, in many cases, it has been noticed that people repeat movements such as pacing, rocking, spinning or playing with something while daydreaming. In many, it disturbs the sleep pattern, while in others it results in a person lying in bed for hours. MD can also hinder one’s daily activities such as taking a shower.

Mental illnesses are curable

Whether daydreaming is a mental disorder or not, continues to remain debatable. However, excessive daydreaming could be indicative of other mental illnesses such as OCD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Therefore, parents should consider seeking medical help in case their children daydream a lot.

If you or a loved one is looking for assistance on mental health issues, the Florida Mental Health Helpline can help you find the best mental health counselor in Florida. You may call us at our 24/7 helpline number (866) 846-5588 or chat online with our experts who can tell you about the best mental disorder treatment in Florida.