When Excessive Daydreaming Becomes an Issue

When Excessive Daydreaming Becomes an Issue
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Excessive daydreaming is a disorder where people spend a large part of their lives immersed in complex and varied fantasies. That disconnection from reality completely interferes with the person’s responsibilities, including their work-related ones.

We all daydream, there’s no doubt about it. Let’s be honest: it helps us escape our routines and the pressure of our problems on a day to day basis. Allowing ourselves to take these punctual but rewarding escapes, far from being something pathological, is actually healthy and a necessary exercise.

Our brain needs these fantasies and that imaginary world we go to in order to relieve our stress and find a space to reflect and expand our creativity. The mind loves to wander. In fact, there are several brain areas, such as the cerebral cortex and the limbic system, that encourage this wandering. It allows us to better manage our emotions and make better decisions.

Now, most of us know how to control those moments where the mind becomes erratic. However, a small portion of the population isn’t able to control this impulse, to the point where they spend a lot of time separated from reality. They immerse themselves in their own world and neglect their real lives. This is a clinical condition worth learning about.

A man daydreaming.

Excessive daydreaming, trapped in compulsive fantasies

There’s nothing wrong with fantasizing. However, when this behavior becomes compulsive, it can jeopardize us. Fantasizing continuously is often an underlying disorder that needs to be clarified. Living with this condition isn’t easy. Because of that, there are numerous forums and support groups such as the “Wild Minds Network” where many patients share experiences, information, and advice.

On the other hand, it’s necessary to point out that, as of today, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM-V) doesn’t yet include an excessive daydreaming disorder. Nonetheless, thanks to existent cases and various studies, especially the ones carried out by Dr. Eliazer Somer from the University of Haifa, it’s very likely that this disorder will be featured in the DSM in the upcoming years.

Dr. Somer is a psychiatrist who, since 2002, has been describing cases, symptoms, and testing therapeutic approaches. Now let’s see the clinical picture that patients with excessive daydreaming often present:

  • They create very complex internal narratives, to the point of giving shape to fairly defined characters from their fantasies.
  • They live their fantasies very vividly. In fact, it’s common for them to evoke and gesticulate facial expressions according to their fantasies.
  • They dedicate a lot of their time to fantasizing, dreaming, and creating a parallel world. They often neglect important issues such as eating and bathing.
  • They’re incapable of taking responsibility for their studies, work, interpersonal relationships, etc.
  • Likewise, these fantasies act like authentic addictive processes. Suddenly leaving or interrupting their fantasy makes them upset and anxious.
Woman with a cloud over her head.

How is excessive daydreaming treated?

Dr. Somer developed a scale used to diagnose this type of clinical condition. He called it the “Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS)” which is both valid and effective and can make an accurate diagnosis. Let’s not forget that this disorder can sometimes be confused with other conditions such as schizophrenia or psychosis, diseases that are also characterized by constant fantasies as well as a feeling of unreality.

On the other hand, before deciding on the treatment a person with this condition should follow, it’s necessary to know the root cause (what provoked it). Excessive daydreaming often takes place with very complex psychological realities that must be noticed and delimited.

  • People who have suffered a traumatic event often use daydreaming as an escape.
  • Depression can also cause this condition.
  • People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) also tend to fantasize often.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder and borderline personality disorder also present this symptomatology.

Once the health professional has understood the triggers, the patient’s needs and, overall, defined the condition, they’ll opt for a pharmacological and/or a psychotherapeutic approach. In general, people have seen good results with the use of fluvoxamine, a type of antidepressant. In regards to the psychological response, cognitive-behavioral therapy is also known to be helpful.

Psychologist taking notes.

This is what the psychologist will work on with the patient:

  • Encourage them to have new interests, motivational goals, and a contact with reality.
  • Establish a schedule, pointing out what’s expected of them at each moment of the day in order for them to control and manage their time.
  • Identify the triggers that cause the daydreaming.
  • Improve their ability to focus their attention.

As a conclusion, even though this disorder might seem out of the ordinary, it’s safe to say that nothing’s more debilitating than living outside of our reality. Not participating in our real life also keeps us away from ourselves. Truth is, no one deserves to live that way. 

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.