Dissociative Drug Effects – How They Can Harm You

Medically Reviewed

Here’s what it feels like to experience derealization: The events that occur around you may not feel real. It may seem like you are viewing these real-life events from behind a glass wall or veil of some sort, yet the images seem blurry, abnormally large, two dimensional, or bereft of color. 

Derealization is grouped with depersonalization to form a single mental health disorder, which is characterized as some form of involuntary detachment from reality. 

Depersonalization is the recurring experience of being outside of your body, and derealization is feeling as if what’s occurring around you isn’t real. Depersonalization/derealization is caused by some sort of trauma or by events that produced severe stress and trauma. 

However, a specific set of drugs are capable of producing derealization effects in users. These substances, which are termed as dissociative drugs, can make users experience the sensations yielded by the mental health disorder — feeling detached from your body and experiencing events that do not appear to be real.  

Read on to learn more about the nature of derealization from drug use and how this condition can be treated and reversed.

Symptoms of Derealization

In a Mental Health Context, Derealization Consists Of the Following Symptoms, According to the Mayo Clinic: 

  • Feelings of being alienated from or unfamiliar with your surroundings — for example, feeling like you’re living in a movie or a dream
  • Feeling emotionally disconnected from people you care about, as if you were separated by a glass wall
  • Surroundings that appear distorted, blurry, colorless, two-dimensional or artificial, or a heightened awareness and clarity of your surroundings
  • Distortions in the perception of time, such as recent events feeling like the distant past
  • Distortions of distance and the size and shape of objects

Derealization episodes can last hours, days, weeks or months at a time. When someone experiences a derealization episode, they can feel distressed. They can also feel like they are losing their minds or worry that they have suffered some sort of irreversible brain damage. Other people undergoing derealization may wonder if they really exist and check to see if what they are seeing is real. 

According to the Merck Manual, “…patients always retain the knowledge that their unreal experiences are not real but rather are just the way that they feel (i.e., they have intact reality testing)”

Drugs That Cause Derealization

While hallucinogenic drugs such as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), dimethyltryptamine (ayahuasca) can cause users to experience sights and sounds that are not real, dissociative drugs actively work by disrupting the actions of the brain chemical glutamate, which plays a major role in learning and memory.  

In essence, these drugs can cause users to experience feelings of detachment from the self and the environment in low-to-moderate doses. Salvia divinorum behaves differently once it enters the body because it activates the kappa opioid receptor.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), common dissociative drugs include: 

PCP (phencyclidine):

Originally developed as a general anesthetic for surgery in the 1950s, PCP or “angel dust” is one of the most dangerous drugs of abuse. PCP can be smoked, snorted, swallowed or injected. It also goes by these names: dust, rocket fuel, wack, love boat, ozone, PeaCe pill, hog, and embalming fluid. PCP is also sprinkled on marijuana and smoked.


Best known as a cat tranquilizer, this drug is commonly diverted from veterinary offices and sold. It is an anesthetic for both humans and animals and goes by Special K, K, and cat valium. While it is manufactured as an injectable solution, it is often evaporated to form a powder that is snorted or pressed into pills.

DXM (dextromethorphan):

A common ingredient found in over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medications, DXM is abused mostly from extra-strength cough syrup. This cough suppressant goes by the name of “robo” and is often included in antihistamines and decongestants. 

Salvia divinorum:

This psychoactive plant is also known as diviner’s sage, Sally-D, magic mint, or Maria Pastora. It is most often found in Mexico, Central America, and South America. Its leaves can be chewed, or juices can be extracted from it and consumed. When salvia leaves are dried, they can be smoked, vaporized, or inhaled.

Common Effects of These Drugs

At Low-to-Moderate Doses, These Drugs Can Produce the Following Effects: 

  • Numbness
  • Disorientation, confusion, and loss of coordination
  • Dizziness, nausea, vomiting
  • Changes in sensory perceptions (such as sight, sound, shapes, time, and body image)
  • Hallucinations
  • Feelings of detachment from self and environment
  • Increase in blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature

When These Drugs Are Taken at High Doses, They Can Cause Life-Threatening Symptoms and Conditions Such As:

  • Hallucinations
  • Memory loss
  • Physical distress (including blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, and body temperature changes)
  • Significant psychological distress (including feelings of extreme panic, fear, anxiety, paranoia, invulnerability, exaggerated strength, and aggression)

When dissociative drugs are abused with alcohol and other central nervous system (CNS) depressants, respiratory arrest or distress can result, which can be fatal. 

While the long-term effects of dissociative drugs are not fully known, repeated PCP use has been known to produce tolerance and dependence, where someone will experience cravings, headaches and sweating after ceasing use. 

Long-term effects that result from PCP use can also include anxiety, social withdrawal, memory loss, depression, speech problems, and suicidal thoughts.

How Professional Treatment Can Help

The extreme effects of dissociative drugs are life-threatening, particularly when they are abused and/or taken at high doses. People who abuse dissociative drugs are typically administered medications and behavioral therapy commonly found in professional drug treatment. Both approaches can help you realize sobriety and reverse those feelings of derealization. 

Professional treatment consists of comprehensive therapy, counseling, and support to break the cycle of addiction. 

Like alcohol, benzodiazepines, or opioids, use of dissociative drugs like PCP and ketamine can be fatal. That’s why professional treatment is absolutely vital.   

Professional recovery begins with acute treatment, where the drug and other toxins are removed from your body. 

Any withdrawal symptoms you experience may be treated with medication to ensure that your detoxification process is safe and comfortable. 

Depending on the severity of your addiction, you can receive comprehensive therapy and counseling through clinical stabilization services or partial care.  

You can also get connected with other people in recovery who can help you stay sober.

Get Help Today

You are not alone in your battle with substance abuse and derealization. We can provide you with a range of specialized, comprehensive, and evidence-based treatment to help you conquer your dependency. 

Call 855-956-4940 anytime, day or evening, for a free consultation with one of our knowledgeable addiction recovery specialists. They can help you locate the right treatment option. You can also contact us online for more information.

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