What is maladaptive daydreaming disorder?

Maladaptive daydreaming disorder is an addiction to a detailed, vivid and narrative form of daydreaming, featuring complex plots and a cast of characters (either imaginary or based on real people). Daydreams may focus on one scene for many minutes or hours at a time, and usually return to the same story in future daydreaming sessions, so that the plot evolves over weeks, months or years. Often, the topic of the daydream is unconnected to the daydreamer’s real life. Maladaptive daydreamers typically enjoy daydreaming while they’re doing it, but suffer negative consequences in their professional or social life because their daydreaming gets in the way of their real-life commitments. Despite these negative consequences, maladaptive daydreamers find it difficult or impossible to control their daydreaming.

Is maladaptive daydreaming always bad?

By definition, yes. Your daydreaming is only maladaptive if it negatively affects you.

What if my daydreaming doesn’t negatively affect me?

You probably have immersive daydreaming. The type of daydreams experienced by immersive daydreamers are the same as experienced by maladaptive daydreamers. The only difference is that in immersive daydreaming, your daydreams are not a problem. You can successfully live your real life alongside your imaginary life, with neither getting in the way of the other.

Doesn’t everybody daydream?

Not like this. Not everyone creates detailed stories in their heads the way immersive and maladaptive daydreamers do. When non-daydreamers (also referred to as normative daydreamers) talk about daydreaming, they often mean mind-wandering. Mind-wandering is when your mind drifts from topic to topic without you consciously trying to direct your thoughts. One minute you might be replaying a conversation with your boss, the next you might be wondering what to have for dinner. In mind-wandering, you typically change topics every few minutes, and most or all of what you daydream about is directly connected to events in your life.

What does ‘vivid’ daydreaming mean? Do you feel as though the events in your daydream are actually happening?

No. Immersive and maladaptive daydreamers can tell the difference between daydreaming and reality. You know the events you’re imagining aren’t really happening. I think of it as a memory in present-tense. You can see, hear and feel all the details, but you know the details are in your head and not actually coming in through your senses. In the same way that when you focus on a memory you might close your eyes and “see” what you’re remembering, in a daydream you “see” the scene you’re imagining, but you see it in your imagination not with your eyes.

Is maladaptive daydreaming disorder an officially recognised mental health disorder?

Not yet. Maladaptive daydreaming is not included in the DSM-5, so it isn’t yet an officially recognised diagnosis. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real or that you can’t get help in managing it.

Can maladaptive daydreaming disorder be cured?

Yes. It is possible to turn maladaptive daydreaming into immersive daydreaming. Mindfulness, self-monitoring and cognitive behavioural therapy have been shown to be helpful in curbing excessive daydreaming. Any talking therapy that helps you understand why your daydreaming has become maladaptive will likely help you manage it. Once you have control over your daydreaming and it isn’t negatively affecting your life, you no longer have maladaptive daydreaming disorder.

Does immersive daydreaming ever go away? Will I ever mind-wander like a normal person?

Probably not, although no-one knows for sure. Daydreamers can still mind-wander some of the time. Personally, I mind-wander when I’m doing an activity such as gardening or swimming that takes too much focus to allow me to daydream but doesn’t occupy my full attention. But if complex narrative daydreaming is the way your mind processes things, it’s probably never going to go away completely.