What are immersive daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming?

Everyone daydreams. But not everyone daydreams in the same way. For most people (normative daydreamers), daydreaming involves reminiscing or replaying things that have happened in the past or planning for the future. Topics range from the mundane, such as what to have for dinner, to the more substantial, such as where you’d like to go on your next holiday or how your family is going to celebrate Christmas. Normative daydreamers switch topics frequently, daydreaming about one thing for a few minutes before shifting to something else.

But some people daydream about things that have no relation to their real life. You might daydream about dating your favourite celebrity or saving the world from an alien invasion. You might return to the same theme, or a variant of it, every time you daydream. Over time you construct an elaborate and detailed daydream world, with a whole cast of characters. These characters may be based on people you know in real life, or on people you have never met, or they might exist only in your imagination. You might replay certain scenes over and over again, or your daydream plot might progress and evolve in real time. Your daydreams may be vivid and detailed, like a memory in the present tense. At times it might feel as though a movie is playing in your head. This is immersive daydreaming.

Immersive daydreaming can be a lot of fun. You can meet people and go to places in your head that you’ll never be able to do in real life. You can be someone else, explore the world from a different perspective, even rewrite history. And therein lies the problem. For some immersive daydreamers, daydreaming can become addictive. This can happen if you experienced something traumatic in the real world that made you want to run away, or if your emotional needs were not being met in real life, so you created imaginary friends to meet those needs. When you compare your difficult and perhaps painful reality with your idealised daydreams, it’s not surprising that you prefer to spend your time in your daydream world. But if you are spending so much time daydreaming that it causes you distress or makes it difficult for you to function in the real world then you may have maladaptive daydreaming disorder.

Throughout this site, I use the term maladaptive daydreaming disorder (MaDD) to refer to an addiction to immersive daydreaming. MaDD is a mental health condition that negatively impacts the sufferer’s life in countless different ways. It makes it hard to study, progress in a career or maintain relationships. Sufferers of MaDD are frequently lonely, underemployed and feel as if life is passing them by. It can be every bit as debilitating and difficult to overcome as an addiction to drugs or gambling. In some ways, it’s worse, because there are no barriers – our poison is always only a thought away.

Everyone daydreams. If you have MaDD, it’s unrealistic to think you will ever stop daydreaming completely. But I honestly believe that with the right support and therapy, sufferers of MaDD can break the addiction. It is realistic to hope that one day you will be able to control your daydreaming, rather than your daydreaming controlling you. You can break free from MaDD, and become an empowered daydreamer who uses your immersive daydreaming to help you live your best life and achieve your full potential.

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