What Is Maladaptive Daydreaming?

What Is Maladaptive Daydreaming?

Maladaptive Daydreaming: Maladaptive daydreaming, also known as excessive daydreaming, is a disordered form of dissociative absorption associated with vivid and excessive fantasy activity that often involves elaborate and fanciful scenarios. It can result in distress, can replace human interaction and may interfere with normal functioning such as social life or work. People who suffer from maladaptive daydreaming can spend more than half their days in “vivid alternative universes”.

Maladaptive daydreaming is typically associated with stereotypical movements, such as pacing or rocking, and the need for musical stimulation. One of the lead researchers of maladaptive daydreaming and the person who coined the term is the University of Haifa professor Eli Somer. Somer’s definition of the condition is “extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning.”

What Is Maladaptive Daydreaming

Maladaptive Daydreaming Test

Maladaptive daydreaming is a psychiatric condition. It was identified by Professor Eliezer Somer of the University of Haifa in Israel.

This condition causes intense daydreaming that distracts a person from their real life. Many times, real-life events trigger daydreams. These events can include:

  • topics of conversation
  • sensory stimuli such as noises or smells
  • physical experiences

This disorder is not part of the new edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). It doesn’t have any official treatment. But some experts say it is a real disorder that can have real effects on a person’s daily life.

What are the symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming?

A person who is purported to have maladaptive daydreaming may have one or more symptoms of the disorder, but not necessarily all of them. Common symptoms include:

  • extremely vivid daydreams with their own characters, settings, plots, and other detailed, story-like features
  • daydreams triggered by real-life events
  • difficulty completing everyday tasks
  • difficulty sleeping at night
  • an overwhelming desire to continue daydreaming
  • performing repetitive movements while daydreaming
  • making facial expressions while daydreaming
  • whispering and talking while daydreaming
  • daydreaming for lengthy periods (many minutes to hours)

Experts still aren’t sure what causes maladaptive daydreaming.

Can a doctor diagnose maladaptive daydreaming?

There is no universal method used to diagnose maladaptive daydreaming. Somer developed the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS). This scale can help determine if a person is experiencing maladaptive daydreaming.

The MDS is a 14-part scale. It rates the five key characteristics of maladaptive daydreaming:

  • the content and quality (detail) of dreams
  • a person’s ability to control their dreams and compulsion to dream
  • the amount of distress caused by daydreaming
  • a person’s perceived benefits of daydreaming
  • how much daydreaming interferes with a person’s ability to carry out their daily activities

People also rate how often they experience maladaptive daydreaming symptoms.

Maladaptive daydreaming is often diagnosed as schizophrenia, which is a type of psychosis. This is because people with schizophrenia cannot differentiate reality from fantasy. But Somer says maladaptive daydreaming is not a psychosis because people with maladaptive daydreaming recognize that their daydreams aren’t real.

Can maladaptive daydreaming cause other conditions to develop?

Some people who experience maladaptive daydreaming also experience:

  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • depression
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

It’s not yet understood how these disorders are related to maladaptive daydreaming.

Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder

Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder

Many human experiences range between the normal to the abnormal. Daydreaming, a form of normal dissociation associated with absorption, is a highly prevalent mental activity experienced by almost everyone. It is thought to encompass almost half of all human thought, with hundreds of daydreaming sequences experienced daily.

Some individuals possess the ability to daydream so vividly that they experience a sense of presence in the imagined  This experience is reported to be extremely rewarding to the extent that some of those who experience it develop a compulsion to repeat it that is often described as an addiction. The scientific literature suggests that a portion of people with maladaptive daydreaming can spend up to 60% of their waking time daydreaming, and could, therefore, be classified as suffering from a behavioral addiction.

Stimuli for maladaptive daydreams range in all kinds of places, and their “symptoms” are also numerous. The overall symptom is extremely vivid fantasies with “story-like features,” such as the daydream’s characters, plots and  Characters can be real people the maladaptive daydreamer knows or made-up ones, and the same goes with settings and plots. Media sources, such as movies, video games, and music, are probably major influences in a maladaptive daydreamer’s life, and this is why these fantasies are often shaped like a novel or film. Also, time spent in maladaptive daydreaming may prompt the daydreamer to pace, fiddle with something in their hand, or rock back and forth. Maladaptive daydreamers usually get very mentally and emotionally involved in their fantasies, causing the daydreamers to react physically by gesturing, laughing, talking, and making faces that fit whatever fantasized scenario they are in.

Maladaptive daydreaming is not a psychosis issue. The daydreams are not reality – maladaptive daydreamers always know this. Though maladaptive daydreaming and psychosis problems, like schizophrenia, both deal with people avoiding reality, psychosis is about people who are utterly detached from reality. This means that psychotic people cannot differentiate fantasy from reality, whereas people with maladaptive daydreaming always know the difference between what is in their mind and what is actually happening in the world.

Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale

“I have been lost in a daydream for as long as I can remember These daydreams tend to be stories…for which I feel real emotion, usually happiness or sadness, which have the ability to make me laugh and cry They’re as important a part of my life as anything else; I can spend hours alone with my daydream I am careful to control my actions in public so it is not evident that my mind is constantly spinning these stories and I am constantly lost in them.”

The 20-year-old woman who emailed these reflections to Eli Somer at the University of Haifa, Israel, diagnosed herself with Maladaptive Daydreaming, sometimes known as Daydreaming Disorder. While Maladaptive Daydreaming is not included in standard mental health diagnostic manuals, there are cyber-communities dedicated to it, and “in recent years it has gradually become evident that daydreaming can evolve into an extreme and maladaptive behavior, up to the point where it turns into a clinically significant condition,” write Somer and Nirit Soffer-Dudek at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in a new paper on the disorder, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry. 

This study is, they say, the first to explore the mental health factors that accompany Maladaptive Daydreaming (MD) over time – and it provides insights into not only what might cause these intense, vivid, extended bouts of daydreaming but also hints at how to prevent them, or how to stop them in their tracks. Because while many people who experience MD report enjoying their daydreams at the time, MD can also negatively affect their relationships with others, their day-to-day lives, and their overall emotional wellbeing.

Earlier work led researchers to suggest that MD might be either a dissociative disorder, a disturbance of attention, a behavioral addiction or an obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder. 

For the new online study, Somer and Soffer-Dudek recruited 77 self-diagnosed sufferers of MD, from 26 different countries, ranging in age from 18-60. Just over 80 percent were women (possibly because women seem to be more affected by MD than men, the researchers write).

The participants first provided details about any mental health diagnoses (21 had been diagnosed with depression, 14 with anxiety disorders and 5 with OCD, among other disorders). Then, each evening before bed, for 14 days, they completed a series of questionnaires that asked about their experiences that day. These scales assessed levels of dissociation, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, depression, general anxiety, social anxiety, and emotion – and also maladaptive daydreaming. (Participants were asked to report on the extent to which statements such as “I felt the need or urge to continue a daydream that was interrupted by a real-world event at a later point” had applied to them that day.) 

Maladaptive Daydreaming Reddit

On average, participants reported spending four hours a day daydreaming. On days on which their MD was more intense and time-consuming, they also experienced higher levels of obsessive-compulsive symptoms, dissociation and negative emotion, and both types of anxiety. But only obsessive-compulsive symptoms consistently predicted the intensity and duration of maladaptive daydreaming on the next day, regardless of the levels of obsessive-compulsive symptoms on that following day. 

Despite these findings, the researchers note that only five of the participants had actually been diagnosed with OCD –  “This discrepancy suggests that obsessive-compulsive symptoms and MD share common mechanisms and interact with each other but MD does not seem to be merely a subtype of OCD.” However, they added that many people with MD describe being consistently drawn to their daydreaming in a compulsive way. “The finding that a surge in obsessive-compulsive symptoms precedes MD [also] points to a key role of this construct as a contributing mechanism,” Somer and Soffer-Dudek argue.

Compulsions to daydream, or to carry on daydreaming even after many hours have passed, might be addressed using cognitive-behavioral approaches developed to address other compulsions, the researchers suggest. They also speculate that low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin may play a role in MD, as in OCD. If future work confirms this, drugs that modify serotonin levels may possibly be used in treatment. 

There were some limitations of the study – in particular, that it was based entirely on self-reports. But as research on MD is scarce, and this is thought to be the first longitudinal exploration of the disorder, the results should at least help to inform future work in this area. Though it’s also possible that not all people with MD will want treatment. As the woman with MD who emailed Somer also wrote: “I am torn between the love of my daydreams and the desire to be normal.”

Maladaptive Daydreaming Treatment

Background: Maladaptive Daydreaming (MD) characterizes individuals who engage in vivid, fanciful daydreaming for hours on end, neglecting real-life relationships and responsibilities, resulting in clinical distress and functional impairment. Sufferers have embraced the term MD in cyber-communities devoted to this problem because it seemed to uniquely fit their experience and since existing diagnostic labels and their therapies seemed inadequate. However, scientific research in the field has been scarce, relying on cross-sectional or case study designs. Existing knowledge on MD suggests the involvement of dissociative and obsessive-compulsive symptoms, as well as positive reinforcement comparable to processes in addiction disorders. The present study aimed to rigorously explore factors that accompany MD employing a longitudinal daily-diary design, hypothesizing that temporal increases in MD will associate concurrently with, and will temporally precede, other symptoms and emotional changes. In addition, we aimed to explore which symptoms may act as precursors to increases in MD, in order to identify possible mechanisms bringing about daydreaming in these individuals.

Methods: In a sample of 77 self-diagnosed individuals with MD we assessed relevant daily symptoms for 14 days, including MD, depression, general anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, and dissociation, as well as a positive and negative emotion.

Results: Increases in MD were strongly related to concurrent increases in all other symptoms and negative emotion, and decreased positive emotion. Obsessive-compulsive symptoms, dissociation, and negative emotion also temporally followed MD. Obsessive-compulsive symptoms were the only consistent temporal antecedent of MD.

Conclusions: MD and obsessive-compulsive symptoms coincided in what seems to be a vicious cycle; understanding possible shared mechanisms between these symptoms may inform our understanding of the etiology of MD. For example, Serotonin levels may possibly be involved in the development or maintenance of this condition. The findings may also provide clues as to potentially beneficial interventions for treating MD. For example, perhaps utilizing response prevention techniques may be useful for curbing or intercepting unwanted daydreaming. Future studies on MD should address its compulsory nature.

Keywords: daydreaming, obsessive-compulsive disorder, dissociation, distress, fantasy, fantasy proneness, absorption, mind-wandering

Is maladaptive daydreaming a symptom of anxiety?

Excessive daydreaming, or ‘Maladaptive Daydreaming‘ as it is currently termed, is also associated with a range of clinical symptoms, including anxiety and depression. … First, days with more intensive and frequent daydreaming featured other symptoms such as obsessive-compulsive behavior as well as more negative emotions.

How do you control maladaptive daydreaming?

7 Strategies to ​Stop Maladaptive Daydreaming
  1. Get to the bottom of the problem.
  2. Know your triggers.
  3. Use a good old-fashioned to-do list.
  4. Turn meditation into a morning habit.
  5. Learn to be present.
  6. Replace daydreaming with visualization.
  7. Turn your dreams into achievable goals.

Is it normal to daydream?

Daydreaming is one of the most common things we do, and also one of the most private – in a survey carried out at the University of Minnesota, 80 per cent of people said they would rather admit to an embarrassing experience than reveal their daydreams.