What is Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder?

Daydreaming is a common human phenomenon, one that we all experience in our daily lives. Studies show that we actually spend around 47% of our waking time in the dream world. We utilize this important tool to think-out different scenarios, re-visit special times in our lives, imagine new ones, or even just to pass time. Daydreaming is vital to the human experience. But one may wonder, what happens when one daydreams a little too much?

Daydreams: Maladaptive – How Much is Too Much?

When someone daydreams too much, it can become maladaptive. An act becomes maladaptive when it interferes with your life in a way that stops you from adapting to different or new circumstances. Maladaptive behaviors can affect anyone at any age, and usually stem as the result of trauma, illness, or major change in one’s life. It can also be a pesky habit started when you were young. Behaviors classified as maladaptive can come in one (or more) of these many categories: withdrawal, avoidance, self-harm, passive-aggressiveness, daydreaming, and more. Daydreaming becomes maladaptive when it keeps you from being involved in reality. Symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming include, but are not limited to:

  • Daydreaming for long periods of time (from close to one hour to many hours)
  • Trouble sleeping at night
  • Trouble completing quotidien tasks
  • Daydreams triggered by real-life events
  • Extremely vibrant daydreams with their own proper characters, settings, plots, and other detailed features.
  • An overwhelming urge to continue daydreaming
  • Doing repetitive movements while daydreaming
  • Whispering and talking while daydreaming
  • Making facial expressions while daydreaming

Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder Definition and MDS

Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder (MD) was classified for the first time by Professor Eliezer Somer, from the University of Haifa in Israel. MD is identified in patients on a fourteen part scale called the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS). The Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale evaluates whether or not a person has Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder based on their responses to the five key characteristics of the disorder:

  • The content and quality of one’s dreams
  • The amount of distress caused by daydreaming
  • A person’s perceived benefits of daydreaming
  • A person’s ability to control their dreams and compulsion to dream
  • How much daydreaming interferes with a person’s ability to carry out their daily activities (i.e., how maladaptive the daydreaming is)

Maladaptive Daydreaming is often misidentified by some psychologists and doctors as schizophrenia or psychosis. The key difference between Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder, psychosis, and schizophrenia is that people with MD know and are aware that their daydreams are fiction, and do not confuse them with their reality in any way.

People with MD typically spend an average of around four hours daydreaming per day. Women seem to be more affected by MD, as eighty percent of the self-diagnosed sufferers of Maladaptive Daydreaming who participated in a study done by the University of Haifa were female. People with MD are reported to have higher levels of dissociation, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, negative emotions, and anxiety. Currently, the question plaguing Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder most is the fine line between what qualifies as MD and what qualifies as OCD. They share many of the same symptoms and compulsions, making differentiation between the two a difficult task for researchers and practicing psychologists alike.

Works Cited

Gilbert, Daniel T.; Killingsworth, Matthew A. (2010-11-12). “A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind” (PDF). Science. 330 (6006): 932. Bibcode:2010Sci…330..932K. doi:10.1126/science.1192439. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 21071660.

Pietrangelo, Ann. March 18, 2020. “Identifying and Treating Maladaptive Behavior”. Healthline.

Cirino, Erica. April 26, 2017. “Maladaptive Daydreaming”. Healthline.

Young, Emma. June 25, 2018. “People with “Maladaptive Daydreaming” spend an average of four hours a day lost in their imagination”. BPS Research Digest.

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