what it feels like to live outside of your body

i can remember vividly one of the first times i had an episode of depersonalization/derealization. i was twelve or thirteen. sitting on my bed, i looked down at my legs when a sensation of what i can only describe as a gulf between my vision and my self washed over me. "those aren't mine," i thought. "are they?"

they didn't feel like mine.

these episodes were to worsen as i got older. there were moments where i simply could not reconcile my body as belonging to me. mirrors i could control, but other reflective surfaces were enemies. my arms and legs were foreign objects. sometimes it felt like i lived in a glass box that kept me separate from everyone.

seeing myself in a photo brought on a cringe i could only define as convulsive. i did not want that to be "me." i did not want this body. i did not want this life. i did not want to be perceived. my body was a cage and i didn't know how i became trapped in it.

there's a poem i found on tumblr in 2015 (peak tumblr years -_-) that describes the sensation well. here's an excerpt:

In the dream I have a body but it’s not mine; I am an intruder wearing a suit of flesh with skin that has turned into granite.

I do not feel.                                      
I feel too much.
There is nothing.                                     
Everything is overwhelming.

In the dream we are machines. No emotion, just flatness: programmed thoughts, automatic speech and action without awareness or control. They call it a coping mechanism, and so I think of pulleys and gears pulling me up to sit somewhere in the top of my head and watch through a frosted lens

while someone else grips the controls, moving this body through the motions of living. Unfamiliarity in familiar places. Friends are strangers and strangers are blurs of colour, dabs of acrylic against bleached watercolour. Fog fills my mind, pressing against the glass that separates me from the world.

I bang hard on it. Bang. Bang. Bang. Let me out! You tell me that I locked myself in this steel-walled room. I say why would I do that? You open your mouth to explain but I can’t hear you over the white noise. Buzz. You pinch my arm— a whisper: not dreaming. Bruises that fade to grey, cement skies, ash world.

In the dream that is not a dream, my hands turn into birds and fly away from me. You catch them and try to give them back, but I refuse. They aren’t mine, I tell you even as you push them back onto my wrists. You ask me whose they are, then. I don’t know. I don’t know. I think I once knew someone who had these hands, but I don’t know where they went.

— Martina Dansereau, here's the only link where i found the full version

why am i writing about this? to get it out. to iron it out of me. (it's almost gone.)

you might notice reflections of it in my long-form ai collection, the contours of a dream. it uses ai to explore dark and isolating parts of the psyche - scattered with glimpses of hope.

i'm curious what you'll think of it.

(july 16)

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