Maladaptive Daydreaming Vs Normal Daydreaming

This was a post/article I wrote a few months back which I posted on another site but has since been removed since I am no longer a member there. I thought it would be a good idea to share it here.

When I first discovered the term Maladaptive Daydreaming a year and a half ago I felt a massive weight being lifted off my shoulders. It all made perfect sense and I felt so relieved to know that there was a name for what I had been experiencing and that other people were experiencing it too. I researched as much as I could and talked to as many maladaptive daydreamers as I could find to learn more. However I’ve found myself becoming more and more confused about MD and what exactly a person needs to experience in order to qualify as an MDer. Some people feel they are addicted whereas others feel it makes them mentally ill. A large portion of people claim to suffer from other mental health related issues which begs the question “Do I have MD or a symptom of another disorder?” Where is the line between healthy daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming? Here is what I’ve been thinking.

Maladaptive daydreaming vs Normal daydreaming.

Daydreaming is something we all do and not something that suddenly ends with childhood. Healthy adults also indulge in fantasy from time to time so when is daydreaming maladaptive and when it is normal?

I have spoken to many psychologically sound adults who have quite in-depth fantasies which usually revolve around having the perfect life. Everybody wishes they could be that little bit richer, that little bit thinner, that little bit smarter, that little bit funnier. We hear people talk about their dream house, their dream job, their dream partner. How many times have we heard people say “If I could just have that then I would be happy” and how many times have we seen people get what they want but still want more? I’ve also met several people with life-long obsessions with bands or movies who spend a considerable amount of time focused on their obsession which often include writing fan fictions, drawing fan art and collecting as much memorabilia as they can. I’ve encountered many “fan girls” who spend countless hours tracking down as much as they can about a particular thing.

So what defines normal daydreaming compared to maladaptive daydreaming? A place to look first might be the origins of a person’s daydreaming habit but many maladaptive daydreamers can’t pinpoint exactly why or when it started for them. Many report it’s something they’ve always experienced or as something that just happened. Maladaptive daydreaming is said to cause a person distress and affect their ability to function but personally I don’t feel this is enough to determine if the person does or doesn’t have MD. Some people may have such intricate fantasies with lifelike characters that they love or paracosms they’ve carefully structured and built their whole lives but they might be able to keep it simply as a hobby and continue to have normal, healthy relationships, perform well at school or work and find enjoyment in everyday things. Writers like Tolkien, who created the paracosm of Middle Earth and wrote detailed descriptions of its inhabitants and their history, clearly dedicate a substantial amount of time to fantasy but does this make Tolkien a maladaptive daydreamer? What about the single, middle-aged woman in a dead end job who dreams about finding the perfect man and winning the lottery? She feels depressed that she doesn’t have those things and it affects her life but does that make her a maladaptive daydreamer? For me I feel the most important element isn’t how it affects a person’s ability to function but the relationship that person has with their daydreaming. Most people can draw a clear line between their fantasy life and their real life but I feel with maladaptive daydreamers this isn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that a person with MD can’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy. They are well aware what they daydream about isn’t real. I mean people with MD have such a strong connection with their fantasy life that it becomes their life. They can’t put it to one side or brush it off like “normal people”. They identify more with their fantasy life than their real life and although they can distinguish between what’s real and what isn’t, the emotions and sensations that come with daydreaming are very much real.

Maladaptive Daydreaming Vs. Dissociation

Everybody experiences periods of dissociation. Have you ever been out walking and suddenly realised you have no idea how you got there? Or be listening to someone talk and then realise you haven’t heard a word they’ve said? These are examples of dissociation that usually occur in everyone. Dissociation, by definition, is when you become detached from reality and your emotions, memories and experiences aren’t consciously registered. In more severe cases dissociation is used to disconnect from traumatic memories or to escape a situation we are unable to handle. There are several types of dissociation that exist such as depersonalization (when you feel that your body isn’t real or you feel you are viewing your body from the outside, like an out of body experience) derealisation (when you feel the world around you isn’t real) and amnesia (when you are unable to recall anything that happened at a particular time). There are also several dissociative disorders, the most extreme one being dissociative identity disorder, formally known as multiple personality disorder. This is said to occur when a young child has suffered repeated trauma or abuse and as a way of dealing with that experience remove themselves consciously and become replaced by an alter (alternative personality) who holds the memories of the trauma.

Without betraying confidentiality I have heard and read from several people describing what sounds like maladaptive daydreaming- all of which suffer from a dissociative disorder. It does make sense that a person who struggles to cope with the pressures of life would have a safe daydream world.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that people who feel they have MD actually have a dissociative disorder but for some it could be the case. Furthermore it also makes sense for a “normal” person to dissociate and escape into a dream world as a coping mechanism. Where some people may be prone to drinking, taking illicit drugs, comfort eating or immersing themselves in work or projects as a way of removing themselves from a situation they don’t want to deal with, others may be prone to deal with things more inwardly. If a person is facing a difficult period in their life they may daydream as a coping mechanism. It may ease the pain of what they are going through or provide them with some comfort. A person who is introverted and struggles to make friends may cope with his/her loneliness by inventing imaginary friends. So if maladaptive daydreaming appears prevalent in people with dissociative disorders does that mean what they are experiencing is in fact maladaptive daydreaming or is what they experience simply another symptom of their condition? Can that person be suffering from both, and if so does that mean a person with a dissociative disorder has a higher risk of developing maladaptive daydreaming? If a person uses daydreaming as a coping mechanism does that make them a maladaptive daydreamer? Is there a difference between a person that daydreams to cope and a person that daydreams simply because they do?

Maladaptive daydreaming Vs Schizotypy.

Schizotypal and Schizoid personality disorders are, as implied in the name, types of personality disorders that exist on the schizotypy spectrum. Both disorders have some similarities to schizophrenia. However one needs to remember that Schizoid and Schizotypal are personality disorders whereas schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder.

With schizotypal personality disorder a person tends to be sociality isolated and holds a lot of anxiety and paranoia around other people. They can have odd beliefs, behave in strange ways, experience derealisation and depersonalisation and experience some mild hallucinations. Some of these features appear close to schizophrenia but a person with schizotypal doesn’t have any profound psychotic features although it is believed that a person who has Schizotypal personality disorder has a higher chance of developing schizophrenia or psychosis later on.

With Schizoid personality disorder a person has no interest in other people. Unlike schizotypal this isn’t because they are afraid of others, they simply see no point in being with other people. Schizoids, in many ways, display the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, ie, cold and flat, emotionless, detached and indifferent.

Why do I bring these disorders up? Because fantasy plays quite a large role when it comes to schizotypy. Of course, not everyone who identifies with these disorders will feel the same way but generally speaking people with SPD (Schizoid personality disorder) and StPD (Schizotypal personality disorder) rely quite heavily on fantasy. For someone who is a schizoid and fails to connect with human beings, having an elaborate fantasy world allows them to get the social interaction that they need and that they are unable to attain in the outside world because they receive no pleasure from it. The same goes for people with schizotypal. They can have a world that is safe. As someone who feels they can relate to the schizotypy model it all makes quite a lot of sense. I don’t like to be around people in the real world. I’m not paranoid or afraid. I just get no pleasure from it and feel it drains me, even to be around people I love. My daydream world provides me with social interaction that feels right for me. So if people with SPD and StPD have fantasy worlds to help them cope with the outside world is this any different to people with MD? Again it would be wrong of me to say those with MD have either of these disorders but of course it is possible some people on this forum may.

Periodic Maladaptive Daydreaming Vs Lifelong Maladaptive Daydreaming.

Another common occurrence I find is that some people seem to be able to leave their daydreaming behind when conditions in their real life get better. People who struggled to make friends who finally make friends don’t feel a need to rely so heavily on their imagined ones. People who appear to be progressing with their lives in general seem to find more reason to focus on the real rather than the fictional. This is what I call periodic MD because it comes and goes and is dependent on a person’s external situation. If that person encounters a bump in the road they may slip back into their daydreaming habit. If that person’s life appears good and they have what is required for them to feel part of the real world they no longer have such a strong desire to daydream. However there are also people who claim this is not the case for them. This is what I call lifelong MD because it doesn’t seem to be affected by a person’s external life and doesn’t appear to go away. A person may be able to distract themselves from daydreaming and may be able to go sometime without it but ultimately it finds its way back. This isn’t to say it can’t be “cured”. It just means it’s likely to come back at some point. These daydreamers may have people that they love (a partner or spouse, friends, family) or achieved the things they want to in life but for some reason can’t let go of their internal lives. Remember that these terms are my own and not ones that have been established by any professionals.
therararabbit therararabbit
22-25, M
15 Responses Oct 29, 2013

I probably have MD

After reading through this I seem to have periodic MD. In my case my daydreaming started from when I was a young child and since then my fantasy world(s) have changed and developed as I've aged. I go through phases of constant daydreaming to weeks if not months of nothing at all.

I have 3 different 'worlds' that I've invented with all different casts of characters (one of which I've had for over 10 years) and I find that they fill a void for social interaction with me - as I have no friends at this present time due to various circumstances. When my life becomes more fulfilled then they have less of an influence on me - that may be the case for a lot of people in all fairness, loneliness.

Sometimes I'll be reading books and the words on the page become the daydream. People will be talking to me and I'll hear them but I don't process the words. I'm just too lost in the fantasy world. And I never add myself in but the daydream is like a movie playing in my mind with details that are like hidden easter eggs.

I can be bored and just pace everywhere, up down circles back and forth, daydreaming as I do so. As I daydream I will occasionally make facial expressions and gestures with my hands. It commonly is the same daydream that I keep building onto and expanding. Oftenly I will lay in bed and daydream for 30min-1hr without noticing it, before I fall asleep.

Last night was probably one of the most intense daydreams. Made up chareters, celeberties, my friends, me, and my dreams. I was so happy in my daydream in reality, I cried.

Ok. So I found out about MD a month or so ago. I'm not really sure if I have or if this is normal. Can someone tell me?

You just explained my daily life ❤️ ty

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I think another difference between maladaptive daydreaming versus the daydreaming that almost everyone says that they indulge in is the associated movements or 'stereotypy' that goes along with maladaptive daydreaming. This might be walking round in a circle, swaying from time to time, or rocking back and forward in a chair. It's a shame that there seems to be very little academic or medical research into the phenomenon of maladaptive daydreaming, as those affected feel 'as if there is something wrong with them', and this has a consequent knock on their self esteem. Also, from what I've read & experienced, many maladaptive daydreamers, especially the ones that have it as a lifelong condition, report problems with procrastination, and feel that they are just dreaming their life away. If medical doctors have simply labelled it as a 'personality trait', then perhaps additional support should be put in place to help those who struggle with maladaptive daydreams interact with the real world.
The human imagination is wonderful, but real life can never be as good as what we create in out heads

I often go into some kind of daydream, well, I think it is, but when I snap out of it, I can't remember anything about it and I get into a bit of a panic, it happens everywhere really, lasts maybe 5-10 minutes, any idea what it could be and do I need medical advice?


I think I've been daydreaming hardcore since I could talk. I'm 15 now, and I'm failing my grade because I don't pay attention. I don't know how, but it'll just happen. I'll be sitting quietly or walking and bam. I'm in a completely different world. It's mostly triggered by music or people I've met. When a song comes on I'll imagine a story line with characters, and the characters themselves have back stories. It's kind of embarrassing but while the music is playing in my ears I'll be thinking hard about the characters emotions, and their facial expressions, and I'll start to make them myself. I'll start to feel what they're feeling and I'll make their facial expressions and I'll walk faster, I don't know why. And I do this all subconsciously. If I'm sitting in class or doing anything really, it'll start. It's started to affect the way I live my life. I'm really ashamed to say but one of my major daydreams is I bring people from my past or fictional characters I see in a show I really love, and put them in my world by a new advanced technology. The daydream is I don't see them or hear them but they see and hear me. It's like being invisible and watching every one around you interact. This certain daydream has gotten so bad that while I'm talking to my mother or just alone I'll be thinking that these people are watching me and I'll say something that has to do with their life, or do something they would only understand. And it really confuses the people around me. To deal with this I've started writing my daydreams down and making stories. It doesn't help, it just makes them stronger. And the thing is I don't want to stop. I love daydreaming. It's like, I'm in this perfect world where I'm brave, smart, pretty, talented, and I have everyone I've ever loved. I think it's gotten worse since my father has died. And I have tons of different fantasies. I love to daydream, but it's gotten so bad to the point where it's weird to function. Like I'm not participating in life like I should. And I think it's only me that has it this bad....

That happens to me too all the time I just have one daydream and it's about my favorite TV show and its triggered when listening to music and when I'm walking my dog I listen to music and I start to walk faster

I am reading your responses and I feel less weird now! Sometimes I spend hours upon hours in my head usually in the bathroom which is apparently my idea factory. I always attributed it to writing in my mind but sometimes I am talking along with it too! I have been doing it since I was old enough to talk and I do find it doesn't happen always like if I have a really busy day, but once I have a lot of time to myself it comes back. Thanks for all the support guys! Now I know there are people like me out there :)

I think I have this problem. I spend literally hours a day daydreaming. I've had many unproductive days where I have done nothing but daydream in an obsessive, uncontrollable way. I go on for days with the same story going on in my mind. It's always the same people I daydream about too (probably my friends, or someone I want to be with). I often daydream that people will like me so much because I have done a lot of great things for them or I am really special to them (something like that scenarios, it depends. Usually it's just drama kind of things.), and is usually with music on. it just does this without my planning or wanting it to. If you do not experience this it may sound like a joke, but unfortunately this is all too real. This problem has damage my life, and has significantly affected my school works. I can't remember when it started but, but I think, when I started to have difficulties in socializing (grade school days). I'm creating fantasies and scenarios in my mind. I had no way of knowing this as I continued to suffer through my childhood and into adulthood. It just seemed to me that I had this weird problem that no one else had. When I tried to research this daydreaming once, looking for something that would apply to me and my problem, I just see information about how wonderful and useful daydreaming could be. I never saw any comments or articles about the destructive reality of daydreaming that I lived with every day. It's just now that I really need to do my assignments and I can't stop this daydreaming and then I started searching for information about this problem on the internet. Finally, something that states my exact problem.

Yeah I suffer from a lot of mental health issues and I find it so much easier to talk about experiencing hallucinations, hearing voices than talking about daydreaming. It feels way more embarrassing for some reason. School is crappy at the best of times so I wish you all the luck to get through it. I hope you find a way that works for you when it comes to daydreaming.

I am more concerned the fact that I might have maladaptive daydreaming then maladaptive daydreaming itself. Even if a doctor told me I don't have it I would still worry. I seriously hate this.

It isnt a recognised condition so doctors wouldnt be able to officially diagnose you. The doctor that I have spoken to who are aware of it say that its a personality trait rather than a disorder but I know a lot of people want this to change and become a recognized disorder. But don't worry. You are not broken. Even if you are a maladaptive daydreamer it isnt the end of the world. You just need to find what works for you.

Hello, this is a great site. My name is Ravi and I am from Sri Lanka. I an 44 years old. I have been day-dreaming and fantasizing all my life. I have been doing this since 7 years old. I went to university and I although day-dreamed a lot there, I somehow got A's for all subjects and passed with 1st class honors in Science and became the batch-top and got a couple of awards at the convocation. I went on to get an M.Sc. in computer science from the University of Colombo and a few IT professional certifications. However, I have been daydreaming all my life. Now, I am 45 and want to get married. I am asking whether I have MD or not??? Can somebody enlighten? I daydream about me being a commander of an starship and involved in space-battles and things like that because I love space. I daydream about going to different planets where there are dinosaurs and other awesome animals and have adventures like in the movies. I daydream when I listen to music. Is this normal or do I have MD????

Hi Ravi. Maladaptive Daydreaming isnt a recognised condition at the moment. I have spoken to a few psychologists who are aware of it but currently it is seen as a personality trait rather than a disorder. There is debate amongst people who identify as maladaptive daydreamers whether it should be treated as a disorder but as it stands this isnt the case.
No one can tell you whether you have MD or not unfortunately. However daydreaming like this isnt necessarily a bad thing. If you are happy with your life and feel able to balance both worlds then its fine but if you are struggling then you will need to find a way to manage. There are quite a few forums and resources online. Best of luck.

I have the same problem but have only just recognised it. If I watch a film that is powerful to me then I will act out the character and even the accent in real life and it can last for days or weeks after watching the film. For example, if I watch JFK (which I have seen over 100 times) then I will act out the character of Jim Garrison in the court room. I will touch my glasses like him and I will even do the American accent albeit not too good. And it will go on for a week sometimes two. God this sounds crazy. I see in my mind the character and walk and speak and copy the mannerisms even in day-to-day life. If I watch Columbo I walk stooped and repeat lines from the film. Never knew it existed. Thought everyone did it. I am sad because I just split up from my girlfriend after 18 months because I was being nasty (not violent) towards her. The last film I watched around her house was Scarface. I did it when I was young. Thought I was the knight rider car. Just not grown out of it. This is why I lost my love. I repeat the conversations. Not to myself. But with other people. I don't talk to myself but will repeat a scene from a film over and over and over again. If I see Poirot, I become Poirot and will say "Bonjour" to people rather than Hello. Just bloody realised when I see this sight. ;(

This is really great.

I completely agree that other disorders are contributing factors to MD. I hear everything you've said and found it to be true. I also think a chemical imbalance in the brain of some sort may be the initial start or may have developed later. For those of us who believe we were born this way and believe we've had it from birth, this raises an additional question of whether we can be born with these disorders as well.

Disorders would more than likely be developed, a baby would not have time to develop a disorder. That's what is throwing me on this theory I am presenting. I was informed 2 weeks ago from my sister that two of my niece's have a daydreaming problem. One cannot stop drawing and the other cannot stop writing novels. They both say they have these visions and the must produce them. They get agitated if you interrupt them or if they don't have time to do what they need to do. They both insist they were born this way as I've always said too.

Situations like this further complicate what and were and how MD started. Is it developed? Enhanced with other conditions? Hereditary? A defense mechanism from traumatic situations like a car accident, or head injury or something like that? We don't know and I wish we did. Everybody responds differently to MD. I never knew there were ranges of it until I joined that chat board.

About the chat board that you are no longer on, I keep forgetting to delete my account. It no longer serves a purpose for me and I have not been back on since then. I have no desire to go there. Will write more later. Have to go now.

I think it's safe to assume everybody that has MD or feels they have MD feels dissatisfied with their external lives or they have the inability to connect to something in their external lives. Whether they've had a lot of trauma which has caused them to live more inwardly or they aren't happy with who they are, where their life is going etc, or they just can't find something in the outside world that they can really connect with. For me I do relate to schizoid because I really have very little interest in other people and find that interacting with people provides no pleasure and usually drains me of energy. However I do need to feel connected to something and I do need some level of interaction and I receive that from inside myself.

I've recently started a support site with a friend if you are interested in having a look there. We try and help people with all kinds of various issues so feel free to sign up there if you want to.