Maladaptive daydreaming

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Maladaptive daydreaming or excessive daydreaming is a psychological concept first introduced by Eli Somer[1] to describe an extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning. It might be related to childhood emotional neglect, bullying or any type of abuse that motivates victims to divorce from the threatening world.[2]

Signs and symptoms[edit]

While there are many specific symptoms of a maladaptive daydreamer, someone with this disorder will not necessarily have all of them.

Often maladaptive daydreamers will have 'triggers' that set off their daydreams. Common triggers are books, movies, music, and even riding in a car. Maladaptive daydreamers also may have trouble getting out of bed or going to sleep, due to the want to continue daydreaming. Often times while maladaptive daydreamers are daydreaming they will whisper, talk, make facial expressions, or do some sort of repetitive movement, such as pacing.

Maladaptive daydreamers can spend hours simply daydreaming. They often have elaborate fantasies within their minds, often comparable to a complete novel or movie. Many have more than one fantasy in their mind, each with its own characters, setting, plots, etc. Maladaptive daydreamers may become emotionally attached to their characters as well, though they know the characters are not real.[3]

Recurrent themes[edit]

Recurrent themes may include:[1]

  • Idealized self
  • Violence
  • Power and control
  • Captivity
  • Rescue and escape
  • Sexual arousal

Identified functions[edit]

Identified functions of maladaptive daydreaming included disengagement from stress and pain by mood enhancement and wish fulfillment fantasies; and companionship, intimacy, and soothing.[1]

"All subjects claimed that an important function of their daydreaming was twofold: a disconnection from the pain of living and a magical transformation of misfortune into desirable experiences".[4]


The Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS) is a 14-item self-report instrument designed to gauge abnormal fantasizing. It is a statistically valid and reliable measure of MD that differentiates well between MDers and non-MDers.[5] Mental health diagnoses are only determined based on clinician-administered structured interviews.[6][7] Hence, no official diagnostic tool has been developed to diagnose MD.

Differential diagnosis[edit]

Maladaptive daydreaming is mistakenly and frequently misdiagnosed as schizophrenia[3] which is defined as a mental disorder characterized by abnormal social behavior and failure to recognize what is real.[8] Schizophrenia is considered a psychosis,[9][10][11] whereas maladaptive daydreaming is not considered a psychosis because the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS) has been shown to be poorly correlated with a psychosis measure.[5] The fundamental difference between the two is that maladaptive daydreaming patients (MDers) are aware that their daydream characters are not real and they differentiate between what is real and what is not, whereas schizophrenia patients fail to recognize what is real and what is not.[8] MDers do not hear voices or see people that are not real,[3] whereas schizophrenia patients might.[12]

Media coverage[edit]

But most psychologists have never heard of maladaptive daydreaming, and it is not officially recognized as a disorder. Many scoff at the idea that a normal activity like fantasizing could cause such distress. So how can people who believe their daydreaming is out of control receive help? Is maladaptive daydreaming a syndrome in itself, or is it just one manifestation of another affliction? Where does it come from, and how can it be cured? Most of all, how can the syndrome become better known so excessive fantasizers don’t feel like I did, the only person in the world to spend as much time as possible in my imaginary world?

— Jayne Bigelsen of The Atlantic

Despite it not being an official recognized disorder or pathology, maladaptive daydreaming has received some attention from the media.[13][14][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Somer, Eli. "Maladaptive Daydreaming: A Qualitative Inquiry". Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy. Retrieved 18 May 2014. 
  2. ^ Ardino, Vittoria (ed.). Post-Traumatic Syndromes in Childhood and Adolescence. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 162. ISBN 978-0-470-66929-7. 
  3. ^ a b c "Maladaptive Daydreaming- What Is It?" -Medical Daily
  4. ^ Maladaptive Daydreaming: A Qualitative Inquiry
  5. ^ a b Somer, Eli. "Maladaptive Daydreaming: Development and validation of the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS)". Elsevier. Elsevier. Retrieved 26 Feb 2016. 
  6. ^ Steiner, JI. "A comparison of the structured clinical interview for DSM-III-R and clinical diagnoses". J Nerv Ment Dis. J Nerv Ment. Retrieved 27 Feb 2016. 
  7. ^ Shear, MK. "Diagnosis of nonpsychotic patients in community clinics". Am J Psychiatry Dis. Am J Psychiatry. Retrieved 27 Feb 2016. 
  8. ^ a b "Schizophrenia Fact sheet N°397". WHO. September 2015. Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  9. ^ American Psychiatric Association, 1994 The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Revision IV (DSM-IV)
  10. ^ Gelder, Michael G; Mayou, Richard; Geddes, John (2005). Psychiatry. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-19-852863-0. 
  11. ^ Yuhas, Daisy. "Throughout History, Defining Schizophrenia Has Remained a Challenge (Timeline)". Scientific American Mind (March 2013). Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  12. ^ Carson VB (2000). Mental health nursing: the nurse-patient journey W.B. Saunders. ISBN 978-0-7216-8053-8. p. 638.
  13. ^ The Atlantic featured an article on Maladaptive Daydreaming. "When Daydreaming Replaces Real Life Should elaborate fantasies be considered a psychiatric disorder?" (April 2015)
  14. ^ CBC Radio's The Current featured an episode on the subject called "Maladaptive daydreaming, a debilitating condition with no escape" (June 2015)
  15. ^ Living in an Imaginary World. Scientific American (January 2014)