Facts About Maladaptive Daydreaming – A Complete Guide

We all love to daydream. We create hypothetical situations and an imaginary world to escape reality.  In this article, we will discuss the daydreaming disorder Maladaptive Daydreaming.

We daydream about achieving life goals, going to places, future scenarios, replaying certain events, etc. A limited dose of daydream is healthy for our mental wellbeing. It helps to calm our minds. 

Imagination is an integral part of our life. We solve critical issues, come up with creative outputs, plan our daily activities only through thinking. 

However, daydreaming can become a disorder if it becomes an addiction. Uncontrolled daydreaming disrupts your daily activity. This compulsive behavior to switch into a fantasy world and unable to control your thoughts can be defined as maladaptive daydreaming.

What is Maladaptive Daydreaming?

maladaptive daydreaming

Source: medicalnewstoday.com

The maladaptive daydreaming disorder was first identified in 2002 by Eli Somer, a Clinical Psychology professor at the University of Haifa, Israel. Later in 2011, psychologist Cynthia Schupak and anti-trafficking activist Jayne Bigelsen published a peer-reviewed study on maladaptive daydreaming.

Maladaptive daydreaming can be defined as a psychiatric disorder characterized by vivid imagery scenarios distracting a person from the real world. 

A person suffering from the condition prefers to escape into the fantasy world and stay absorbed in an alternate universe rather than reality. 

The most disturbing part is maladaptive daydreaming can be damaging. It’s not always necessary daydreaming is pleasant. With this condition, an individual may have a dark and disturbing imaginary storyline. 

Dreaming about a natural disaster, murdering someone, committing suicide, getting stuck in a terrorist attack, etc., are examples of harmful daydreaming. 

Day Dreaming vs. Maldavaptive Daydreaming

Day Dreaming Maladaptive Daydreaming
  • A refreshing break from real life
  • It gives mental relaxation and helps to achieve life goals.
  • Daydreaming is a pleasant imaginary world. But real life is enjoyable as well. 
  • Small episodes. Mostly not regular.
  • Escaping into an alternate reality
  • Creates distraction from regular activities, delays life goals.
  • The alternate reality is the sole source of happiness.
  • Regular prolonged episodes

Triggers of Maladaptive Daydreaming

Real-life events can trigger maladaptive daydreaming. Many individuals can experience intense daydreaming in the following situations-

  • Emotionally provoking topics of conversation
  • Certain music, tunes, noise, smell that triggers a sensory stimulus
  • Experiencing certain physical events or episodes

Maladaptive Daydreaming disorder is not included in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). However, many experts believe that this intense daydreaming disorder can have severe adverse effects on an individual’s daily life.

What Causes Maladaptive Daydreaming?

maladaptive daydreaming

Source: theglossymusings.com

The brain is a powerful biological machine. It uses daydreaming as a tool to escape reality. Maladaptive daydreaming can be a coping mechanism for individuals who have suffered traumatic experiences, abuse, or is a victim of loneliness.

Somer’s study identified six sexual assault survivors who escaped into an alternate universe to create empowering thoughts, missing from reality. They created vivid storylines with multiple plots and characters. 

Somer mentioned that daydreaming in this disorder starts as small episodes. Then gradually develops into immersive episodes and finally turns into an addiction. 

The Vicious Cycle of Maladaptive Daydreaming

Step-1- An individual experiences specific traumatic episodes or encounters any trigger elements

Step 2- To escape from reality, the brain switches into a coping mode. An individual starts to imagine an alternative reality.

Step 3- A person starts daydreaming for an extensive period.

Step 4- Social withdrawal and falling behind schedule

Step 5- Real life gets complicated.

Step 6- To avoid the complications, the brain again switches to the copying mode. 

Mechanism of Maladaptive Daydreaming

  • Default mode network is a collection of brain regions, believed to be responsible for daydreaming. 
  • The activity of this network is highest when the brain is not performing any task. The default mode network influences the creative orientation of a person. 
  • Excessive activity of the default mode network can lead to vivid and prolonged episodes of daydreaming. 

What Are The Symptoms Of Maladaptive Daydreaming?

maladaptive daydreaming

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Due to lack of evidence, it is difficult to identify and define any set of symptoms for maladaptive daydreaming disorders. Generally, a person suffering from the condition is likely to experience the following- 

  • Extremely detailed daydreams with immersive story-like features. 
  • Extremely long episodes which can’t be controlled.
  • Interference with daily activity. The person finds it challenging to concentrate on the daily task.
  • Fragmented sleep and episodes of insomnia
  • A compelling desire to continue daydreaming
  • Daydreaming triggered by real-events or external stimuli like particular noise, watching a movie, or any distinct smell. 
  • Unconscious/involuntary repetitive movements, facial expressions, and gestures.
  • Whispering or talking during the episodes

Maladaptive daydreaming can have several other symptoms. 

How To Diagnose Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder?

maladaptive daydreaming

Source: medicalnewstoday.com

Currently, there is no formal method or universal guideline to diagnose maladaptive daydreaming disorder. Somer developed a 14-point “Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale” to identify the condition. 

Since there is insufficient evidence to recognize the condition as a psychological disorder, this scale is not utilized for a formal diagnosis.

The Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale rates the five major characteristics of the daydreaming disorder-

  • Quality of details and the content of the dream
  • The degree of control on their dreams and compulsiveness to dream
  • An extent of distress due to daydreaming
  • Individual’s perception of the benefits of daydreaming.
  • The severity of interference of daydreaming in a person’s ability to perform daily activities.

People also rate the frequency of maladaptive daydreaming symptoms. More research is required to understand the effects and causes of the condition entirely. 

Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder vs. Schizophrenia

Due to a lack of expertise and formal guidelines, the maladaptive daydreaming disorder is often misdiagnosed as schizophrenia.

Although schizophrenia and maladaptive daydreaming have similar symptoms, there are some notable differences. 

  • Schizophrenic individuals are unable to differentiate reality from fantasy. 
  • Maladaptive daydreamers can distinguish between reality and fantasy. They are aware of when they are dreaming and what reality is. 

What Other Disorders Are Associated With Maladaptive Daydreaming?

People suffering from the maladaptive daydreaming disorder can have one or more of the following conditions-

A mood disorder where a person encounters a prolonged and intense episode of sadness 

  • OCD- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

OCD is characterized by an extreme compulsion to maintain order, perfection, and neatness. 

  • ADHD- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

A childhood disorder driven by hyperactive actions.

However, it is unclear how maladaptive daydreaming is related to these disorders and vice-versa.

How Maladaptive Daydreaming Can Lead To Health Issues?

Normal daydreaming can be beneficial and relaxing. But the process of maladaptive daydreaming is tricky. It may have a detrimental effect on your health.

  • Maladaptive daydreaming disrupts the natural sleep cycle. Without proper sleep, you may experience mood swings, lethargy throughout the day, indigestion issues, headaches, weight gain or weight loss, and a plethora of other health issues.
  • With daydreaming disorder, your daily routine gets disrupted. Delay in essential tasks can lead to anxiety and stress.
  • Maladaptive daydreaming can make you socially distant and detached from your loved ones as well. This can trigger other mental disorders.

What Are The Management Options Available For Maladaptive Daydreaming?

There are no standard protocols for treating maladaptive daydreaming. However, psychologists and mental health physicians recommend treatment regimes to manage the symptoms.

Manage Fatigue

Fatigue results from a disrupted sleep cycle. Therapies aimed at improving the quality of sleep can reduce fatigue. 

Caffeine intake is also recommended to counteract daytime tiredness. However, consumption of caffeine should not exceed the daily recommended amount. 

Keeping Others Informed

Keeping the family, close friends, and colleagues informed about the occurrence of the disorder can be helpful. They can identify the event and interrupt it. 

Also Read: Mindful Eating: What is it and How is it Beneficial?

Recognizing and Identifying Triggers

Identifying triggers can avoid the initiation of maladaptive daydreaming. Maintaining a journal or notes about the daydreaming episode’s incidence can help identify triggers and avoid them.


Psychiatric therapy aims to understand the underlying cause and the triggers. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be helpful.

  • CBT is a goal-oriented collaborative therapy that requires the active participation of the patient and the counselor. 
  • It includes one-on-one sessions, group sessions, role-playing activities, maintaining a behavioral journal, mind-calming activities, etc
  • CBT helps an individual to open up about any traumatic experiences, face fears, understand emotions, accept situations, practice healthy coping mechanisms and develop a positive outlook

Set Time for Voluntary Daydreaming

Setting aside a particular time for daydreaming can help to control the process without developing anxiety or stress.


Medication is only recommended for severe cases. One case study showed that fluvoxamine was successful at treating maladaptive daydreaming. Fluvoxamine is an OCD medication.

Daydreaming is not harmful or unhealthy. In fact, daydreaming can improve critical thinking and creative perspective. However, excess of anything can be detrimental. Therefore identifying the symptoms and proper management of maladaptive daydreaming is vital.

Due to lack of evidence, maladaptive daydreaming does not consider a formal disorder. Without proper guidelines, the condition gets misdiagnosed.

In 2014, Cyan Reed, a Texas student, filed a petition to acknowledge Maladaptive Daydreaming, as a disorder. 

If you’re experiencing any symptoms that are disrupting your daily schedule, you should consider medical help. Online communities are also available for sharing experiences and get suggestions.

For more health-related information, visit Healthclubfinder.

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