Narcissist vs. Borderline On Autopilot: Depersonalization Derealization Disorder

Uploaded 11/24/2023, approx. 28 minute read

Okay, I want to read to you a segment, an excerpt from the new edition, a book titled From Dissociations and Dissociative Disorders, Past, Present and Future: A Book was published in 2023. So, it's very new.

I want to read to you what they have to say.

Depersonalization describes a disrupted integration of self-receptions with a sense of self so that individuals experiencing depersonalization are in a subjective state of feeling estranged, detached or disconnected from their own being.

The following are common descriptions of depersonalization experiences.

They are actually quoting from an article by Sierra and Bevios, 23 years old, feeling strange, as if not real or as if being cut off from the world, feeling as if parts of one's own body do not belong to oneself, having the feeling of being a detached observer of oneself, including the feeling of being outside of one's body or watching oneself from a distance, perceiving the body as very light, as if floating on air, perceiving one's own voice as remote and unreal, feeling detached from autobiographical memories as if not having been involved in them, not feeling any affection towards family or close friends, feeling as if not in charge of movements, as if moving automatically or like a robot, perceiving one's own image in the mirror as strange and unreal, feeling the need to touch oneself to make sure that one's body is real and it does exist, feeling disconnected from one's own thoughts and feelings.

Depersonalization, say the author's, is frequently accompanied by derealization, a sense of unfamiliarity, alteration or detachment from one's own surroundings, from other people or from objects.

The following are common descriptions of derealization.

Feeling the surrounding is flat or lifeless, as if looking at a picture, feeling detached from surroundings or perceiving them as unreal, as if there is a veil between the person and the outside world.

Impression that objects seem to look smaller or further away, experience of familiar places looking unfamiliar, as never seen before.

Usually all the above experiences are as if experiences, meaning that an individual with depersonalization, derealization, is intact reality testing.

This point is crucial to the differentiation between dissociation and psychosis.

You come across someone who is confused. They don't know where they are. They don't know who they are. They don't know why they are. They don't know that they are.

And you say knowingly, because you're all self-styled experts, of course, you say knowingly he has or she has dementia. Alzheimer's had struck again.

But you would be wrong, actually, in the vast majority of cases.

Because what you would be facing is known as depersonalization, derealization disorder.

Now it's a misnomer. It's actually not a disorder. It's a syndrome. It's a combination of cognitive, emotional processes, behaviors that together constitute an amalgam, a constellation. We call this a syndrome. It includes some traits, as well as predispositions, reactivity, and so on and so forth.

And this is known as a syndrome.

Now the DSM, the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, misnamed it or mislabeled it, a disorder. Depersonalization and derealization has been described in literature, starting with psychoanalytic literature for well over 120 years.

And at first it was conceived as a defense, defense against unbearable, intolerable reality, a defense against some Vaknin's videos.

And then as we evolved from ape to human, we realized that there's a lot more to depersonalization and derealization than meets the eye.

And today I'm going to discuss depersonalization and derealization in narcissistic personality disorder versus borderline personality disorder.

Now to the untrained eye, it would seem that both borderlines and narcissists display dissociative symptoms such as amnesia, depersonalization, and derealization.

These are the three major dissociative disorders.

Amnesia simply means to forget.

And derealization is the topic of today's video.

But it's very common, even by practitioners, even scholars tend to confuse and conflate and confute these syndromes in a variety of personality disorders.

And I'm here, I am here to the rescue. I am here to salvage the flailing professionals who can't get it right, let alone the self-styled experts who seem all to suffer from constant amnesia, depersonalization, and derealization on camera.

And who the heck am I to be the self-assigned Messiah, Rescuer, and Savior?

I am the one and only Sam Vaknin, the author of Malignant Saint-Flan Narcissism, who visited a former visiting professor of psychology who is no longer visiting and currently, and for a long time now, on the faculty of CEAPS.

Institute for Advanced, Commonwealth Institute for Advanced Professional Studies, Toronto, Canada, Cambridge United Kingdom, and in all of us, illustrious, Lagos, Nigeria.

Ok, I am going to do this, I am going to do this, I am going to do this, and every other designation.

Turn in to the next few minutes and try not to depersonalize, not to derealize during this video, and try not to develop instant amnesia of what I am about to tell you.

Now the first major difference between Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder is that the Borderline maintains intact reality testing. She can always tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

Now I say she, it can be a he, a he, it can be a she, give me a break. Gender pronouns are interchangeable in a world where everyone has become a man, everyone is masculine, regardless of genitalia.

So the BPD maintains intact reality testing, not so the Narcissist.

The Narcissist's reality testing is impaired, it is shot.

The Narcissist is unable to tell the difference between fantasy, dream state, reality, he cannot.

He believes his own confabulations, his own narratives, his own convoluted fiction.

And so that's one major difference between BPD and NPD, and that's why I tend to think that Narcissists are much closer to psychosis than Borderlines are.

In contrast to Kernberg's view, I think that Narcissism is actually a much more severe mental illness than Borderline Personality Disorder.

These people, Narcissists, they are no longer with us. They are utterly derealized.

Okay, next thing.

Derealization and depersonalization in Borderline Personality Disorder are reactions to stress or to substance abuse.

In Narcissism, these dissociative disorders, these dissociative defenses or phenomena, they are a reaction to deficient Narcissistic supply, to injury, Narcissistic injury, and of course, to Narcissistic mortification.

That's another major difference.

It means that amnesia, depersonalization and derealization are going to be much more common, much more frequent in Borderline than in Narcissism, and that's exactly the case.

That's why one of the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-IV, one of the diagnostic criteria of Borderline Personality Disorder is indeed dissociation, especially amnesia but not only.

So next, what is depersonalization and derealization that I keep talking about? Isn't it time to define and to elucidate and enlighten you?

Lonely layman?

Yes, it is.

Yes, it is.

And I will do it gratuitously and gratefully.

Now, depersonalization and derealization is simply a situation where you cannot integrate your perceptions of the environment, your perceptions of the world, of reality with yourself.

This is derealization because the self includes reality testing.

One of the major functions of the ego is reality testing. The self is expansive.

In this sense, every child goes to a psychotic state, hyperreflexivity.

Hyperreflexivity means the child expands outwards.

As the child explores the world, the child incorporates the world via representations known as internal objects.

The world is here in our minds. That's in healthy people.

So when you can no longer integrate the world with your sense of self, that is derealization.

There's you and there's the world. It's not that there is a boundary between you and the world.

That's healthy. It's that you can never cross this boundary. You can never go out, venture out into the world and bring it into you. You can never assimilate the world. You can never digest or incorporate information from the world within your internal working model, within the algorithms and mathematical models in your brain.

It's as if you were catapulted away from reality. Now you're absolutely on your own floating and drifting without any umbilical cord in outer deep space.

So this is derealization.

Similarly, depersonalization is when you fail to integrate your perception of yourself, your self perception with your sense of self.

It's as if you observe yourself from the outside. You come up with all kinds of data, information about yourself, but you don't feel that you belong there. You don't feel this information is about you.

And this is known clinically as estrangement.

So depersonalization is a variant of estrangement.

In borderline personality disorder, these disruptions in integration, these integrative deficits, they are situational. They are reactive.

When the borderline is threatened with humiliation or rejection or abandonment, definitely when she goes through humiliation and rejection and abandonment, she tends to derealize and depersonalize. She tends to dissociate. She also tends to develop amnesia.

So in the borderline, this has to be triggered. It's a triggered reaction to stress. It's a stress response, a trauma response.

In the narcissist, this is a constant state. It's not triggered by anything. It's background radiation, so to speak.

This is the narcissist.

The narcissist's core is his absence. The empty schizoid core, which in the borderline is distinct from the borderline. In the narcissist it's the narcissist.

So both the borderline and the narcissist have this emptiness inside, this black hole that is consuming not only outsiders, but it's cannibalizing the borderline, cannibalizing the narcissist. This black hole here in the narcissist's chest, in the borderline's chest, is consuming them from within and also consumes everyone out there.

But in the narcissist's case, it's constant.

Not the emptiness, but the reactivity to the emptiness, the depersonalization, the derialization, the dissociation, it's constant.

In the borderline's case, it's triggered. It's reactant. It's a reaction.

This sense of borderline is much closer to the psychopath than to the narcissist.

Okay, both the borderline and the narcissist are capable of watching themselves from a distance as if in a movie, there's a feeling of existence one step removed beyond a glass darkly, beyond a veil.

So watching yourself from a distance, from out there, from some vantage point that is far removed, is common to both borderline and narcissist.

And they have this feeling that they are somehow participating in some kind of theater production, some kind of movie, as if they were actors given a script that is not their own. They don't own these scripts. They're handed to them somehow.

So this is common to both.

But in the case of the borderline, this sometimes translates to out of body experiences and mystical experiences. And it never happens with the narcissist.

So the narcissist is perceived erroneously, by the way, as more rational, more grounded, more centered than the borderline.

But that's of course not the case. The narcissist is unmeshed and embedded and entangled in a fantasy of his own making.

The borderline similarly interacts with the fantasy state.

But this fantasy state is more sublimated, more socially acceptable. So she could be religious or she could be mystical. She could read the tarot, so be into astrology or whatever. She could experience out of body astral projections. She could be a spiritist, medium or whatever.

So the borderline sublimates this.

She transitions into socially acceptable practices, however, deluded and delusional.

The narcissist places his own fantasy over and above the delusional disorders and the fantasies of society.

It's as if the narcissist says, "If I have to engage in fantasy, I'll engage in my own fantasy." The borderline says, "If I have to engage in fantasy, let me borrow the Bible or the Quran or I don't know, let me borrow something."

Spiritual becomes a spiritual medium or card reader, tarot card reader or whatever.

So this is another difference between them.

Now both borderlines and narcissists report situations where they felt that they were going through the motions, automatism, as if they were robots, as if they were on autopilot.

As end narcissists report, extreme conditions of stress or trauma or challenge in the case of the narcissist or rejection and abandonment in the case of the borderline or humiliation and public shaming in the case of narcissistic mortification, both report that they suddenly disengage and some autopilot takes over. It's as if they remove themselves from their own bodies.

I am no longer inside my body. This body that is having promiscuous sex with strangers is not me. It's mine the same way a smartphone is mine, the same way a car is mine, the same way a laptop is mine. I own this body, but it's not me inside this body.

And saying the narcissist would describe automatism, narcissist would describe in the immediate wake of a major narcissistic injury or mortification, or after a long period of deficient narcissistic supply, inability to secure supply, the narcissist would describe a kind of depressive automatism as if he were just going through them, dragging himself through the motions like a badly programmed robot until he crashes in bed at the end of the day.

Many people mistake this, many people, including diagnosticians and therapists and so on, mistake this for depression. It's not depression. It's a dissociative reaction to unbearable trauma, injury, pain, hurt, shame and other egodystonic emotions, even guilt.

So the narcissist slices himself off, splits himself away from, disassociates himself from conditions that he finds threatening, intolerable, disintegrative, the compensatory.

The borderline does the same, but she does it as a trauma response.

So she goes into autopilot because for example, she needs to act out. That's her outlet. That's her outlet and she feels guilty. She feels ashamed of her own misbehavior and to not experience this, she goes on autopilot. She dissociates.

So both of them actually have the same motivation to go on autopilot, the intolerable shame and guilt involved in being themselves.

The borderline because she is rejected and abandoned, the narcissist because he's exposed and humiliated.

But both of them, when they enter dissociative state, when they depersonalize or they realize both the borderline and the narcissist feel as if they split in the middle.

It's a part of them that is acting in another part that is observing.

Suddenly there's an observer there.

It's very reminiscent of Freud's superego.

So the narcissist and the borderline become dichotomous, not unitary.

It's as if they fragment, they're fractured under stress or trauma or rejection or abandonment in the case of the borderline, humiliation and shame in the case of the narcissist.

They fracture, they break in the middle.

It is this distinction between acting self and observing self, essentially a hint of dissociative identity disorder.

This distinction is the borderline's way of coping with her bad object.

By distancing herself from herself, she is no longer identifiable with the bad object, the bad object that is worthy of abandonment and rejection. The bad object that is acting out, the bad object that is misbehaving, the bad object that is self-trashing, self-defeating, self-destructive.

The borderline puts distance between herself and the bad object.

That's the acting versus observing dissociative mechanism.

Similarly, the narcissist creates this rift, this gulf, this abyss between acting and observing selves as a way to generate audience.

It's a form of self-audiencing.

Self-audiencing is a critical component of self-supply.

When the narcissist can no longer generate supply in a reliable, regular manner, the narcissist breaks himself in two.

He acts and then he observes his own actions.

Serving in the process is an admiring, adulating, confirming and affirming audience.

So he self-audiences, he becomes his own audience, thereby supplying himself, providing himself with narcissistic supply.

So the dissociative mechanisms of depersonalization, derealization in narcissism are integrated critical parts of self-supply and self-audiencing.

This is precisely why in narcissism, in pathological narcissism, dissociative disorders are indistinguishable from the narcissistic libido, from narcissistic defenses.

Narcissism is permanent dissociation.

Narcissism is permanent impaired reality testing.

Narcissism is constant fantasy, no reality.

The narcissist dissociates, depersonalizes, derealizes always, always and only at the service of garnering and generating narcissistic supply, period.

With the borderline, the split between the observing self and the acting self, this is a defensive split against the bad object.

In narcissism, this split is actually a way to increase supply, to generate supply, to solve the injury, to cure the wound, to fend off mortification.

So in narcissism, dissociation is a positive adaptation, a survival strategy.

In borderline, it is indeed a syndrome, indeed a kind of disorder.

It's not good.

Now, when in the throes of dissociative reactions, both the narcissist and the borderline describe a dream state, mental fog.

This is a trauma response in the borderline.

The borderline's mind is foggy, misty. She loses it. She loses the ability to see clearly through.

It becomes a nightmarish dreamlike state, surrealistic.

That's what the, as far as the borderline is concerned.

But in the narcissist, the dreamlike, foggy state is the only state.

The narcissist never emerges from the dreamlike, fog-like, fogged state.

The narcissist is always there among the mists and the miasmas of his fantasy defense.

The narcissist is trapped, trapped in fantasy land. There's no way back.

The narcissist can never hark back or return to reality or revert to it. There's no way.

He's doomed to wander the lands of fantasy till the day he dies.

And therefore the dreamlike state, the dreamscape, the paracosm, the surrealistic space, the moment the borderline visits occasionally, intermittently is the narcissist's permanent abode.

This is home.

And when the narcissist invites you into shared fantasy, he is inviting you into the moors, you know, like in Sherlock Holmes. He's inviting you into the swamp that he inhabits, the quicksand of his absence.

I wax poetic when I talk about narcissism.

Now both borderlines and narcissists report body dysmorphia. They misperceive their bodies.

The somatic narcissist misperceives his body as irresistible and amazing.

The cerebral narcissist misperceives his body the way insults do, as repulsive and disgusting and so on.

The borderline misperceives her body. She usually thinks she's too fat or too something.

Her body dysmorphia reflects her bad object.

And they are unable to fully identify with their image in a mirror.

Lacan would be thrilled.

They, when a narcissist sees himself in the mirror, there's a feeling that it's not really he.

He regards the image in the mirror a bit suspiciously. He pauses. He moves to the left, moves to the right, tries to capture, to entrap the image in the mirror to prove that it's not him.

It's very childlike, extremely childlike. It's like very early development on stage.

And of course, all this is a form of arrested development. We'll discuss this in the video tomorrow.

But the borderline similarly has problems with her body. Both of them experienced detachment from the mirror image, but also they are estranged, alienated from their own organs, body parts, the entire body.

And that's especially true in the case of a cerebral narcissist.

Both the borderline and the narcissist have a very conflicted relationship with their bodies.


The borderline tends to in the somatic narcissist, they tend to instrumentalize their bodies.

The cerebral tends to regard the body as a burden, as an abomination to be rid of on the first opportunity.

Now both borderlines and narcissists report and all, I'm describing, these are symptoms of depersonalization. Everything I've just described, all of these are symptoms of the syndrome.

Similarly, both the borderline reports sometimes that she feels that she's out of control of her speech and also does not fully control her locomotion. So it's as if her body is a mind of its own and her speech acts are not fully autonomous or agentic. It's as if she's possessed by some alien entity that's taken over, mind snatched her and body snatched her.

Borderlines often describe themselves as a ventriloquist dummy.

Now in the case of the borderline, this estrangement from her speech and her locomotion is, that's a problem.

She doesn't like that. She would like to restore full control.

But in the case of the narcissist, like everything else, the narcissist converts this definite deficiency. He converts it into an element of his grandiosity.

So he would say, "My speech is inspired by higher power and channeling big minds." He would say, "I am not in control of my locomotion because my body has a wisdom of its own. I'm an instinctual dancer. I'm an amazing, I don't know, soldier."

So the narcissist would take this issue, problem and convert it into a statement of grandiosity. He would cognitively distort, he would defend against the fact that he is not fully a master of his own elocution and locomotion.

Now we are proceeding with depersonalization.

The next symptom is alien or intrusive thoughts. These are thoughts that keep recurring, cannot be controlled or suppressed or repressed or eliminated or reframed or they just keep flooding the mind, the brain.

This is the intrusive part.

And they also feel alien as if they come from outside, from an outside source that is unfamiliar, unrecognizable and cannot be pinpointed.

This alien element in the intrusive thoughts is very common in BPD, borderline. It occurs in narcissists, but only after injury or mortification.

As you can see, narcissists are in a constant state of dissociative fantasy, but depersonalization and derealization in the case of the narcissist erupt volcanically after injury or mortification or any challenge or undermining of the cognitive distortion known as grandiosity.

Both borderline narcissists have problems with memory. They cannot retrieve memory well. They have memories that feel like alien. They feel like these memories don't belong to them. They haven't lived through this. Where are these memories coming from?

They have a lot of memory gaps.

The narcissist tends to confabulate, to bridge over these memory gaps with narratives that are plausible, possible, likely, probable.

The borderline simply learns to live with a memory retrieval issues and with the constant knowing feeling that these memories are not hers somehow, that she is not in full possession of her life and therefore doesn't have a core identity, which is a problem in narcissism as well.

I think dissociation explains the emptiness that the borderline and the narcissist report. The so-called empty schizoid core or Kernberg's emptiness.

I think this reflects the fact that no one can form a continuous identity, a core identity without continuous, continuous memories.

If your memory is disjointed, is short, is fragmented, is all over the place, if you have huge gaps, you don't have a sense of who you are. You don't have continuous identity.

That of course makes you feel very empty as if you're non-existent, as if absence is your only presence.

Both narcissists and borderlines, believe it or not, report numbing, numbed emotions, repressed or subdued emotions coupled with something known as reduced affectively.

But in the borderline, this is intermittent and defensive. Most of her life, the borderline is actually hyper emotional. Her emotions are too strong. They overwhelm her. They drown her. She reacts with extreme emotionality to the slightest stimuli and she's also usually highly sensitive.

So in the borderline's case, emotional numbing is a rare reaction to extreme trauma. It is also defensive. It's reactive and defensive.

In the narcissist, emotional numbing is all the time. Narcissists are exactly like psychopaths. They have no access to positive emotions. The only emotions they do show are negative, envy, rage, fear, hatred. So the negative affectivity of the narcissist is not affected by emotional numbing.

But his positive effects, his positive emotions, love for example, they are constantly numb. They're in a sleep state. They're catatonic. They're disabled.

The borderline is absolutely not like that.

Now emotional numbing is part and parcel of depersonalization.

So you're beginning to see that the borderline's personalization is nothing like the narcissist's personalization and that the narcissist's personalization is much more severe than the borderline.

Because the borderline has long periods of time where she is essentially non-dissociative. Dissociation is reactive, defensive, punctuated, intermittent.

With the narcissist, it is his narcissism. Dissociation is the narcissist's association, narcissism.

Both borderline's and narcissist's report unfamiliarity or detachment from surroundings, from people, from objects, from time itself. This is known as derealization.

But again, this happens in borderline only after rejection and abandonment.

With a narcissist, this sense of derealization occurs all the time in the devaluation and discard phase of the shared fantasy.

When the narcissist, ineluctably, inexorably, transitions to the devaluation and discard phase of the shared fantasy, he always derealizes and often depersonalizes.

Narcissist dissociates as a way to separate from a maternal figure.

Dissociation with a narcissist is instrumentalized. It's like saying, "I'm going to forget about you. And I'm going to forget about you, my intimate partner, because I need to separate from you. And I need to separate from you because you're my enemy. I'm devaluing you. And I need to do all this, to accomplish all this. I need to forget about you. And I need to not be. If I don't exist, if I depersonalize, then it's okay to devalue and discard you. I'm not the one doing it. And if I do realize all this is not real, if all this is just a game or a story or a narrative, you know, so it's not a big deal. I can do it. It's a way to restore egosyntony and to avoid emotions, such as shame and guilt.

So emotions are very critical part in depersonalization and derealization.

The narcissist is hypo-emotional, experiences frequently, unreality and unfamiliarity. The borderline is hyper-emotional and experiences derealization, unreality and unfamiliarity, but reactively and defensively and therefore not all the time, defensively, only in cases of abandonment and rejection.

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