Everybody daydreams. Whether it be out of boredom or excess creativity, we all have times where we space out and makeup scenarios and situations inside of our heads, controlling details and plots in vivid detail. But what if the daydreaming starts taking over and controlling us?
Maladaptive daydreaming is a relatively recently discovered mental health condition that fits the bill. Yes, you read it right. As the name suggests, MD, as it is generally abbreviated, is a condition wherein daydreaming becomes an obsessive and compulsive action that spans for hours together and interferes with daily life activities instead of acting as a creative outlet to boredom. The condition has yet to officially be recognized as a disorder but there are multiple studies that take a look at MD from different perspectives, some pointing it to be a form of behavioural addiction.
The concept of Maladaptive daydreaming was brought to light to the research community by Prof. Eli Somer. He defined MD as an ‘‘extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning”. A quick google search will show a lot of forums and medical journals discussing this relatively newly discovered condition. To quickly sum up, the most commonly experienced symptoms of MD include but are not limited to
- highly vivid and immersive daydreams
- abnormally long daydreams that are hard to escape
- an inability to carry out daily tasks
- daydreams triggered by external events or stimuli, such as watching a film or listening to music
- sleep disruption and insomnia
- repetitive and unconscious movements when daydreaming, such as rocking back and forth or twitching
These are only common and apparent symptoms, and they can vary widely from person to person. Since this is a relatively new addition to the world of mental health and a lot of research is still ongoing, not a lot of credible and solid data is currently available to us.
Now, taking a bit of a deeper look into the research available to us, with some of the work done by Prof. Somer, there appears to be some common MD elements between the participants in the research.
- One would be that there seemed to be an underlying current of childhood trauma that served as the biggest trigger for the onset of MD.
- Second, the dynamics of MD heavily involved repeated movements, whether it be pacing around while daydreaming or throwing and catching objects — participants stated that there was some form of movement involved while daydreaming.
- Third, MD served as an outlet for participants to realize their fantasies and idealized selves that do not reflect in their realities and everyday lives — Power, Control and Perfection were some common themes that governed the daydreams of the participants. Being someone in positions of high power, being someone everyone loved, being someone who rescues other people seemed to be common versions of participants’ daydream-selves.
However, just these observations cannot serve as a complete look into MD since the symptoms of MD also heavily overlap with those of other mental health disorders as well. Many who experience MD may also experience ADHD, Depression, Disassociative disorder, OCD, Anxiety disorders and other disorders. Again, there is no concrete link between MD and other disorders but these are observations to be kept in mind as well.
So, with gaps in solid research, the best possible resources to look to at the moment would be forums run by people who are experiencing MD. Taking a look at these forums, it becomes clear that a lot of people all over the world have taken solace in knowing that they are not alone in experiencing things that they thought were exclusive to them. Many people in forums on the internet share their experiences wherein they state that they never truly realized that constantly daydreaming up to half of your day away wasn’t something that everyone did or experienced. When we look into what could trigger these daydreams on the daily, a lot of people mentioned music and films to be big triggers. They also shared that experiencing these highly vivid and compulsive daydreams also affected their social, academic and professional lives.
This could very well be the first time that you are coming across MD. This short article is only to serve as a note of information on this particular mental health condition so that you, as a reader, can take a deeper look into it, understand and gain awareness. To those who might feel like they relate to this particular article, it can be confusing to distinguish what the limit to a normal amount of daydreaming is and if this is a problem worth addressing at all. However, if you feel that your daydreaming is taking over your life and you aren’t able to fully control it, looking for professional help to properly diagnose the condition is the best option.
It is up to us to create awareness about lesser-known mental health issues so that we as a community can help people who feel like they might be the only ones suffering and battling their condition.
References and resources:
 Maladaptive daydreaming: Evidence for an under-researched mental health disorder by Jayne Bigelsen, Jonathan M. Lehrfeld, Daniela S. Jopp, Eli Somer, Consciousness and Cognition 42 (2016) 254–266.
 Somer, E. Maladaptive Daydreaming: A Qualitative Inquiry. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy 32, 197–212 (2002).
 https://wildminds.ning.com/ is a place that has a very active forum dedicated to Maladaptive daydreaming.
 Image source: Psych2Go