For most of us, daydreaming is a harmless diversion from everyday life. But what if you spend so much time in your imaginary world that your reality pays the price?
As outlandish as it might sound, the above scenario is far from fiction. In fact, for thousands of people, maladaptive daydreaming (MD), or compulsive fantasizing, is an undeniable reality. Many of us may not even be aware we have this condition until it creates major problems in our lives.
Why Should I Find Out If I Have Maladaptive Daydreaming?
Maladaptive daydreaming is harmful when left unchecked. As people with MD spend more time absorbed in their fantasies, they ignore the demands of reality.
Struggling just to finish everyday tasks, many of them find it difficult to maintain a good performance at work or school. Sometimes they neglect their physical needs, forgetting to eat or going to bed late.
What’s worse, the daydreams keep people from spending time with their family and friends. When loneliness and depression sets in, maladaptive daydreamers delve even deeper into their fantasy worlds, creating a vicious cycle.
For all these reasons, it’s essential to know for sure whether or not you have MD to save yourself trouble down the road.
What Does the Science Tell Us?
Unfortunately, we have limited clinical research on maladaptive daydreaming. However, in one study, researchers developed a tool for measuring abnormal daydreaming – the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS). They applied this instrument to 447 English-speaking individuals from 45 different countries, most of whom self-identified as maladaptive daydreamers (MDers).1
Interestingly, the researchers found that the MDS could accurately distinguish between MDers and non-MDers.
Because of its reliable track record, the MDS may be used in future studies on maladaptive daydreaming. This will help clinicians better understand MD and create effective forms of treatment.
The only problem is, the MDS scale isn’t recommended for use in diagnosing MD – at least for now. 1
How Can Maladaptive Daydreaming Be Diagnosed?
We still lack important information about maladaptive daydreaming. What’s more, MD is not recognized as a mental disorder. Both of these factors mean that there is no offical criteria we can use to diagnose the condition. This makes finding out whether or not you’re a maladaptive daydreamer much more complicated.
That being said, there are many people who self-identify as maladaptive daydreamers and demonstrate similar characteristics. These signs can help you find the answers you’re looking for.
Do These Statements Describe You?
In the quiz below are twelve statements that describe the most common traits of maladaptive daydreaming. Determine which ones apply to you. You may not fit every the trait, but the more statements you find to be true, the more likely you have MD.
Note: This test shouldn’t be used a diagnostic tool. It is meant only to be a point of reference.
- I have lost hours or days at a time to fantasizing, sometimes without even realizing it.
- The imaginary worlds, characters, and plots from my fantasies are so elaborate that they would probably make good novels.
- Sometimes I can’t watch movies, read books, or listen to music without slipping into a daydream.
- My fantasies cause me to skip meals, lose sleep, or neglect other basic needs.
- I act out my daydreams through talking, singing, dancing, etc.
- I make facial expressions when I fantasize.
- I engage in repetitive movements (rocking, pacing, etc.) during an episode.
- My fantasies make it difficult to focus on my job or schoolwork.
- I fail to complete tasks or miss important deadlines because I can’t stop daydreaming.
- I am emotionally invested in my imaginary characters and storylines.
- I lose time with friends or family to my daydreaming.
- I often feel like I have one foot in one the real world and one in the imaginary world (yet I have no difficulty distinguishing between the two).
If you answered yes to more than half the questions, especially questions 4, 8,9, and 11, there’s a good chance you have MD.
If you’re still uncertain, take into account the most important component of MD: is your fantasizing causing you distress?
Consider these questions: do you feel bad about how much time you daydream? Is your habit causing any health problems? Are you missing time with your loved ones because you can’t pull away from your fantasies? These are all signs that you may have a problem.
Where Do I Go From Here?
If you suspect that you have maladaptive daydreaming, you may want to discuss it with a professional. However, since most doctors don’t know about MD, make sure you can fully articulate the challenges you are facing.
Additionally, you can visit online maladaptive daydreaming forums where you can interact with others just like you.
Are you a maladaptive daydreamer? Which of the above traits fit you?
 Somer, Eli, Jonathan Lehrfeld, Jayne Bigelsen, and Daniela S. Jopp. “Development and Validation of the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS).” Consciousness and Cognition 39 (2016): 77-91. Web. 25 June 2016.
28 Comments Add yours
Love your MD site. Simple, clear, concise and informative.
Thank you for the compliment. It means a lot to me to know that you find it helpful – that’s the main goal of this website. Thanks for reading!
Just found an article on CNN, and looked this up. Holy crap. I thought I just had an overactive imagination and this daydreaming was part of being a novelist! My intense daydreams do make it into stories. I had no idea other people do this.
I think that there are a lot of creative people out there who have MD and don’t even realize it – I know that’s how it started for me. And I definitely agree that the silver lining in all of this is that our daydreams can make for some amazing stories. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
OhMyGod! I was going through my Snapchat feed and found an article on MD. I didn’t know something like this even had a name. And I used to believe all those 12 signs were just a part of who I am… that there was nothing abnormal about them. Reading your article now, I’ve realised I need to stop zoning out. Thank you so much for the information!
You’re very welcome. MD can be tricky to navigate sometimes, but I’m happy this helps you. Thanks for your comment!
For as long as I can remember I have fantasized entire worlds that I’d live in (some from books, movies, shows, video games) and only about 10 years ago did it hit me that, thats freaking weird. I shouldn’t be off in my head almost 24/7 that thats not normal. Thought I was a freak. Only just today did I even think about other people doing this and looked into it, and thank god I did!! I busted out bawling; I now know I’m not alone! Thank you for writing this!!!
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Oh, I definitely know the feeling. It’s such a relief to learn that others have the same experience. Thanks for sharing!
17 years.. isn’t it a huge period to waste in Daydreaming.. i started daydreaming when i was in school ( to young to figure out what i was opting for). i could not even realize,i was getting lost in my thoughts..in completely different world… i escaped from all the unwanted real life situation n started living in head. i barely paid attention in my classes. slowly my grades started degrading. n finally i ended with the worst grade in high school.. it totally screwed up my life. lost my confidence. couldn’t pursue the career i wanted to. finally i settled up for a trifle and living below average life. m totally lost. by the time i came to know the reality it was too late… i feel like m trapped… trapped in my own thoughts.. a part of me still want to be saved, and a part knows there’s no way out…
It’s so hard to cope with how much damage MD can do in our lives – that’s why it’s sad that a lot of people think it isn’t a big deal or that it’s harmless just because it’s “daydreaming”. But when it completely sabotages everything you want to do in life, how can it be harmless? On the bright side, I do think it’s possible to find a way out of it, even if we’ve been dealing with it for a lifetime. Thanks for your sharing your experience – I hope things get better for you!
My md came from loneliness. Living on military bases and moving every three years. Making friends as a little black girl was extremely difficult. I relied on my daydreams just to get through the day. The immense loneliness that I still go through makes me so sad. I have friends but boyfriend’s are few and far between.
Oh, yes, early experiences like that can really set up a child to have a lifelong struggle with MD. I can definitely relate to growing up struggling to make friends and using daydreaming to cope. But I’ve noticed that loneliness is a common theme for a lot of us MDers. Thanks for touching on this, though. I think it really hones in on why for so many people, MD is so easy to fall into and why it’s so difficult to overcome.
THANK YOU, this article just saved my life, or at least what is still left of it 🙂 I feel better already, now that I know I’m not alone with this weird condition – which I always just considered a part of my personality, and sometimes I was even proud of my fantasy artworks, until it struck me how much more awesome they could be when brought into reality, and how little of that actually happens. (On the plus side though, having endless imaginary talks with imaginary foreign people really might help learning a foreign language; this is how I learned English :D)
I’m so glad this article helped you. And you are definitely not alone – In fact, I suspect MD is a lot more common than we think, but the majority of those who have it are still in hiding.
And that’s amazing how you used your daydreaming to learn a different language! I’ve never approached it from that angle before, but it really shows that daydreaming can have its positive aspects too. Thanks for sharing your perspective!
if my daydreaming involves me jumping around but only slightly effects my life am I a maladaptive daydreamer?
It depends on what areas it affects you during the day, and how often. At the moment, there’s no cut-and-dry way to diagnose MD, but a good way to tell is to look at how well you can control the daydreaming when important things come up in your life. Are you still able to meet deadlines on time? Can you maintain your focus when people are talking to you? Do you still have interests outside of daydreaming, or has it become the center of your life? I think questions like these can be really helpful in figuring out what’s healthy and what’s not.
At the same time, MD doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Some people find it more impairing than others. In your case, it’s possible that you could have a mild form of it, but again, that depends on many factors like the ones I mentioned above.
I hope this helps!
Thank you so much for creating this website I only realised the other day reading a news article that this was becoming a recognised condition and other people suffered with it. I am in my 40s so have lived with this for a long time it is a help to know there are others out there.
Yes, it’s a great feeling to be able to put a name to something you’ve struggled with for so long. And I’m so glad that the word is starting to get out there about MD. It’s a lot easier to navigate when you know you’re not alone. Thanks for commenting!
At this point I almost don’t know what to do about my daydreaming. I’ve tried so hard to stop it on my own but it always managed to find its way back. I hate it. I’ve been fighting it since I was in middle school. Now I’m a senior in high school and I feel like I’ve not accomplished anything that I wanted to do. Even my grades have dropped, I’ve missed so many deadlines for projects and homework. I used to be an A+ kind of student, I was a perfectionist, but now I’m getting by with Cs. This is the worst time to be getting bad grades. I was college bound but now my parents won’t even trust me to go to a 4 year college. Now I’m scared I won’t graduate, which is the last thing someone like me would ever think I would have to worry about because I used to put so much effort into my school work. Now I feel stuck in a whole. I don’t know what I’m going to do after high school. I’m getting more and more depressed, I already lost privilege of going to a college that I want, I’m losing friends, even my family is distancing from me because I don’t spend enough time with them, I’m losing hope, none of my goals ever get reached, and I just feel completely hopeless. I’m basically a disappointment to everyone around me. I haven’t told anyone about it yet. I’m just afraid that no one will really understand, they’re gonna assume it’s some other common mental disorder like OCD, ptsd, or depression. I also feel ashamed and afraid that they’re gonna be mad at me for waiting so long to tell them about something that’s been affecting my life so drastically. I have a counselor that I’ve been wanting to tell but every time I plan on telling her, I never have the courage and round up talking about something else. But I want to tell my counselor before I tell my parents, it’s a lot easier to talk to her than my parents. I just wish there was something I could take that would just end all this daydreaming issue for good. I feel like I don’t even have a life anymore.
I’m so sorry that you’re struggling to overcome MD, especially with all of the pressure that you’re under! I definitely relate to the feeling that people will not understand how difficult MD is. I spent many years struggling because of that fear. But then I realized that if I did nothing, then things would stay the same. But if I looked into ways of getting help, then at least there was a chance of things getting better.
Taking that first step is pretty scary when you’re worried about being judged. No, not everyone around you will understand perfectly what you’re going through, but as you continue to seek help, you will eventually find someone who does. It’s extremely important to build a positive support system as you’re working through this. MD feeds off of isolation — the less you feel invested in your own life, the more you will want to use daydreaming to escape. Having a network of supportive people nearby will help you to stay grounded.
If you feel comfortable enough, I think talking to your counselor would be a great place to start. You could even show her a few articles about MD if you think it might help her to understand. She also might be able to point you to resources that can help you start tackling the daydreaming. I think it’s certainly worth a try.
I know it feels like MD is forever, but it doesn’t have to be. Just focus on one taking step at a time. I hope things get better, and best of luck to you!
After reading this article, i realized that I have a high chance of having MD, but at least i now know what’s wrong with me.
I think that in many cases, just being able to put a name to your struggle can make all the difference 🙂
Ist it possible that it doesn’t affect your daily life ?
Like I can easily spend one or two hours doing it but if anything happens , I can switch it off like it’s nothing. so do I really have it ?
Cause I do make facial expressions and stuff….
That’s a good question, and I’ve seen different opinions on this. One one hand, some people say that unless it’s impairing in some way, then it isn’t maladaptive, but a healthy form of daydreaming. Then again, there are many people who are a lot like you, but still identify as having MD. I think that until there’s more research and MD becomes an official disorder, there isn’t a clear-cut answer.
That’s why I think that at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is how well you can control it. Since you have a very good discipline over your daydreaming, then the other aspects are not something you need to fix. In fact, I think many MDers would love to be in your shoes!
i actually like my md. i thought i was crazy i have had these thoughts since i was young. i have this story in my head with characters who have a life to what i want in my real life it has been happening for so long that its just part of me. maybe it is my anxiety/depression/lonliness. but my stories keep me company
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My therapist and I don’t personally consider my maladaptive daydreaming a disorder in itself, but a symptom of my other dissociative disorder (a study we read (Bigelsen & Lehrfeld) found that people with maladaptive daydreaming are more likely to have ADHD, OCD, or dissociative symptoms/disorders, so it seemed to fit right into that). And really, it’s been the hardest symptom to overcome for me. It interferes a lot–failing classes, losing friends, etc etc–but I still never want to stop doing it. It’s a back and forth thing, knowing that if I got it under control it could be an enjoyable pastime and a creative outlet, but attempting to restrict it at all causes me great distress and my other dissociative symptoms start to worsen. It’s also not like I WANT to stop, either, since it is, like, the highlight of my life… It’s just extremely complicated. I’ve built my entire life around it as well (namely career), because physicalizing/actualizing my daydreams into something tangible, like with film, drawing, or writing, is all I’ve ever wanted to do.
It’s so nice to have these resources online now. I remember the first time I tried to Google what I was experiencing, years and years ago, I only found a single shady forum of people saying “I do this!” And it was so lovely at the time just to know I wasn’t alone, but now knowing that people are looking into it and treating it seriously is… so, so comforting. Thank you for writing this article!
I knew being a “daydreamer” was odd. I have felt for a long time that I have no real life because I live in my head. I’m lonely and my life is a mess, but at the same time I have no desire to give up my day dreams. Infact I can’t even imagine leaving them behind. I know it’s unhealthy and I want to fix my life but I don’t believe I can feel happy or fulfilled without them. Does anybody else feel this way?
Omg I always thought that I just need to “grow up” from this. It has never hit me that this could be an actual problem. But even though I know it now I just can’t stop, and honestly I don’t even want to. I love my daydreaming (I’ve done it since childhood) and life without my “personal theater” would be quite boring. And also I feel like my daydreaming isn’t in my way of becoming successful in life. Even though I space out frequently I’m still able to do a good job (school and work).