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.