All About Maladaptive Daydreaming

Daydreaming is experienced by everyone. Maladaptive Daydreaming is a situation of excessive daydreaming.

Once daydreaming becomes uncontrollable and interferes with life, vocational functioning, interpersonal functioning, and academic functioning, then it is called maladaptive daydreaming

It is a mental illness which needs more research, observations, study and inferences to consider it among other psychological disorders. Now there is little research done and based on that, maladaptive daydreaming has come to enlighten people about the same.

Knowing more about this extensive fantasy daydreaming disorder that happens within a person needs some exploratory investigation to consider it as a psychiatric disorder. It is a disorder that creates a wonderful fantasy world that makes one lose in the world of happiness, joy, and unfinished accomplishments.

1. What is Maladaptive Daydreaming (MD)? 

Normal daydreaming is defined as a regular and healthier activity in life. It is a sensation of being in a pleasant experience in the wakeful indulgence of thoughts that fascinate and enhance desired activities and goal achievements.

Daydreaming is helpful as it boosts creativity, provides a mental break, helps escape the world around you for a while and also aids in goal setting. 

Daydreaming is healthy until it becomes a threat to your daily life and absorbs most daytime, as people who experience maladaptive daydreaming spend hours on it.

Maladaptive daydreaming is an immersive and indulging activity. Maladaptive daydreamers daydream for more than 4 hours a day. It affects one’s daily routine, real-life situations, relationships, work, and many others. It only drives toward your inner imagination rather than considering real and practical life.

Maladaptive daydreaming interferes with daily life and neglects relationships and responsibilities. 

Maladaptive daydreaming helps one to get away from the tension and emotional disparity and not so required bonds between persons’ relations in life. It makes one realize the inner world is better and better than the real and outside world.

According to much research, it is developed during childhood to escape difficult experiences and then it is carried forward throughout life. It is considered and observed by most children and teens. Teens carry it from their past and childhood.

Differences between Normal Daydreaming and Maladaptive Daydreaming 

  • Maladaptive Daydreaming is an immersive experience as it makes the person do verbalizations, facial expressions, and repetitive moments, while daydreaming happens only in the mind. Daydreams are normal and pleasant for less time while maladaptive daydreams are abnormal, pleasant, thematic fantasies, rescue and escape scenarios for a long period. 

  • Daydreams benefit by providing relaxation from stress and boredom, helping boost creativity, and helping plan future events, while maladaptive daydreams disturb the lifestyle. 
  • Daydreams are associated with distraction. Maladaptive daydreams are unwanted enjoyment and pleasure. 
  • Daydreams are less important than real life, whereas maladaptive daydreams are more important than real life.
  • Daydreams have a good impact on life, while maladaptive daydreams affect them in the worst ways, as they deprive the daydreamer’s life.
  • Daydreams create a harmonious, calm and pleasant feeling, while maladaptive daydreams create havoc in life.
  • Maladaptive daydreamers always create a world of their own which disconnects them from worldly relations and normal daydreamers dream about goals to be achieved, creativity, and a lot more related to life, and this brings happiness in life and connects to the world.
  • Daydreaming utilizes a major portion of the human brain that connects and helps in life to remove stress and anxiety without overthinking. Whereas maladaptive daydreaming connects and utilizes all the functioning parts of the brain, but increases stress, anxiety and tension all the time.

There are a lot more differences between normal daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming.

2. What Does Maladaptive Daydreaming Look Like?

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Lavish daydreaming is another term for MD. In excessive daydreaming, the daydreams are intense and vivid with settings, plots, storylines, characters, and other things related to a story. These are made either from real life or from maladaptive daydreamers’ fantasies but are mostly related to their real life. It creates an imaginary world where they can be the way they want to be and the way they couldn’t be.

It becomes a behavioural dependency and is mostly seen in such people. They are most likely to experience maladaptive daydreaming. These can be understood by their behavioural changes and unknown, sudden gestures.

It looks like a coping strategy in different and uncontrolled situations. And also like a peace-restoring mechanism for maladaptive daydreamers, while it might look like an unknown and uncontrollable situation, sometimes fun for others, for a normal daydreaming person.

Maladaptive Daydreaming Vicious Cycle

The maladaptive daydreaming vicious cycle looks like dreaming, dreaming and dreaming all day. Here are the steps in the cycle-

  • Some stimuli for daydreaming happen (something painful or unacceptable situation).
  • Real-life events become unpleasant and sometimes more unpleasant.
  • People try to escape reality.
  • They start daydreaming, a pleasant way to escape.
  • Create an ideal alternate world or fantasy.
  • Daydreaming for hours and hours.
  • Not accomplishing daily tasks.
  • Generate tension, and starts to daydream as external reality becomes more unpleasant.

This is what happens all the time and it comes under behavioural addictions.

3. About Maladaptive Daydreaming

3.1. Causes

Doctors and experts don’t know the precise cause of maladaptive daydreaming. Maladaptive daydreaming is thought of and considered as a defensive coping mechanism for escaping real-world problems. Some experts have found some common things shared by maladaptive daydreaming besides mental disorders and behavioural addictions. People with maladaptive daydreaming might have – 

  • Mistrust in the senses 
  • Dissociative tendencies
  • Focused on internal thoughts
  • The distress of being unable to control daydreams 
  • Feel daydreaming as a reward
  • A feeling of daydreaming as an escape from some bigger issues in real life 
  • Childhood trauma 
  • Emotional trauma 
  • The past of a person can influence and become a cause of maladaptive daydreaming. The research is going on.

3.2. Symptoms

Maladaptive daydreaming occurs for various reasons and it is understood only by its obsessive-compulsive symptoms-

  • An individual spends most of his time daydreaming 
  • Putting daydreaming as the priority rather than other work and activities 
  • Escaping from true reality by dreaming about self and the future 
  • Unable to focus and concentrate 
  • Always in a mind-wandering state
  • Unable to redirect from daydreams to give attention to other tasks
  • Using daydreams to cope with difficult and different situations
  • Cannot control and cut daydreams 
  • Try to enhance their daydreams rather than cutting them off 
  • Daydreams make people show the expressions on their face 
  • Very vivid, long and abnormal daydreams 
  • It is very hard to escape from daydreams. 
  • Triggered by watching movies, listening to music, or seeing a scene outside. 
  • Shows unconscious and repetitive moments during daydreaming
  • No awareness of differences between the internal fantasy world and the external real world
  • Troubling falling asleep
  • Maladaptive dreaming replaces human interaction
  • High fantasy proneness is seen

Some symptoms might share with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), daily psychopathological symptoms, and other mental health conditions.

3.3. Diagnosis

As of now, there is no particular and universal method of diagnosis found for maladaptive daydreaming. This is not considered a mental health disorder in the diagnostic and statistical manual, but on researchers’ note, it is mental health or psychiatric condition which needs some confirmatory and exploratory investigation.

Maladaptive daydreaming is not officially recognized but is believed to be there in people as a disorder. It is a mental health condition. In the near future, it might be recognized as a psychological problem as research increases. Maladaptive daydreaming is found to be associated with some underlying issues and medical associations.

Some of the evidence says that maladaptive daydreamers tend to have active imaginations as in children, without any prior trauma. Some people develop maladaptive daydreaming due to social anxiety and previous trauma issues. Experiencing maladaptive daydreaming is not an easy task because it is a mental disorder.

3.4. Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale

The 14-point maladaptive daydreaming scale MDS was developed to test and study maladaptive daydreaming disorder characteristics. It helps in identifying maladaptive daydreaming at early stages. This Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale helps doctors and people to determine whether one is suffering from maladaptive daydreaming or not, even if not a very formal approach. 

It is not possible to diagnose maladaptive daydreaming as of now as there is no sufficient information or evidence to say it is a psychiatric condition. Professor Somer E developed a 16-item test for MDS for assessing MD and he was the first to define the phenomenon of Maladaptive daydreaming.

Another tool developed for the purpose of diagnosing maladaptive daydreaming is the Structured Clinical Interview for Maladaptive Daydreaming (SCIMD). It helps elicit answers to doubts which assesses them to know whether one is suffering from MD.  

Maladaptive Daydreaming Test

The MD Scale is used by doctors to diagnose maladaptive daydreaming. Every question is answered on the rate 0-14. It consists of questions related to the following – 

  • Listening to music or watching movies while daydreaming 
  • Effects of daydreams on their life
  • How do interruptions affect daydreaming?
  • How do they feel about daydreaming?
  • Any impacts of when not being in daydreams 
  • Triggers of daydreaming and sensory stimuli
  • Physical signs and actions during daydreaming 
  • What happens in daydreams?
  • Vividity and detailedness in daydreams
  • Stopping daydreaming or not 
  • Questions on repetitive movements, sleep disturbances, escape reality, extensive fantasy activity, and related ones.

3.5. Treatment

This fascinating and enticing disorder considered a psychotic condition has no standard or official treatment yet. Some researchers have come to understand that MD has similar kinds of features, symptoms and issues as other treatable mental illnesses. 

The treatment for maladaptive daydreaming is taken from the treatments of other mental illnesses and it focuses on the reduction of daydreams, unwanted fascinating thoughts and cutting off daydreams. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy(CBT) and Mindful Meditation (a proven way to reduce the number of daydreams, Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), and LUVOX (Fluvoxamine) are some of the methods to treat MD.

3.6. Complications

There is no evidence yet that maladaptive daydreaming can lead to other complications and health issues. But, it is often believed that people with maladaptive daydreaming have other dissociative disorders and this needs some qualitative inquiry as well. Maladaptive daydreaming may impact the overall quality of life. 

The person detaches from the world, hence negatively affecting their relationships or work, school presentations, sleep and everyday life. People suffering from MD may spend at least 4 hours a day preoccupied with dreams during the daytime and become more absorbed in their inner thoughts so that it turns out to be difficult to confront reality.

Daydreams are immersive in nature, and people start neglecting their real-life relationships and which leads to different emotional disorders.

Some conditions observed in maladaptive daydreamers are depression, anxiety disorders, OCD, ADHD, Bipolar disorder, dissociative disorder, psychosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, and others. It also affects the ability to focus.

3.7. Positive Effects

  • Sometimes helps to solve problems
  • Gives pleasure to the brain
  • Enhances creativity skills
  • Makes use of different parts of the brain
  • Connects to the internal world
  • Sometimes helps forget the stress

3.8. Negative Effects

  • Loss of productivity
  • Loss of relations and connections
  • More stress and anxiety
  • Memory issues
  • Negative thinking
  • Depression
  • Dissociations
  • Inability to concentrate
  • No sustainability in life
  • Insomnia
  • Clears off thoughts of goals and their path
  • Effects on career growth and responsibilities

4. Management

The specific diagnosis, causes and treatments for maladaptive daydreaming are not found yet. But, one can manage maladaptive daydreaming using these techniques. 

4.1. Fatigue Reduction on The Day 

  • Reduce fatigue as much as possible during the day
  • Expose to sunlight in the morning hours
  • Consume caffeine for an active day

4.2. Sleep (Quality and Time)

  • Good and quality sleep helps in making a great day. Sleep quality impacts the day and also has a potential influence. 
  • Adapt better sleep habits
  • Consider sleeping over other things at the right time.
  • Improve the quality of sleep
  • Sleep for at least 7 hours a day
  • Exercise daily
  • Eat healthy foods
  • Consider being calm before going to bed

4.3. Know the Symptoms 

Understanding symptoms plays a key role in stopping and interrupting daydreams. Know and avoid the triggers and general anxiety or maintain a diary to know about it and check it. 

4.4. Get support

Getting emotional support resolves half of the problem. So, explain the problem to the most trustworthy person (family and friends). Once they know your problem, they might help you with handling maladaptive daydreams. 

4.5. Medications 

In severe conditions, go for medication along with self-help management. 

4.6. Consider Therapy

Maladaptive Daydreaming
By Prostock-studio from Shutterstock

Therapists help understand the condition, triggers, causes, and guides for treating the MD. They consider using therapeutic techniques to treat and suggest coping strategies

5. Prevention

There are different ways to prevent maladaptive daydreaming on your end. Some of them are as follows:

  • Stay engaged during day time
  • Keep yourself occupied
  • Work on different tasks (some interesting ones)
  • Be mentally unavailable for daydreaming
  • Sleepwell during nights
  • Do tasks that create mental focus
  • Practice meditation
  • Share your experiences with someone
  • Share your thoughts
  • Distract and interrupt daydreams

6. Outlook

As of now, there is a lot of research going on to find out more about maladaptive daydreaming. So, without knowing the causes and diagnosis, no appropriate treatment can be suggested or given. 

Maladaptive daydreaming has been considered to be an interfering and disruptive activity in daily life which dissociates the person from reality at times. Seeking help in this condition is a good decision. Help from doctors and people suffering from the same issue might help in coping with maladaptive daydreaming. You can join communities that treat people with the same disorder. 

You have to remember that self-help is the best help. Identify the triggers and control them. Life becomes easier and you become more focused on life and its responsibilities.

Final Words

A maladaptive daydreamer feels daydreaming as a retreat to inner fantasies that are truly deep and well structured, which makes them unable to stop it.  A counsellor can help them to stop excessive daydreaming, i.e., Maladaptive Daydreaming. They might guide and help with healthier living and meaningful routines. They also guide people to do daily tasks with a stronger desire than mind wandering.

There are some websites that help people suffering from maladaptive daydreaming and also provide support groups (i.e., peer support) and this might also help in peer-reviewed studies as wellness professionals consider it as an examination of a person with the same disorder associated with one.

Maladaptive daydreaming has no specific diagnosis and treatment yet, as there is only a little research has been done. Hope there will be one in the future because psychiatric research is going on.

Besides knowing about maladaptive daydreaming, there is also an interesting disease to research called flesh-eating disease. It is nothing but a soft tissue infection caused by bacteria in the body. It can cause the sudden death of soft tissues in the body.


  • Aishwarya Yamsani

    Loves to write on the go, anywhere and every time. Everything inspires me to write something. I can write with a tincture of SEO and Copywriting. Happy to be a writer.

Aishwarya Yamsani

Loves to write on the go, anywhere and every time. Everything inspires me to write something. I can write with a tincture of SEO and Copywriting. Happy to be a writer.

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