Immersive Daydreaming vs. Maladaptive Daydreaming: The Differences

One of the difficulties with daydreaming is that they come in all kinds of variations: those that are fleeting, those that are immersive, those that occur at night, those that occur in the day, and those that are either maladaptive or adaptive.

Immersive daydreaming shares many common attributes with maladaptive daydreaming. However, generally speaking, maladaptive daydreaming has deleterious consequences to your life while immersive daydreaming can range from being slightly helpful to slightly harmful. 

In this article we'll be going over in more depth what immersive daydreaming is, how it compares to maladaptive daydreaming, and how you can begin to tell which one of these types of daydreams you're dealing with. 

What is Immersive Daydreaming?

Immersive daydreaming is largely what you would imagine based off of the name. These are daydreams that are typified by a few different characteristics:

  • Daydreams that occur during your waking hours
  • Daydreams that go on for at least thirty minutes or more
  • Daydreams that are rarely, if ever, interrupted once you begin them
  • Daydreams that involve intricate, carefully crafted story lines
  • Daydreams that don't take up more than a few hours of your entire day

One thing to be mindful of is that immersive daydreams can often revolve around real-world problems that you have with the daydreams being a way to help solve them.

For example, if you're currently a freshman in college trying to figure out what major to declare, you may enter into immersive daydreams where you imagine what your real life would be like if you were a doctor, engineer, or investment banker.

This kind of daydream would be incredibly adaptive. In fact, if you can engage in deep, intense daydreams surrounding working through difficult problems in your real life that is a blessing (that not many have).

Immersive daydreams in this vein offer the capacity to "try out" a different way of living without actually having to do it. It's almost analogous to learning how to drive a car through a hyperrealistic video game before getting behind the wheel of a real car where you could potentially crash.

With this being said, immersive daydreams that do not involve your real life aren't necessarily maladaptive (but neither are they adaptive).

For example, if at night you enter into an immersive daydream about going to a concert that's perfectly fine. While it's not adaptive - meaning it's not solving a problem in your real life - it can be viewed simply as form of entertainment.

Some people engage in a healthy level of escapism by watching TV or playing video games. Others engage in a healthy level of escapism by immersive daydreaming. There's nothing wrong with either as long as it's done in moderation.

Another important point about immersive daydreaming is that while it is engaged in for a long period of continual time, it doesn't occur repeatedly through the day. If you are engaged in intense daydreams for under a few hours a day, then that would be considered an immersive daydream. 

On the other hand, if these daydreams are continually repeated and take up more than a few hours of your day then you're likely dealing with maladaptive daydreams.

What is Maladaptive Daydreaming?

It goes without saying that maladaptive daydreaming, and how to stop it, is what this entire site is about so it is significantly more serious than immersive daydreams. 

On the surface, maladaptive daydreams and immersive daydreams can seem quite similar, but there are some crucial differences that make a large impact.

Maladaptive Daydreams Don't Involve the "Real" You

A curious thing about maladaptive daydreams is that over time the main character in them tends to be the "real" you. 

Maladaptive daydreams almost always involve some adapted version of yourself - or some entirely different, fictional person - as their main character.

Often this happens gradually over time and your initially harmless daydreams begin to verge into a separate character living the life you wish, in some ways, that you could actually live.

Maladaptive Daydreams Grow Over Time

Another key differentiator is that maladaptive daydreams are like weeds in a yard that aren't controlled. They begin to take up hours of your day and begin to interfere with your life when you should be paying attention to other things.

For instance, in school or work you may be distracted when you should be paying attention by these daydreams.

Maladaptive Daydreams Get More Abstract Over Time

As your maladaptive daydreams grow they tend to get more and more abstract over time. Perhaps involving more unrealistic scenarios or characters in your daydreams that are entirely disconnected from your real life.

Maladaptive Daydreams Never Help

Perhaps one of the most critical differentiators between immersive and maladaptive daydreaming is that maladaptive daydreams never help. 

While an immersive daydream may help you work through a real-life problem or provide entertainment, maladaptive daydreams do neither. Instead they hoover up your time and diminish what you can achieve in your "real" life.

Maladaptive Daydreams Take Up Over Two Hours a Day

Finally, while immersive daydreams can involve daydreaming for long stretches of time, they never take up more than a few hours of your day. On the other hand, the average maladaptive daydreamer spends 3-7 hours a day on their daydreams.

What to Do About Your Daydreams

If you're concerned about your daydreams potentially being an issue, the first thing you should do is figure out whether or not they are maladaptive or not.

Perhaps the best way to do this is by taking the maladaptive daydreaming test, which is ten questions that you answer on a zero to ten point scale.

At the end of the test I show the results of over 600 people who have previously taken the test. You can then see how you compare to them and that could be an indication that your daydreams are maladaptive.

Ultimately, whether your daydreams are immersive or maladaptive in large part is contingent on whether or not you feel they are beneficial or not to your life. 

For example, if after a hard day of school or work you engage in daydreaming instead of watching TV, reading a book, or playing a video game then that's not necessarily a bad thing!

If you can honestly tell yourself that your daydreams are simply a form of entertainment that doesn't bleed into other aspects of your life, then it's perfectly fine to continue on.

However, if you feel that your daydreams are actively harming your real life or if you feel they are getting a bit uncontrollable - entering into your mind when you need to focus on other things - then that is a sign they are maladaptive.

The resources on this site, including the maladaptive daydreaming guide, are meant to help those who actively want to stop their maladaptive daydreaming.

That doesn't mean getting rid of all their daydreams, of course. I spent years struggling with maladaptive daydreams, stopped them, and now occasionally daydream today. However, they don't encroach on my life and stop me from doing what I need to do in my real life. 

If you're struggling with maladaptive daydreaming, I wish you the very best of luck! It's an issue many people have and many people are able to overcome when they use the right tactics.

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