Top 4 Types of Maladaptive Daydreaming

Across the globe there are millions who engage in maladaptive daydreaming. Yet a central irony surrounding maladaptive daydreaming is how everyone views their daydreams as being unique to themselves (which makes them think that stopping is a near impossible task).

One of my takeaway from hearing from hundreds of people who have taken the maladaptive daydreaming test is that you can classify nearly all maladaptive daydreams into four general categories.

Generally speaking, there appears to be quite a strong correlation between the two of maladaptive daydreaming one is engaged in and how long each day they're engaged in their maladaptive daydreams.

Part of the way in which you can finally stop your maladaptive daydreams is by thinking more deeply about them. Another central irony of maladaptive daydreams is they spent countless hours in their daydreams, but spend little time questioning what type they are and why they could rationally be occurring.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves and get into the types of maladaptive daydreams that exist.

Types of Maladaptive Daydreaming

Below is a listing of the top four types of maladaptive daydreams. You can click on the links below to be taken to each type, or you can just keep on reading.

  1. The Main Character
  2. The Similar Character
  3. The Foreign Character
  4. The Observer

The Main Character

The vast majority of people who daydream do so with themselves being the main character of their daydreams. This is perfectly healthy and in fact perfectly adaptive (not maladaptive).

This is because a healthy level of daydreaming - generally thought of as being under an hour a day - can help you plan and think about future opportunities without having to actually do them in the real world.

For example, if you're in college and thinking about what to do with your life you may daydream about yourself being a doctor. You may daydream about how you would handle difficult patients, the stress of the job, and the grueling training required to ultimately become a doctor.

With this being said, these daydreams can begin to enter into the territory of being maladaptive if the length of the daydreams begins to impair your ability to live your real life. As the saying goes, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

To continue with our example, daydreaming about becoming a doctor would be a good thing as you try to figure out what you should be focusing on in college. However, if you begin to have trouble focusing and perform poorly in your classes because of your daydreams, then this would fit the classical definition of being maladaptive.

Most maladaptive daydreamers actually enter into the realm of maladaptive daydreaming via this kind of daydreaming. Then, over time, their daydreams begin to change into the other types listed below.

Note: Just to be crystal clear, daydreaming is perfectly healthy and can be adaptive. This is especially true for daydreams in which you're the main character, but perhaps just a few years older. If you're in doubt, then take the MD test and it may shed some light for you.

The Similar Character

Next we have maladaptive daydreams in which the central character of the daydreams is someone similar to yourself, but with distinct attributes and abilities that are quite unattainable. 

For example, you could daydream about a character with your same personality and interests, but who is much better looking. Or you could daydream about someone who looks like you, but who is excellent in an area of academia you yourself are not strong in.

These daydreams may not be purely maladaptive if you only engage in them for twenty or thirty minutes a day. In that case you could classify them as perhaps just being a form of entertainment. 

However, part of the reason why you would normally classify these kinds of daydreams as being maladaptive (in particular, if you spend hours a day in them) is because they serve no useful function to you.

Remember in the prior type of maladaptive daydreaming covered ("The Main Character") there was a useful planning purpose behind the daydreams. In this case, daydreaming about, for example, what life would be like if you were much better looking serves no useful purpose. In fact, it will likely make you much more critical of your real self, hurt your self esteem, and overall harm your real life.

Many people begin to realize their daydreams are perhaps maladaptive when they get into this type of maladaptive daydreaming. 

The Foreign Character

For those who heavily engage in maladaptive daydreaming, they often will begin to develop "The Foreign Character" type of maladaptive daydreaming. In this type, you daydream about a central character who you believe is yourself, but who is fundamentally different in almost all respects.

For example, I once spoke to someone who was deeply embarrassed about her maladaptive daydreams. This is because she dreamt about herself being a musician, but the character looked different than her, had a different upbringing, had different interests, etc. In other words, she was dreaming about herself in entirely different circumstances than what fit her real world self. 

What made this all the more puzzling for her was that she had no real interest in being a musician. This was part of the reason why it was not only puzzling, but deeply embarrassing for her to talk about. 

This is a kind of daydreaming I speak a lot about in my book on maladaptive daydreaming, because it's so common. Almost all maladaptive daydreamers, if they engage in it for long enough, will begin to have these types of daydreams.

The reality is that for most people, they engage in these kinds of daydreams because they want to daydream about things entirely devoid from themselves and their real world experience. They don't want to daydream about themselves being a doctor or being better looking (to use the prior examples I used), but instead they want to dream about themselves being entirely different people so they can escape from who they really are. 

This type of daydreaming is the purest distillation of what it means to be a maladaptive daydreamer, because there is absolutely no utility in these daydreams. Especially if you're engaged in these daydreams for hours a day.

The Observer

Finally, the last type of maladaptive daydreaming is what is referred to as "The Observer". This is a much more rare type of maladaptive daydreaming and is engaged in by much less than 4% of all maladaptive daydreamers. 

In this kind of daydreaming, you view scenarios as a neutral third-party. In other words, you aren't the central or main character (as is the case with all the other forms of maladaptive daydreaming). Instead, you just observe what others are doing as they live the lives you create for them.

In this way, the maladaptive daydreaming almost resembles the game The Sims where you are observing other people as they live their lives and are directly impacting the decisions and actions they make.

Generally these types of daydreams are not as directly harmful and could be viewed as a form of entertainment. However, as with all daydreams, if they begin to take up hours of your day, and start making a negative impact on your real life, then you likely should seek to stop them.

Luckily, these types of daydreams are the easiest to stop as you (or a version of your idealized self) are not the main character.


As I mentioned at the outset, it's incredibly important to try to take a step back and think about what kind of maladaptive daydreams you have and how you rationally think they could have been beneficial (when they began) to yourself.

Chances are you'll find that your maladaptive daydreams fit neatly into one of the four types above (or perhaps straddles the line between a few of them).

As I mention in my book on maladaptive daydreaming, it's very common for your maladaptive daydreams to become increasingly abstract over time. In other words, for your maladaptive daydreams to begin as the first or second type and then slowly morph into the third type.

Hopefully this breakdown has been helpful and, as always, I wish you the best of luck in your journey through and beyond your maladaptive daydreams.


  • Thank you so much for posting this article. I have been trying to find out what it was I was experiencing.

    Yamila Sandoval
  • I am almost 49. I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started the Maladaptive Daydreaming but I know it was around 10 years old. This was the 80s and I felt so alone with it and wondering if I was crazy and if there was others like me. I tend to vacillate between Similar to Foreign and also viewing my main through the eyes of my characters. Kind of like commentary/narration. I know they aren’t real but the attachment to the characters feel real. In order to walk away from a character I have to write them out as we do in the real if we get mad at someone or I need to kill off that character and literally grieve/mourn them. Right now I cannot walk away. They are all I have and bring me comfort. It’s Maladaptive when you become a recluse daydreaming all day and pray to a higher being to bring those characters to life so you can meet them in some form in the real though you know they may have a different name or personality. I actually imagined characters and many years later saw an actor/musician I’ve never seen before look like my certain character. It’s weird. I have done a search looking for someone like them too. MDD is just as potent as any addiction. It might not physically harm someone but I believe over time it does affect our brain. I guess it depends how long one delves into it. I’m a lifer as I call it. I don’t know how to live without it now. I don’t like living in fantasy but I don’t want to live without my characters because they are like a friend or family member even if I know I fabricated them. I’m too emotionally invested. I’m grateful and relieved to see so many broach this subject nowadays though I’m equally saddened so many are still trapped in it as well. Many blessings from someone who truly knows MDD and has lived it for almost 40 years.

  • Thank you for breaking down this into categories! I absolutely fall into the fourth category, but I had no idea it was as rare as 4%! Yes, I can see how you mean it is not as harmful as some of the other ones. Maladaptive Daydreaming is my entertainment. However, I have been doing this for nine years, and have been in the same dream for four. I used to spend hours and hours a day in a daydream, and it was a terrible addiction. I’ve been able to cut down on that recently, and I’m proud of myself for it.

  • Damn this hit a little too close to home. I just got in a car accident because I was…distracted (not with daydreams, but I think daydreams might be causing me to be more distracted in life).

    Thanks for writing this.

    No You
  • Now I know what is wrong with me. Thank you for this.

    Martha Dodd

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