What is Maladaptive Daydreaming?

One of the issues surrounding discussions of maladaptive daydreaming is coming to an agreement as to a definition.

This is particularly true because the vast majority of psychologists and psychiatrists are reluctant to believe that daydreaming can ever be maladaptive.

Or perhaps put another way, they are reluctant to believe that maladaptive daydreaming is not just a symptom of something deeper and “more clinical” like depression.

When I first began to think seriously and deliberately about my own maladaptive daydreaming, I was confronted with trying to put a definition to it.

I figured if I couldn’t even define what maladaptive daydreaming was, then how could I be sure I even had it?

Defining Maladaptive Daydreaming

After a few iterations, this is the definition of maladaptive daydreaming I came up with that I believe has stood the test of time:

Maladaptive daydreams are any daydreams that not only serve no useful purpose to furthering your life, but actively harm your ‘real’ life by consuming increasing quantities of your time and energy.

This is a short definition that doesn’t necessarily capture all the attributes of maladaptive daydreaming that many experience, so let’s unpack this definition a little bit.

Maladaptive daydreams are often characterized as having increasingly abstract worlds that are entirely present in one’s own mind.

These worlds are locked away, told to no one, and accessible only to the maladaptive daydreamers him or herself.

These increasingly abstract worlds often start with the ‘real’ person being the central character, but then begin to arch out. Often the most serious maladaptive daydreamers will be dreaming of a protagonist who is him or herself, but yet looks, talks, and thinks almost entirely different.

These abstract worlds serve no useful purpose to furthering the life of the individual who maladaptive daydreams. The maladaptive daydreams involve people, scenarios, challenges, and triumphs entirely separate from their “real” world.

Maladaptive Daydreams Consume Lots of Time

The serious maladaptive daydreamer will also spend increasing amounts of time in his or her daydreams.

This will begin by consuming the spare time that exists in his or her day, but will quickly branch out into playing like a script in the back of their mind.

Maladaptive daydreamers will often remark that they have trouble focusing, when they really need to, because their maladaptive daydreams are butting in.

This is the start of when maladaptive daydreams go from a somewhat odd crutch or support system to actively interfering with your life; causing your academic, work, and/or social life to suffer


Over the years I’ve talked to many people with maladaptive daydreams. While no maladaptive daydream is ever quite the same, what they all have in common are some central attributes captured in the definition above.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out as always.

Take care,


P.S. – If you’d like to learn more about how I overcame my maladaptive daydreams, feel free to check out my course on maladaptive daydreaming here.

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