Maladaptive daydreaming is when a person spends long periods engaging in structured fantasies that disrupt their ability to focus on rather productive work. This condition was first described by Professor Eliezer Somer of the University of Haifa in 2002. This condition has similar features to other behavioral addictions like alcohol or substance use. It can get extreme to the point of distracting that person from real-life activities and events.

The daydreaming disorder is not the same as regular daydreaming. Regular daydreaming varies from maladaptive daydreaming in terms of the content of the “dream”, the amount of control the person has over its occurrence, how often it occurs, the experience they have, as well as, the distress and the negative impact it has on their daily life.

It is also not the same as mind wandering, as it involves because maladaptive daydreams’ narratives are structured and intentional fantasies, whereas, mind wandering occurs spontaneously and is usually related to real-life occurrences in a person’s everyday life.


Maladaptive daydreaming symptoms mostly revolve around the daydreaming itself. These symptoms also fall into two categories:

  • The daydreaming behavior
  • How the daydreamer feels about it

Daydreaming behavior symptoms

The type of daydreams that occur during a maladaptive daydream have the following traits:

  1. High intensity: They are very vivid and detailed with vivid story-like features like characters, settings, and plots of their own. In comparison to a standard daydream, this reflects a more complex inner world.
  2. Complexity: As stated earlier, these daydreams have vivid and elaborate plots of their own with so much structure that they have repetitive characters.
  3. Duration: Unlike the usual daydream or mind wandering, daydreaming can go on for long periods, even hours.
  4. Intent: Daydreamers do this so often that they can trigger and start daydreaming intentionally.
  5. Disconnection: Maladaptive daydreamers are usually so disconnected from the real world and the people around them. This is a symptom known as dissociation in other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.

How to daydreamer feels or behave during daydreaming?

  1. They experience difficulty concentrating on and completing everyday tasks.
  2. They experience sleep problems since they can at times lose their ability to control their daydreams.
  3. They experience overwhelming and uncontrollable desires to continue daydreaming.
  4. They tend to perform some repetitive movements during their daydreams.
  5. They might make facial expressions while daydreaming.
  6. They whisper and talk to themselves (i.e the character in their daydreams) while daydreaming.
  7. They are significantly tired and distressed during the daytime.
  8. They can also be aware that their daydreams are just fantasies that are different from the real world. This awareness can result in anxiety from trying to control the condition.
  9. They find taking naps difficult and even stay awake at night. This result in a bad sleep-wake cycle that can mess with their regular lives.

Even though there is no evidence to back up these claims, some people who experience maladaptive daydreaming reported that they have experienced other conditions alongside. These conditions include depression, anxiety disorders,

post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorder, and psychosis.


Most time daydreams are triggered by external events. These triggers include:

  • The topic of a conversation
  • A picture or a video
  • A story
  • Something from the Internet
  • A noise or a smell
  • Actual physical experiences

Maladaptive daydreaming can also be caused by:

  • A constant need to escape from reality due to real-life problems like social anxiety or trauma.
  • The frequent use of daydreaming as an escape route from problems that appear unsolvable in real life.
  • Maladaptive daydreaming can also occur from the distress of the inability to control daydreaming.
  • When a person finds rewards like temporary contentment and joy in daydreaming, it can become difficult to stop doing it.
  • People with dissociative tendencies are also liable to maladaptive daydreaming because they experience extreme focus on their internal thoughts.
  • Trauma from bullying or neglect can also result in withdrawal which can lead to daydreaming. Maladaptive daydreaming can be used as a coping strategy for trauma whereby the inner world is used as a safe space for experiencing the outside world.
  • Excessive stress and absence of emotional support.


With the little research going on to confirm why maladaptive daydreaming happens, maladaptive daydreaming does not have a diagnosis of its own. This means it doesn’t have a category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and it does not have a specific treatment. Experts, however, are continuing to investigate the link between this condition and past experiences or other mental conditions. These investigations also include whether maladaptive daydreaming should be treated as a separate diagnosis. Since this condition is so extreme and dangerous that it can affect the daily life of those that experience it, many experts are calling for it to be treated as a diagnosis.

Professor Somer, who first discovered this condition, also created a 16-item maladaptive daydreaming scale that doctors can use for maladaptive daydreaming tests to assess whether a person has been experiencing maladaptive daydreaming or not. This scale contains 16 questions that ask about:

  • The physical signs that accompany the patient’s daydreaming
  • What triggers their daydreaming
  • How the daydreaming feel to them
  • The effect of daydreaming and its interruption on their normal life.
  • How they feel when they cannot daydream, the impact of these feelings on them
  • How daydreaming affects their life
  • Whether they listen to music while daydreaming

The scoring for each of these questions ranges from zero dependence to 100 percent and these results are used to determine whether the person has maladaptive daydreams or they’ve just been having normal daydreams. This scale is a self-reporting tool that allows you to assess your own experience.

Another diagnostic tool that was developed by Professor Somer is the Structured Clinical Interview for Maladaptive Daydreaming (SCIMD). This tool enables doctors to elicit answers so that they will be able to assess whether you’re experiencing maladaptive daydreaming or not.

A doctor can also use other tools to check whether you’re having symptoms of other conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) whose symptoms have semblance with that of maladaptive daydreaming.

The best treatment option available is behavioral therapy to help control the thought process and understand the triggers of the patient. Therapy can also help the patient control their thoughts and how often the daydreams occur which can help them build healthy sleeping habits. The utmost purpose of this treatment is for maladaptive daydreamers to learn how to stop maladaptive daydreaming.


Daydreams are usually pleasant, though they can be sometimes annoying. They also offer several benefits like being able to plan future events, boost creativity and reduce our boredom. Also, daydreams occur entirely in the mind.

On the other hand, maladaptive daydreams can also be pleasant but often involve scenes of violence, power, control, escape, and the like. In contrast to traditional daydreams, maladaptive daydreams enter the realm of fantasies. Unlike daydreams, maladaptive daydreaming involves repetitive sounds, movements, and facial expressions.


People that experience this condition often struggle with so many negative feelings and side effects that affect their normal lives. The unstable sleep-wake cycle can also result in other health problems. These people usually feel the need to have maladaptive daydreams and when they do not have the chance to, they might get angry about it. This pattern is similar to addiction. Attempting to stop or reduce it might be a struggle which is why it is important to get help fast.