Written by Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht on .

Maladaptive daydreaming: an escape from reality 

Maladaptive daydreaming is a condition with the purpose to distract a person from real life; it is used to avoid stress and improve mood by engaging in imaginary wish fulfillment.

People often imagine companionship or idealized versions of themselves. So why would a human being need to create fantasies so extensive it interferes with their daily lives? Research shows that a trauma background is necessary.

Maladaptive Daydreaming is the brain’s inventive way of coping with the anguish of trauma.

Abuse & neglect

What in the world could create a child’s need to have less pain and to fantasize about companionship? Abuse and neglect.

Childhood trauma — including abuse and neglect — is one of our most important public health challenges. Thousands undergo traumatic medical and surgical procedures. Others are victims of accidents and of community violence. However, most trauma begins at home by children’s own parents.

What is maladaptive daydreaming like?

Case study: Jenny* 37 years old

*Name changed for privacy

Jenny experienced trauma from a young age. Her first memories of maladaptive daydreaming occurred as young as 6 years old. She would wake in the morning and watch a daydream projected onto the ceiling.

Fantasy disconnected her from painful situations. It became simpler than living in reality. In fantasy, she could determine what would happen — create herself a better world. She said:

You know, I love my daydreams…in them, there was only good, everyone was kind, and no one hurt my feelings. I was able to imagine that I had the things I wanted so much…

She stated:

My daydreams were so vivid and real — I would talk to my dream friends as if they were real people. I knew that they were not, but it did not matter; the dream relationships gave me everything I wanted. People were perfect; they said just the right thing. They were kind, and like an angel’s wings, their presence would wrap around me and keep me safe.

The Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale

If you want to get an idea if you have experience maladaptive daydreaming, or what people with MD experience, you can take the 16-item Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS-16):

Scoring of the MDS-16:

The MDS score is its mean (the sum of the 16 items divided by 16). A score of 50 or higher is indicative of probable MD.

Want to learn more? Below you can find many articles on
maladaptive daydreaming that have been in the media.

Maladaptive Daydreaming in the Media





Dr. Natalie Engelbrecht RP ND

I am a Canadian leader in PTSD, and have provided patient-centred care with passion, empathy, and respect for over 25 years.
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