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Getting Out of Autopilot: What To Do When You’re Feeling Disconnected by Dr. Konstantin Lukin

Updated: Dec 23, 2022


Getting Out of Autopilot: What To Do When You’re Feeling Disconnected by Dr. Konstantin Lukin, Bergen County Moms

Do you ever feel like you’re watching life pass you by, or as if you’re a spectator watching your own life unfold through a window? Believe it or not, feeling disconnected happens to even the most vibrant and active among us. And the feeling of being stuck on autopilot is more common today than most people realize.

An overwhelming feeling of disconnection can happen for many reasons. Beyond a simple state of boredom, disconnection without making the attempt to reengage with life can also lead to anxiety and severe depression.

In the following, we’ll explore why feeling disconnected happens and what you can do to become more present in your life.

What Exactly is the Feeling of Being Disconnected?

The feeling of being detached or separate from your surroundings, people, and objects is known as derealization. This is where some people feel that the things surrounding them are unreal, though aware that this altered state isn’t normal. But when you’re feeling emotionally distant from others, it can often feel as if you’re watching your life unfold like a movie.

It’s been estimated that half of all people may experience a feeling of being disconnected at least once in their lifetime. But around 2 percent of people may experience disconnection extreme enough for it to be considered a dissociative disorder.

According to Ami Patel Kang, LCSW of the Lukin Center for Psychotherapy, “Anyone can experience a feeling of being disconnected, and disconnection can happen in many ways. We can feel disconnected from others, from ourselves, and just from life in general,” she says.

Kang also affirms that this feeling of disconnection may affect our ability to enjoy our lives, such as not being able to enjoy basic activities, work, our relationships, and each coming with different levels of severity.

Primary Factors That Can Cause a Feeling of Disconnection

A feeling of disconnection can arise from many causes. And with so many moving parts that can contribute to a feeling of disconnection, it can be difficult to isolate the exact cause of the condition. Though there can be many reasons for a feeling of disconnection, according to Ami, “Disconnection tends to happen when you’re in a state of chronic stress.” And this, she explains, is because during a state of chronic stress, the human body’s fight or flight response is on all the time and eventually we start shutting down.

Chronic Stress

Our fight-or-flight response to stress is part of our survival instinct. During extended periods of stress, the fight or flight response is running around the clock. Because of this, eventually, you’ll have to start shutting down and using less energy. And this often results in a feeling that you’re simply going through the motions, or not feeling as present emotionally as you normally would be.

Essentially, disconnection due to chronic stress is a survival response. And chronic stress can manifest for many reasons. According to Ami Kang, chronic stress may manifest due to the following:

  • Cultural expectations

  • Pressures that we place on ourselves

  • Mental health issues

  • Trauma

  • Depression

  • Anxiety


Feeling Worthless

When you begin to feel as if you offer no value to life, this feeling of being worthless can make it seem that you’re continuously just going through the motions. According to Kang “not feeling valued in your life, worthy, or capable can create a feeling of disconnection.”

If a person cannot feel as though they’re contributing to life such as at work or in relationships, or if you feel that you’re not capable of offering anything of value in general, this can also be linked to depression. And the feeling of disconnection may be a result of underlying issues with depression. As such, seeking therapy to resolve or confront these feelings may be the best course of action to take.

Anxiety & Depression

As mentioned, anxiety and depression can cause a state of chronic stress. And depression or anxiety can also manifest for many reasons. With a chronic feeling of being disconnected or stuck on auto-pilot, this can also lead to serious depression if efforts are not made toward becoming more present in life. In addition, prolonged anxiety and depression can lead to an array of health problems that can be quite severe. A few of these conditions are:

  • Digestive disorders

  • Heart disease

  • Obesity

  • Chronic Pain

  • Sleep disorders

  • Substance abuse issues

  • Respiratory illness

Though anxiety and depression can manifest due to disconnection, these conditions can also cause an overwhelming feeling of being disconnected. And therapy is often recommended to begin feeling more grounded in life.

How to Become More Present and Get Off of Auto-Pilot Fortunately, life offers us many ways to become more connected and present. And sometimes getting off of autopilot can be as simple as getting back out there and engaging with life again. According to Ami Kang, there are a number of things one can try to get out of autopilot and become more present.

Mindfulness Exercises

Mindfulness regards being more present and aware of what you’re doing and includes a deeper awareness of your thoughts in the moment. According to Kang, “working on mindfulness, being grounded, and being more present in your day-to-day activities can greatly improve the feeling of disconnection in general.” A few examples of mindfulness exercises that you may want to consider for becoming more present and grounded include:

  • Create a gratitude journal

  • Perform breathing meditations

  • Perform walking meditations

  • Tune into the world around you

  • Practice acts of kindness

Therapy & Medication

Sometimes, no matter what you try, it may seem like that feeling of being disconnected is always there. You may feel as if you’re only functioning at the basic level. And this may be due to underlying mental health issues.

According to Ami, “If there are issues with anxiety or depression or PTSD linked to a feeling of disconnection, getting professional help whether through therapy or medication should be considered.” When you’re trying to become more present while dealing with underlying health issues, this can be a difficult task for anyone. Talking to a professional therapist may be the best path forward for dealing with the root causes of disconnection.

Strengthen Social Connections

When you begin feeling disconnected, it’s not uncommon to withdraw from your intimate social groups or the people whom you normally share life with. But in order to become more present, the solution may be to reach out and talk or interact with those closest to you.

Regarding social connections, Lukin Center’s Ami Kang believes that “being human, we need to connect with others. Being vulnerable and sharing with the people that are safe in your life can help to bring us back to the present,” she says.

Our social groups allow us to step into the present moment and become more grounded. Whether this is through an intimate conversation, or going out and engaging in shared activities, the more effort you place in strengthening these connections can lead to feeling more empowered and present in your life.

How Can Therapy Help?

Therapy can be a powerful tool to help cope with emotions and the feeling of being disconnected. According to Kang, “Therapy can help you be more accountable – such as if your goal is to reach out to friends more or to have gatherings more often, setting goals in therapy can be extremely helpful.” This is because often when we want to reach out to people, we simply don’t. But with therapy, goal setting can help empower you to reach out and meet your goals.

“In therapy, we work a lot on identifying the thoughts and feelings that arise. We work on how you see yourself and how you see your relationship with the world,” Ami says. And working on these elements can help to become more present and active in life.

It’s also important to remember that anyone can become disconnected. No matter if you have a Type A personality or if you’re a natural introvert, a feeling of disconnection can manifest due to many causes. And though a more passive person may be quicker to withdraw, according to Kang, even a naturally extroverted person can feel alone in a crowded room.

At the end of the day, if you’re feeling disconnected and have trouble understanding why you feel this way, seeking therapy can offer the support you need to begin feeling more grounded and present in life.


Konstantin Lukin, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist psychologist and founder of Lukin Center for Psychotherapy in Ridgewood, Hoboken, Montclair, Jersey City, Englewood and Westfield. He has extensive clinical and research experience spanning individuals of all ages, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. He specializes in men’s issues, couple’s counseling, and relationship problems. His therapeutic approach focuses on providing support and practical feedback to help patients effectively address personal challenges. He integrates complementary modalities and techniques to offer a personalized approach tailored to each patient. He has been trained in cognitive-behavioral, dialectical behavior, schema-focused, and emotionally focused therapy, and has also been involved with research projects throughout his career, including two National Institute of Mental Health-funded studies. He is a member of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, New Jersey Psychological Association, Northeast Counties Association of Psychologists, New York State Psychological Association, The International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy, The New York Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy, the International OCD Foundation, the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science (ACSB) and a regular contributor to Psychology Today.


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