What to Know About Excessive Daydreaming

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on July 19, 2023
3 min read

If you feel like you’re constantly daydreaming or living in your own fantasy world, you may be experiencing excessive daydreaming. While some amount of daydreaming is normal, excessive daydreaming can affect your daily life and make your day-to-day activities difficult.  

Excessive daydreaming is a disorder also known as maladaptive daydreaming. It happens in people who have vivid, well-thought-out daydreams that go on for hours. This makes maintaining real-life relationships and responsibilities difficult. This disorder is not recognized in standard mental health manuals.

Excessive daydreaming may fully immerse you in an imaginary world, making it difficult for you to maintain healthy interactions and complete your responsibilities in the real world.

If you’re having maladaptive daydreaming, you may read books, watch movies or television, or play video games for long periods of time. These actions might feel compulsive and last for several hours each day. 

Excessive daydreaming can affect your academic, interpersonal, or work life. While maladaptive daydreaming is not yet identified as a mental health behavioral disorder, it may be related to four categories of mental health disorders:

  • Dissociative disorders
  • Disturbance of attention
  • Obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder
  • Behavioral addiction

Some experts believe excessive daydreaming isn’t a psychiatric condition, but rather a coping mechanism for past trauma, abuse, serious mental illness, and even loneliness.

In this case, excessive daydreaming would be an escape from a harsh reality. Through maladaptive daydreaming, you’d create a story-like world where you work through fictional scenarios to make yourself feel better. 

Your mental health can impact how much you are daydreaming. Excessive daydreaming is often associated with anxiety, and some researchers have found that it may be linked to feelings of guilt, dysphoria, and inability to control your attention. 

Mental health conditions where excessive daydreaming is commonly found include: 

Maladaptive daydreaming is sometimes confused with schizophrenia. They have overlapping symptoms, but people who daydream excessively know their daydreams aren’t real. If you have schizophrenia, you have trouble telling what’s real and what’s fantasy. 

Excessive daydreaming is often a way to escape your current circumstances. That’s why it’s more common in people with depression and anxiety. If this becomes your coping mechanism, you might start to lose control of your daydreaming. 

While there aren’t formal criteria for diagnosing excessive daydreaming, there are agreed-upon symptoms and signs to watch for. When living in your fantasy. you may experience: 

  • Preoccupation
  • Mood modification
  • Increasing tolerance
  • Withdrawal from reality
  • Inner frustration

If you notice the following symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming in yourself or a loved one, contact a mental health professional. The symptoms may include: 

  • Intense, vivid daydreams that have a story, plotline, and thought-out characters  
  • Daydreams triggered by real-world events 
  • Uncontrolled facial expressions, repetitive body movements, or talking or whispering out loud during daydreaming
  • Daydreams that last for several minutes to hours a day
  • A strong or uncontrollable desire to keep daydreaming
  • Difficulty focusing and completing daily responsibilities because of the daydreams
  • Trouble sleeping

Excessive daydreaming becomes a problem when it leads to escapism — which can be an addictive coping mechanism. Instead of helping you manage your anxiety or depression-inducing trigger, it can increase your chances of becoming addicted to escaping into your daydreams. 

Since escaping into your daydreams is rewarding, you may feel a strong desire to keep going on. But, this escapism can cause you to develop an avoidant personality or fragile self-esteem. 

Daydreaming is common and almost everyone does it at one point or another. But when daydreaming becomes addictive and consumes your thoughts to the point of avoiding responsibilities and relationships in reality, it becomes problematic. You should talk to your doctor or a mental health professional if you feel like excessive daydreaming is negatively affecting your daily life.