That “off” feeling in dreams.


Have you ever tried to explain something that can’t be explained?   Well, this subject came up in my post from last week about my subway dream (I have a lot of subway dreams even though I haven’t lived in a big city in many years ; vast-house dreams probably come in second — my dream houses seem like they go on and on for miles).

Most, if not all, of my dreams have that weird “off” feeling about them.   I don’t know how to explain it at all. It’s very strange, but not necessarily unpleasant.   It’s a kind of flatness but it’s not really that either.   Maybe “otherworldly” but that doesn’t really describe it either.   It’s not really an emotion, though it is kind of a “mood.”

My dreams aren’t especially surreal, except for that weird “mood.” Most of my dreams take place in rather boring but realistic locations — like vast houses or subways, or city streets at night.   I don’t dream about fantastical creatures, demons or fairies, or fantasy realms.  My dreams are prosaic: peopled by real people, or by no one at all.    Sometimes I dream about being in space — and in those dreams, the universe seems even more infinite than it actually is.   I don’t know how to explain why or how I feel that way either, since real space is freaking huger than any of us can imagine.

Sometimes though, everyday reality in my dreams is experienced as somehow enhanced — the grass in a field is greener, the house I’m exploring is endless, the streets I wander at night are more ominous, the mountains in the distance are higher.   But that doesn’t really explain the weirdness either, though it may be a part of it.

It’s not that the dream content itself that’s weird (because usually it is in some way, though you might not realize it until you wake up), because even the dreams I have that take place in everyday places or where nothing really strange happens still have that “off” feeling about them.

On rare occasions, during dissociative episodes (derealization), I get that “off” feeling about reality, and everything becomes very dreamlike.   I haven’t had that experience in a while, but when it happens when you’re awake, it’s extremely unpleasant.  Not so much in dreams.

What the hell is that “off” feeling?   I’ve searched Google and found nothing about it.  Does anyone know what I’m talking about?  Is it just me who experiences this or does everyone?   I don’t even think I can find a graphic for this post that captures that feeling so I’m just using a picture of a person sleeping.


ETA:  I just saw this under “related posts” — I wrote about this same thing almost a year ago.  Oh well.  I still wonder about it.

The Weirdness of My Dreams

33 thoughts on “That “off” feeling in dreams.

  1. Wow, I’m glad I inspired a blog post! LOL.

    I do know exactly what you’re talking about; I’ve often wondered if there’s a word for that quality of dreams myself. A lot of my dreams are full of fantastic creatures and/or epic sci-fi-esque battles and such things, but even in the normal ones, things seem…different. Like misty and vague, but then some things are very distinct. And yes, roads and houses go on forever, hills and mountains and trees are absolutely enormous…

    I don’t have “infinity of space” dreams so much as I have “gigantic planets/moons/stars dreams”. Sometimes I dream that I’m flying past the planets in a spaceship and they’re enormous (though probably much smaller than they’d be in real life), or else the moon is rising and it’s the size of a baseball, or all different colors. Those dreams tend to terrify me, even though nothing really terrible happens in them.

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    • Wolfgirl, those dreams of gigantic planets, etc, sound amazing! But I can understand why they’d be scary or overwhelming. I’m glad you understand that weirdness I’m talking about! One thing it is — it’s neither pleasant or unpleasant — but it’s “interesting.” Yes I agree, it’s sort of like a kind of vagueness, mistiness, or darkness, even though that’s not exactly it, those seem to be a part of it. Thanks for the inspiration! 🙂


      • They definitely are, and I always wake up thinking they were really cool. Even in the dream I think it’s cool, but I also worry, like, “Is there something wrong with the moon or the sky? Should I be concerned?” LOL. Interestingly enough, I found out recently that my younger brother and sister have strange planet/moon dreams too!

        Yeah, the weirdness definitely isn’t unpleasant in the dream, but attempts to recreate it in real life are always a bit spooky. That’s why Alice in Wonderland (the book, not the movie) always kind of gave me the creeps; even though nothing horrible happens and it’s not a bad dream by any means, it’s still so very much like a dream (particularly the illustrations) that it unnerves my conscious mind.

        You’re welcome! 🙂

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        • Aha! That’s sort of it! I also thought of a few movies that sort of capture the weirdness (but only sort of): “Jacob’s Ladder” (1990) and a little-known David Lynch film (all his films are pretty weird) called “Lost Highway.” Also, “The Shining.” Oh, and wait! Definitely “Eraserhead”! (also David Lynch). The directors David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick seem to “get” that dream-feel better than anyone does. Even though these are all horror films, my dreams (and the weirdness that accompanies them) isn’t really terrifying at all. It’s just…strange.


          • That’s the problem with people trying to use the dream-feeling in movies and books, it tends to lean more towards horror, and it’s not usual a terrifying feeling in the dream. However, like I said, in real life it feels unnerving, so it’s no wonder they use it for horror.

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          • Ah, “Eraserhead”! My art teacher showed us that on the last day in school in 1991. But there wasn’t enough time to finish it.

            The following Thanksgiving, I visited my boyfriend’s family because I was far from home. They served Cornish hens. First time I’d ever had those things, and I couldn’t help thinking of them wriggling and bleeding.

            Years later, I finally found the movie on cable and watched it all, despite the gross disturbing bits, because I *had* to.

            On Christmas, we had Cornish hens for dinner. Hubby said that, all these years, he thought he couldn’t serve them because it would gross me out. I said that I was just joking around about Eraserhead putting me off them. He was relieved. lol

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            • The cornish hen scene is probably the one that sticks in my mind the most — it’s disgusting and horrifying at the same time. I couldn’t eat those darn things for years after I saw the movie. Come to think of it, I still can’t eat them. Their “smallness” bugs me. I have no idea why.

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  2. I’m not sure this is what you’re talking about but I have two different types of dreams, fortunately less of the “off” variety. I had the “off” variety more often when I was over tired (even in my sleep) or sometimes medicated or not feeling well. That is, if the “off” feeling can be described as “gloom” or a “fog”.

    So interesting you speak of how unsettling it is when this feeling comes during consciousness. I have had this too, usually once again, when I was overtired, and it’s horrible. I have to tell myself “it’s just fog/depression/being tired, but it will pass. And it does. Grounding techniques help, therefore I do think it’s equated to being so tired or stressed one wants to dissociate or finds it harder not to.

    On the other hand, my dreams of late have been the opposite: clear, fascinating, uplifting, almost as if not only the regular “fog” of everyday life cleared away, but my mind is sharper and “unpolluted” if that makes any sense. Even if I can’t remember the dream in the morning “returning” into my conscious body actually feels like losing some clarity, becoming heavier, blinder, as I open my eyes – though not to the degree of one of those depressing “fog” moments.

    When I have these dreams I feel like I have returned from a visit with the Divine or relatives in His Presence.

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    • I’ve had a few of those amazing dreams lately myself, as I’m starting to heal from trauma. I wrote about them. I’m half asleep now and about to go to bed (wonder if I’ll have any weird dreams, haha) but tomorrow I’ll try to find the posts I wrote.


  3. I had one of those ‘off’ dreams last night and I am still feeling weird about it. As you say, nothing dramatic happened, the setting was realistic and the people were… normal. But it has left me with a… feeling. I don’t know what it is but I hope it goes away soon!

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    • You don’t like that feeling in dreams? It doesn’t bother me – but if it happens when I’m awake (derealization, a form of dissociation), it sends me into panic attacks! It doesn’t happen to me much anymore though, thank goodness.
      Sometimes that feeling lingers for a little while after I wake up from a dream though but it wears off pretty quickly.

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  4. I usually don’t remember much of my dreams but recognise that off feeling. My dreams (the bit I DO) remember seem very normal, but quite often there are situations/interactions between people (friends, family, colleagues etc) who would never meet each other in real life, or even know about each other. Whereas in my dreams it makes completely sense that colleague X appears with aunt Y…. Baffling.

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    • Yep, yep. Things that make perfect sense in the dream make you scratch your head when you wake up. Like, how does that make any sense at all? Yet in the dream, it does. There’s two movies by director David Lynch that are REALLY strange and come VERY close to capturing the feeling I’m talking about — “Eraserhead” and “Lost Highway.” Both these films have a non-linear narrative that makes no logical sense at all — but on some visceral level, they work, and you *kind of* know what the story is (actually, you FEEL it since there’s no logic) even though it makes absolutely no logical sense and it’s impossible to explain to anyone who hasn’t seen these films. They also both capture that “mood” fairly well, though not perfectly. “Lost Highway” did not do well at the box office because it made no sense to most people (though I found it oddly compelling), and “Eraserhead” (which he made much earlier) is a college cult-classic. Few if any of my dreams are as horrifying as either of these movies though. But the non-linearity and illogic, combined with the dreamlike strangeness of the filming and delivery bring them as close to what I’m describing as anything in the “real world” can. But they still aren’t *quite* there.

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  5. My dreams run the gamut from ordinary to the time I was abducted into a Martian zoo… lol Old “classic” dreams include the time I was on a desert island with Gilligan’s group, a ghost, and the time I went flying around a lush, green Saturn. But oddly enough, when I’m inside, the house is usually large, with a whole wing or bathroom that’s been forgotten about, or it’s the one I grew up in. It’s never any place I’ve lived since I moved out.

    As for dissociating–It doesn’t happen often now, but when I was a kid, I’d be in the foyer at church, and suddenly the loud noises would affect my ears, and I’d feel like I was in a dream, watching everything, none of it real. Every once in a great while, somebody will make a loud or sudden noise that triggers it again. I don’t know what that is.

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    • I had some weird things happen to me like that when I was around 4 -5. Maybe it’s because kids that age sometimes have trouble separating reality from dreams/fantasy, but I could swear I was wide awake when these things happened. I remember one morning waking up and coming down to the main level of our split-level house where my dad was in the kitchen. I saw all this glitter everywhere in all the colors of the rainbow. I tried to catch the stuff but it would disappear before it could hit my hand. I asked my dad if he saw the glitter too, and he said no he didn’t. I have no idea if I was dreaming and thought I was awake, or if I was in a half awake/half dreaming state so was hallucinating. Another time, it was about 3 -4 in the morning, and I could distinctly hear the music from various TV shows playing. The house was pitch black; everyone was asleep. Back then, in the mid-’60s, there were no VHS recorders or any way it could have been recorded from the show. In those days too, all the channels went off at midnight and all you’d see was the test pattern. So it couldn’t have actually been playing, and yet I actually heard it — it wasn’t just “playing in my head.” Again, it could have been a dream that seemed like I was awake, or I was sleepwalking and half-dreaming so I “heard” the music.

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  6. I’ve been aware of having “off” dreams since I was four or five, and since I’ve begun to study spirit possession and psychoanalysis as an academic, the word I attach to them is “uncanny.” Freud’s essay, “The Uncanny,” is revelatory – the German word, “Unheimlich,” indicates something that is almost homelike, but *not quite*: so close and yet so vaguely wrong as to be profoundly disturbing. I think it might be a natural quality of dreaming, but as far as waking life goes…yeah. And I think David Lynch evokes them most accurately as well! (I see it especially in the first season of “Twin Peaks,” in “Fire Walk with Me,” and especially in “Mulholland Drive.”) Nicolas Roeg’s films have a similar effect.

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