NEWS Mental Health News Maladaptive Daydreaming May Be Better Diagnosis Than ADHD for Some By Adam England Updated on May 22, 2022 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Karen Cilli Fact checked by Karen Cilli Karen Cilli is a fact-checker for Verywell Mind. She has an extensive background in research, with 33 years of experience as a reference librarian and educator. Learn about our editorial process Share Tweet Email Print 10'000 hours / Getty images Key Takeaways A recent study suggests that maladaptive daydreaming (MD) might be a better diagnosis for some people previously diagnosed with ADHDThe condition is not yet recognized by the DSM.Professor Eli Somer first outlined MD in 2002, but the body of research surrounding it remains relatively small. A new study suggests that maladaptive daydreaming might be a better diagnosis than ADHD for some individuals. Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in collaboration with the University of Haifa, assessed 83 adults with an ADHD diagnosis. They found that around one-fifth met the proposed criteria for maladaptive daydreaming (MD), which does not yet have formal recognition as a psychiatric syndrome. The researchers assessed the adults for inattention symptoms, MD, depression, loneliness, and self-esteem. Those meeting the proposed criteria for MD showed higher rates of depression, loneliness, and self-esteem than those who didn’t meet the criteria. In a press release shared by the university, senior lecturer in the Department of Psychology and co-author of the study Nirit Soffer-Dudek, PhD, said, “Our findings suggest that there is a subgroup of those diagnosed with ADHD who would benefit more from a diagnosis of MD.” What Is Maladaptive Daydreaming? The condition of maladaptive daydreaming was first outlined by Professor Eli Somer in 2002, who described it as “extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal or vocational functioning”, and identified key functions, themes, and dynamics of MD. Maladaptive daydreaming is a form of addiction characterized by an urge to daydream and absorb oneself into an imaginary world, neglecting social, academic, and occupational obligations. While it might feel rewarding in the short term, it can have a negative impact on well-being in the long run - this can prompt a vicious cycle of retreating further into maladaptive daydreaming as a way to cope. Bobbi Banks, MSc People who experience [maladaptive daydreaming] report vividly daydreaming for hours or even days, often in an attempt to escape painful experiences, memories or triggers. — Bobbi Banks, MSc According to therapist, coach, and neuroscientist Bobbi Banks, maladaptive daydreaming “is used as a coping mechanism and is considered to be a form of dissociation, normally in response to previous trauma or chronic loneliness. People who experience [maladaptive daydreaming] report vividly daydreaming for hours or even days, often in an attempt to escape painful experiences, memories or triggers.” She contrasts it to occasional daydreaming and ‘spacing-out,' “something most of us have experienced and is completely normal," with maladaptive daydreaming having a larger impact on the ability to function in day-to-day life. “Over time, it can start to replace human interaction, lead to insomnia, and hinder a person’s professional and academic life,” Banks explains. “In some cases, it can lead to anxiety, social anxiety, depression, and further dissociation.” Far From a Waste of Time: 5 Positives About Daydreaming Mind Wandering and Maladaptive Daydreaming Difficulties in sustaining attention is one of the consequences of MD, and the DSM also lists this as a symptom of a number of other conditions, most notably ADHD. Inattentiveness in people with ADHD is often considered to relate to mind wandering (MW), described in the study as “passive mental activity of associative thoughts that are stimulus-independent and unrelated to the task at hand”, but doesn’t allow for differentiation between what would be considered maladaptive daydreaming and “task unrelated thoughts”, for example. As a result, some people who think they might be maladaptive daydreamers don’t find existing diagnostic labels—like ADHD—to be helpful. The study outlines three key differences between mind-wandering in ADHD, and maladaptive daydreaming. The first is that with maladaptive daydreaming, the state of daydreaming is often deliberately activated rather than the mind wandering spontaneously. The second is that maladaptive daydreamers tend to be aware that they’re daydreaming, and the third is that whereas mind wandering often has a lack of guidance or direction, maladaptive daydreaming tends to involve a more detailed, complex plot. I Got Trained in Identifying ADHD Without Realizing I Had It Symptoms of Maladaptive Daydreaming While symptoms of MD may differ from person to person, some of the main symptoms are as follows. Vivid, intricate daydreamsDaydreaming for up to several hours at a timeDifficulty sleepingDifficulty completing day-to-day tasks and fulfilling obligationsFacial expressions and repetitive movements, often without noticingDaydreams triggered by real-life events or stimuli Professor Somer created a 16-question test for professionals to use when assessing whether a diagnosis of MD may be appropriate for someone, while it can also be used for self-reporting if someone suspects that they have symptoms. In the test, subjects are asked questions including whether music activates their daydreaming, whether they get distressed if they don’t have as much time to daydream as usual, and whether or not it’s difficult for them to keep their daydreaming under control. Another tool developed by Professor Somer is the Structured Clinical Interview for Maladaptive Daydreaming, and this is designed to help doctors assess whether someone is experiencing maladaptive daydreaming. It’s been suggested that maladaptive daydreaming can develop as a response to trauma, with people retreating into their own world as a coping mechanism, while one study found that it could relate to gaming addiction in some cases. However, there’s still relatively little research on the condition. While more research on maladaptive daydreaming—particularly in terms of its relationship with ADHD—would be beneficial, the body of research on MD is continuing to increase. Something the authors of the study go on to say is that “the inattention mechanism in MD may be essentially different from that experienced by people with ‘pure’ or typical ADHD”, and that if MD was included in the DSM, a diagnosis of ADHD may not have been necessary in every instance, though they also make it clear that further studies are needed to provide more evidence. What This Means For You Identifying with any of the symptoms discussed here doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be diagnosed with either ADHD or maladaptive daydreaming, but if you want to find out more about these conditions, you may want to talk things through with a trusted healthcare professional. People With ADHD More Prone to Hoarding 7 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Theodor‐Katz N, Somer E, Hesseg RM, Soffer‐Dudek N. Could immersive daydreaming underlie a deficit in attention? The prevalence and characteristics of maladaptive daydreaming in individuals with attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder. J Clin Psychol. 2022. doi:10.1002/jclp.23355 Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Maladaptive daydreaming may be a better diagnosis for some than ADHD. Somer E. Maladaptive daydreaming: A qualitative inquiry. J Contemp Psychother. 2002;(2/3):197-212. doi:10.1023/A:1020597026919 Soffer-Dudek N, Somer E. Trapped in a daydream: Daily elevations in maladaptive daydreaming are associated with daily psychopathological symptoms. Front Psychiatry. 2018;9:194. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00194 Somer E, Soffer-Dudek N, Ross CA, Halpern N. Maladaptive daydreaming: Proposed diagnostic criteria and their assessment with a structured clinical interview. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice. 2017;4(2):176-189. doi:10.1037/cns0000114 Somer E, Abu-Rayya HM, Brenner, R. Childhood trauma and maladaptive daydreaming: Fantasy functions and themes in a multi-country sample. J Trauma Dissociation. 2021;22(3):288-303. doi:10.1080/15299732.2020.1809599 Sharma P, Mahapatra A. Phenomenological analysis of maladaptive daydreaming associated with internet gaming addiction: A case report. Gen Psychiatr. 2021;34(2):e100419. doi:10.1136/gpsych-2020-100419 See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.