ADHD Zoning Out

ADHD & Zoning Out: The Tendency to Feel Lost in Thoughts

Right in the middle of a lively conversation, you spaced out. If you have ADHD, this can be a common occurrence. Learn more about ADHD & Zoning Out here.

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Lisa Batten

PhD in Psychology
In this Article
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Why Do People with ADHD Zone Out a Lot?

Symptoms of inattention can frequently occur in many people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. There are moments when we can be easily distracted, get less focused on the tasks at hand, or be forgetful at times. These are some examples of Predominantly Inattentive Presentations of ADHD that we tend to experience according to the diagnostic criteria 📕 for this neurodivergent disorder.

There are a total of nine symptoms for Inattentive ADHD presentation that a person suspecting ADHD can experience. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V), the symptoms can go from making careless mistakes to not being able to listen to conversations well because of spacing out.  To be considered under this ADHD type, these symptoms should be experienced before the age of twelve and must negatively affect a person's way of life. You may refer to this article to learn more about ADHD and inattention.

ADHD & Zoning Out

What does having inattentive ADHD symptoms have to do with zoning out 💭? According to reports, a lot of people with ADHD often experience zoning or spacing out multiple times during the day. And sometimes, these instances affect how we function in our daily lives, especially when our focus is essential to the task at hand. 

The Mini ADHD Coach Medical Advisor says: “Zoning out is a common core symptom of Inattentive-type ADHD when your brain involuntarily shifts focus from the task at hand. The reason this occurs is due to the differences in connectivity between brain networks that conduct where you should (or want to) focus. One of these brain areas is known as the default-mode network and it is responsible for drifting off into daydreams and imaginary scenarios. This brain region is also negatively impacted by trauma, which means zoning out can get even worse for people with ADHD who have been exposed to traumatic events or extreme stress.”

What Is Zoning Out?

Zoning out is an informal term used for when our brain 🧠 no longer pays attention to the task at hand. The most common words associated with zoning out are having trouble focusing, spacing out, or daydreaming. For someone with ADHD, it can be an instance when we feel lost in the present moment because our brain is elsewhere. It can occur in the middle of a conversation or when we need to focus on the task at hand but cannot because we are already thinking about something else 🤔.

ADHD & Zoning Out: Losing concentration on what's happening around you

When zoning out, we don’t have our full attention to what's happening in our environment. Even though people are screaming, the television is blaring, or music is playing loudly 🎶, we would not be able to focus on it. It can signify that we may be overstimulated, and our brain is struggling to select where it should focus or seeking something it deems more stimulating. In some instances, you may even feel like you’ve left the situation entirely, this is known as dissociation and can be a way your brain copes with extreme stress, you can read more about that below. Note that inattentive symptoms of ADHD can affect the possibility of us zoning out.

The duration of zoning out varies from an adult ADHD to another. It can last for seconds, minutes, or even hours. And usually, we do not notice immediately that we are already out of our zone until someone tells us or we snap back into reality.

How Zoning Out Affects Us

Zoning out can have different effects on someone, depending on how often it occurs and the severity of the symptoms. When people with ADHD get out of the zone, they tend to fail in keeping track of important events or conversations. This may result in bad outcomes 😭, especially when we need to understand what we are supposed to do thoroughly. After zoning out, we realize we'll have difficulty coping with reality.

After we gain consciousness and snap back to our present situation, we may have lost track of important details. Likewise, when we aren't too interested, problems may occur, as we might miss the instructions and tips they provide for a particular activity/task. We might also have a hard time knowing what other people are feeling as we tend to disconnect ourselves from the emotions of others when we zone out 🥺.

Aside from the relationships that may be affected when we begin to zone out, getting lost in thoughts may be equally dangerous. Since we are not fully engaged in our surroundings, and our ADHD brain may start wandering elsewhere 💭, we might not be able to react quickly to potential threats present during these situations ⚠️.

ADHD & Zoning Out: You don't hear or see your surroundings

For example, the last time I rode my bicycle, which I had just started as a new hobby 🚲, I headed straight to the expressway without realizing I wasn't allowed there. I didn't see the signs outside, which are enormous. I just noticed that I was going on the wrong way because the police officer 👮 honked at me. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn't realize it was a no-entry for bicycles. It is good that the officer was there to stop me, or something terrible might have happened.

ADHD & Zoning Out: then come back to full consciousness and feel a bit lost

Zoning Out Can Occur Anytime

When we are in the middle of doing essential tasks, listening to important information about the activities that we need to accomplish, or just sitting directly across from our mental expert doctors 🧑‍⚕️, spacing out can occur - it doesn’t really discriminate. It can also occur when we are bored, tired, or not motivated to be doing the things we are currently doing. It can likewise occur when our brain needs time to process the information we are receiving.

ADHD & Zoning Out: Everybody can feel Zoning out from time to time

Usually, when we zone out, we tend to miss the most important details. This can result in more clarifying questions because we struggle to digest everything. We may manage to mask our zoning out problems, and it can be helpful, but more often than not, we have to cope with the reality and start understanding what happened while we were spacing out.

Your friends may start feeling off or think you are not interested in the things they are saying. It can also be challenging for you to connect with others as you continuously space out and get lost in your thoughts. You may feel more alone than ever, and this can result in getting depression or anxiety and other mental health conditions.

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Dissociation vs. Adult ADHD Zone Out

Dissociation is a mental health term that refers to the instance when a person can feel disconnected from their thoughts, feelings, memories, and surroundings. This can happen in different ways and to varying degrees. In dissociation, a person can be fully aware of their surroundings but feel detached from the situation. It is usually a coping mechanism that some people use to protect themselves from a traumatic event or to manage extreme stress😔.

Note that dissociation is different from Adult ADHD zone out. However, many people with ADHD do have a history of traumatic experiences that can make them more likely to engage in dissociative behaviors. You should talk to your doctor if you think you might be experiencing dissociative episodes.

Zoning out is generally milder than dissociation and doesn’t develop as a trauma response. It is when we have trouble concentrating on tasks or our environment because we are already lost in our thoughts 😵‍💫. When these moments happen, we start thinking about anything else except the matters that we need to deal with at the moment. Usually, when people are talking to you, you'll have difficulty concentrating on the conversation and have trouble listening to every word they say 👂. It's as if nothing else exists in the world except for your thoughts.

ADHD & Zoning Out: other mental health condition

Both Dissociation and Zoning out can have an underlying cause. Dissociation can be a symptom for people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and anxiety disorders. Zoning out can also result from an underlying mental health condition, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Anxiety, and depression.

When Difficulty in Focusing Results in Too Much Struggle...

There are moments when our daily lives are greatly affected by our zoning out to the point where it can affect our relationships with others. Our thoughts can sometimes control our life because we tend to get lost in them. Concentrating on anything else can be challenging, leading to problems at work 🧑‍💼, school 🏫, or our personal lives 💔.

Zoning out can make it challenging to carry out a conversation. Talking to some friends might not interest you, and you immediately zone out after a few minutes. You'll get out of control and not be able to hear anything they are saying. 

When school gets too busy with big projects, and you opt to procrastinate and zone out, this can give you a great struggle. It can be hard to get back on track on what needs to be done.

The first step is acknowledging that you have a problem with zoning out. After that, try to identify the activities or situations that trigger your episodes of zoning out. Once you've identified these triggers, it will help make your life easier. It can be helpful to jot down notes 📝 and list things that can help you focus on the task. If sitting down alone can make you zone out and lose concentration on your work, try to listen to music or have some background noise to keep you from spacing out.

ADHD & Zoning Out: negative impact on your daily life

It is also essential to take care of your mental and physical health 👌. Make sure to get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat a balanced diet. These things can help improve your attention and concentration. If you think these tasks cannot effectively manage your inattention struggles, it's time to talk with your doctor 👩‍⚕️ and open up about your struggles. It would also be helpful to ask for professional help to manage your ADHD.

ADHD and Zoning Out: FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is “zoning out”?

Zoning out or spacing out happens when our brain no longer pays attention to the task at hand. For example, when you’re conversing with a friend, you begin daydreaming for a few minutes. To some degree, you appear to be engaged, but really, your mind is somewhere else.

Why do some people with ADHD zone out?

Note that even neurotypicals space out from time to time. The problem just might be magnified to adults with ADHD because of their symptoms, such as being easily distracted and being forgetful, or traits, like being socially awkward. 

Is zoning out the same as dissociation?

No - the two are very different. ADHD-related zoning is simply a trait when the brain no longer focuses on the task at hand. Dissociation, on the other hand, can be due to Dissociative Disorders, which pertains to problems in emotions, memory, perception, behavior, and identity.

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