Why Am I Zoning Out?

Causes of Spacing Out and When to Seek Help

"Zoning out" or "spacing out" is defined as a short period of feeling disconnected from your senses or the things happening around you. When you zone out, you might momentarily forget where you are or what you're doing.

Many experience this on occasion. Most of the time, it's not a concern. However, there are rare cases when zoning out might be a sign of a serious health problem—even one that requires immediate medical attention.

This article discusses the possible causes of zoning out and when to see a healthcare provider.

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Common Reasons for Zoning Out

Generally, zoning out or spacing out means that you are simply not in the moment, or that your mind is somewhere else.

Zoning out is considered a type of dissociation, which is a feeling of being disconnected from the world around you. Some people experience severe dissociation, but "zoning out" is considered a much milder form. 

Daydreaming is the most common kind of zoning or spacing out. Others include fatigue, distraction, and stress.


Extreme fatigue can take a toll on your body and mind. You might space out. While you appear to be awake, your brain struggles to maintain alertness.


Spacing out can occur when you are mentally or emotionally consumed by something other than the task at hand. For example, you might space out while watching or listening to something you consider a bit boring or during driving.


Stress is a common distraction. It can be overwhelming to the point that it is difficult to pay attention to your tasks and responsibilities, especially if they aren't very important. But extreme stress can cause you to space out even if the task at hand is important.

Medical Reasons for Zoning Out

"Zoning out" is not usually a sign of mental illness or another medical problem, but it can be. Some possible causes are described here.


Very low blood pressure can cause reduced blood flow to the brain. This condition is called hypotension.

If you experience it, you might feel dizzy or lightheaded. You might also lose focus or general awareness for a few seconds or minutes.


Hypoglycemia, which means low blood sugar, can cause you to lose your sense of awareness for a brief period of time.

In more extreme cases, hypoglycemia can make you pass out. Mild cases can trigger an episode in which you appear to be zoning out.


Migraine headaches usually cause pain. Sometimes the pain is so severe that it can prevent you from paying attention to your surroundings.

Occasionally, however, migraines can cause unusual symptoms such as spacing out, even in the absence of pain.

Intoxication or Drug-Altered State

Mind-altering drugs such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and even alcohol can have unpredictable effects.

hese drugs may cause you to become unaware of your behavior or to forget events.

Transient Ischemic Attack

transient ischemic attack is a brief, reversible stroke that does not cause permanent damage.

Sometimes, people who experience a TIA are aware of what is going on, but occasionally people are not able to communicate during a TIA. They may not even remember the event itself.


A seizure is usually associated with reduced consciousness and some loss of awareness.

While seizures are typically associated with uncontrolled body movements, some seizures result in a brief episode of loss of awareness without these movements. This type is known as an absence seizure.


A sleep condition called narcolepsy can cause you to sleep while you appear to be awake.

Also, extreme sleepiness can result in falling asleep while you are participating in activities. You might actually dream while doing tasks. Everyone around you would likely interpret your responses as spacing out.

Transient Global Amnesia

Transient global amnesia is a temporary interruption of short-term memory. This is a rare event that can last for hours at a time.

If you experience transient global amnesia, you will not remember events. However, you may appear to behave appropriately and normally to those around you.

Some people who have transient global amnesia might get lost or be unable to do complex tasks during the episode.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Seek medical attention if zoning out involves any of the following, which could indicate a medical cause:

  • Repeat episodes if there isn't an obvious reason for them, such as a big project at work
  • Memory loss, including not being able to recall events that happened or things that you did while spacing out
  • Odd behavior, such as misplacing objects during episodes or acting in a way that is uncharacteristic of you
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control, including not realizing you have to go or not being able to make it to the bathroom on time
  • Injury: Getting hurt while you are zoning out, especially if you don't remember how it happened, means your episodes can become increasingly dangerous.


Everyone spaces out from time to time. While spacing out can simply be a sign that you are sleep deprived, stressed, or distracted, it can also be due to a transient ischemic attack, seizure, hypotension, hypoglycemia, migraine, transient global amnesia, fatigue, narcolepsy, or drug misuse.

If you have repeated episodes or experience a lack of memory, loss of bowel or bladder control, or strange behavior while zoning out, it's important to seek medical help.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between spacing out and zoning out?

    None. Spacing out and zoning out are interchangeable terms for not being present in the moment. A person may be simply daydreaming, distracted, or tired, or it could be a sign of a serious medical condition.

  • Is zoning out a symptom of anxiety?

    It can be. Known as disassociation, the subconscious mind disconnects from the present moment to cope with negative thoughts or avoid remembering a traumatic situation. 

    Disassociation from anxiety can take on different forms. Depersonalization is a feeling that your mind is disconnected from your thoughts, feelings, actions, or body. Derealization is a feeling that the world or your surrounding environment does not feel real.

    If you experience anxiety-related disassociation, you may realize it is happening, but feel unable to snap out of it, or you may not be aware it is occurring. 

  • When is spacing out a problem?

    Spacing out can be a sign of a serious medical condition. If a person you are with is spacing out and cannot be snapped out of it, seek medical attention. 

    Concerning medical conditions associated with spacing out include: 

    • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
    • Seizure
    • Low blood pressure
    • Hypoglycemia
    • Migraine
    • Narcolepsy

    Zoning or spacing out can also be due to intoxication from alcohol or drugs. 

6 Sources
Verywell Health 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.
  1. The American Institute of Stress. 50 common signs and symptoms of stress.

  2. American Heart Association. Low blood pressure - when blood pressure is too low.

  3. Cedars-Sinai. TIA-related memory loss.

  4. Fisher RS. The new classification of seizures by the International League Against Epilepsy 2017. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2017;17:1-6. doi:10.1007/s11910-017-0758-6

  5. National Sleep Foundation. Narcolepsy.

  6. Spiegel DR, Smith J, Wade RR, et al. Transient global amnesia: current perspectives. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment. 2017:2691-703. doi:10.2147/NDT.S130710

Additional Reading

By Heidi Moawad, MD
Heidi Moawad is a neurologist and expert in the field of brain health and neurological disorders. Dr. Moawad regularly writes and edits health and career content for medical books and publications.