The out-of body experience: Precipitating factors and neural correlates

Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, Switzerland.
Progress in brain research (Impact Factor: 2.83). 02/2005; 150:331-50. DOI: 10.1016/S0079-6123(05)50024-4
Source: PubMed


Out-of-body experiences (OBEs) are defined as experiences in which a person seems to be awake and sees his body and the world from a location outside his physical body. More precisely, they can be defined by the presence of the following three phenomenological characteristics: (i) disembodiment (location of the self outside one's body); (ii) the impression of seeing the world from an elevated and distanced visuo-spatial perspective (extracorporeal, but egocentric visuo-spatial perspective); and (iii) the impression of seeing one's own body (autoscopy) from this perspective. OBEs have fascinated mankind from time immemorial and are abundant in folklore, mythology, and spiritual experiences of most ancient and modern societies. Here, we review some of the classical precipitating factors of OBEs such as sleep, drug abuse, and general anesthesia as well as their neurobiology and compare them with recent findings on neurological and neurocognitive mechanisms of OBEs. The reviewed data suggest that OBEs are due to functional disintegration of lower-level multisensory processing and abnormal higher-level self-processing at the temporo-parietal junction. We argue that the experimental investigation of the interactions between these multisensory and cognitive mechanisms in OBEs and related illusions in combination with neuroimaging and behavioral techniques might further our understanding of the central mechanisms of corporal awareness and self-consciousness much as previous research about the neural bases of complex body part illusions such as phantom limbs has done.

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    • "Some authors assume that ∼6 to 12% of healthy subjects from the general population may experience one or two OBEs in their lifetime (Blackmore, 1987; Blanke and Mohr, 2005; Blanke et al., 2002), of which some are due to general anaesthesia (Muldoon and Carrington, 1951), hypnapompic and hypnagogic hallucinations, or drug intake (Tart, 1974). It is currently not known how OBEs due to generalized aetiologies, interference at the brain stem, spinal cord, or the peripheral nervous system relate to OBEs induced by damage to the temporo-parietal cortex; however, it has been proposed that deficient integration of multisensory own body-related signals, including vestibular signals, is also present in many of these latter conditions (Blanke and Arzy, 2005; Bünning and Blanke, 2005). Here, we report the case of a patient with unilateral peripheral vestibular damage leading to repeated OBEs that were additionally associated with intensive oneiric activity (in the form of lucid dreams (Blackmore, 1982)). "
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    ABSTRACT: Out-of-body experiences (OBEs) are illusory perceptions of one’s body from an elevated disembodied perspective. Recent theories postulate a double disintegration process in the personal (visual, proprioceptive and tactile disintegration) and extrapersonal (visual and vestibular disintegration) space as the basis of OBEs. Here we describe a case which corroborates and extends this hypothesis. The patient suffered from peripheral vestibular damage and presented with OBEs and lucid dreams. Analysis of the patient’s behaviour revealed a failure of visuo-vestibular integration and abnormal sensitivity to visuo-tactile conflicts that have previously been shown to experimentally induce out-of-body illusions (in healthy subjects). In light of these experimental findings and the patient’s symptomatology we extend an earlier model of the role of vestibular signals in OBEs. Our results advocate the involvement of subcortical bodily mechanisms in the occurrence of OBEs.
    No preview · Article · Jul 2015 · Multisensory research
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    • "No such learning effect may have occurred in novices. It is worth noting that temporo parietal junction (TPJ), a neural region that is supposed to be an important function in the body's space proprioception (Trousselard et al., 2004; Barra et al., 2012), is also important in body awareness (Bunning and Blanke, 2005; Aglioti and Candidi, 2011), and in integration of signals coming from our own body. It is also interesting that individuals who have experienced out-of-body experiences showed damage to multisensory cortices (Blanke et al., 2004; Lenggenhager et al., 2006; Ionta et al., 2011) centered around TPJ that may also be closely related to the processing of vestibular inputs (Lopez and Blanke, 2011; Lopez et al., 2012). "
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    ABSTRACT: In the rod and frame test (RFT), participants are asked to set a tilted visual linear marker (i.e. a rod), embedded in a square, to the subjective vertical, irrespective of the surrounding frame. People not influenced by the frame tilt are defined as field-independent, while people biased in their rod verticality perception are field-dependent. Performing RFT requires the integration of proprioceptive, vestibular and visual signals with the latter accounting for field-dependency. Studies indicate that motor experts in body-related, balance-improving disciplines tend to be field-independent, i.e. better at verticality perception, suggesting that proprioceptive and vestibular expertise acquired by such exercise may weaken the influence of irrelevant visual signals. What remains unknown is whether the effect of body-related expertise in weighting perceptual information might also be mediated by personality traits, in particular those indexing self-focusing abilities. To explore this issue, we tested field-dependency in a class of body experts, namely yoga practitioners and in non-expert participants. Moreover we explored any link between performance on RFT and self-transcendence, a complex personality construct, which refers to tendency to experience spiritual feelings and ideas. As expected, yoga practitioners (i) were more accurate in assessing the rod’s verticality on the RFT, and (ii) expressed significantly higher self-transcendence. Interestingly, the performance in these two tests was negatively correlated. More specifically, when asked to provide verticality judgments, highly self-transcendent yoga practitioners were significantly less influenced by a misleading visual context. Our results suggest that being highly self-transcendent may enable yoga practitioners to optimize verticality judgment tasks by relying more on internal (vestibular and proprioceptive) signals coming from their own body, rather than on exteroceptive, visual cues.
    Full-text · Article · Sep 2014 · Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
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    • "Several studies [11,12,31,54-56] proposed that autoscopic phenomena are a double failure to integrate proprioceptive, tactile and visual information with respect to one's own body (disintegration in personal space), along with an additional vestibular dysfunction leading to disintegration between personal (vestibular) space and extrapersonal (visual) space. Disintegration of personal space is present in he-autoscopy and out of body experience but differences are mainly due to the level and type of vestibular dysfunction. "
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    ABSTRACT: Background Autoscopic phenomena are psychic illusory visual experiences consisting of the perception of the image of one's own body or face within space, either from an internal point of view, as in a mirror or from an external point of view. Descriptions based on phenomenological criteria distinguish six types of autoscopic experiences: autoscopic hallucination, he-autoscopy or heautoscopic proper, feeling of a presence, out of body experience, negative and inner forms of autoscopy. Methods and results We report a case of a patient with he-autoscopic seizures. EEG recordings during the autoscopic experience showed a right parietal epileptic focus. This finding confirms the involvement of the temporo-parietal junction in the abnormal body perception during autoscopic phenomena. We discuss and review previous literature on the topic, as different localization of cortical areas are reported suggesting that out of body experience is generated in the right hemisphere while he-autoscopy involves left hemisphere structures.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2011 · Behavioral and Brain Functions
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