Deliberate and spontaneous sensations of disembodiment: capacity or flaw?

Klaus Kessler*, Jason J. Braithwaite

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Introduction: Hallucinations that involve shifts in the subjectively experienced location of the self, have been termed “out-of-body experiences” (OBEs). Early psychiatric accounts cast OBEs as a specific instance of depersonalisation and derealisation disorder (DPD-DR). However, during feelings of alienation and lack of body realism in DPD-DR the self is experienced within the physical body. Deliberate forms of “disembodiment” enable humans to imagine another’s visuo-spatial perspective taking (VPT), thus, if a strong relationship between deliberate and spontaneous forms of disembodiment could be revealed, then uncontrolled OBEs could be “the other side of the coin” of a uniquely human capacity. Methods: We present a narrative review of behavioural and neuroimaging work emphasising methodological and theoretical aspects of OBE and VPT research and a potential relationship. Results: Results regarding a direct behavioural relationship between VPT and OBE are mixed and we discuss reasons by pointing out the importance of using realistic tasks and recruiting genuine OBEers instead of general DPD-DR patients. Furthermore, we review neuroimaging evidence showing overlapping neural substrates between VPT and OBE, providing a strong argument for a relationship between the two processes. Conclusions: We conclude that OBE should be regarded as a necessary implication of VPT ability in humans, or even as a necessary and potentially sufficient condition for the evolution of VPT.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)412-428
JournalCognitive Neuropsychiatry
Issue number5
Early online date10 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2016

Bibliographical note

This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Cognitive Neuropsychiatry on 10/8/16, available online:


  • (dis-)embodiment
  • HOBT task
  • Out-of-body experiences
  • perspective taking
  • temporo-parietal junction


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