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The term autoscopy derives from the Greek words autos (self) and skopeein (to see). It refers to an experience in which a person, while believing him or her self to be awake, sees his or her body and the world from a location outside his or her physical body. More precisely, autoscopy experiences are characterized by the presence of the following three phenomena:

  • disembodiment (apparent location of the self outside one's body);
  • impression of seeing the world from an elevated and distanced visuo-spatial perspective (extracorporeal, but egocentric visuo-spatial perspective); and
  • impression of seeing one's own body (autoscopy) from this perspective.

Autoscopies have puzzled humankind from time immemorial and are abundant in the folklore, mythology, and spiritual narratives of many cultures.

Bunning and Blanke (2005) of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne, and Department of Neurology, University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland, have reviewed some of the classical precipitating factors of autoscopies. These are sleep, drug abuse, and general anesthesia as well as their neurobiology. They have compared them with recent findings on neurological and neurocognitive mechanisms of the autoscopies. The reviewed data suggest that autoscopies are due to functional disintegration of lower-level multisensory processing and abnormal higher-level self-processing at the temporo-parietal junction. The researchers argue that the experimental investigation of the interactions between these multisensory and cognitive mechanisms in autoscopies and related illusions in combination with neuroimaging and behavioral techniques might further our understanding of the central mechanisms of corporal awareness and self-consciousness.

A related autoscopic disorder known as Negative Autoscopy (or Negative Heautoscopy) is a psychological phenomenon in which the sufferer does not see his or her reflection when looking in a mirror. [1][2] Although the sufferer's image may be seen by others, he or she claims not to see it. This was briefly (and jokingly) referred to as "Maartechen Syndrome" due to comments resulting from a YouTube video of a prank that illustrated this disorder.

See in the article Researchers Find an Explanation for Out-of-Body Experiences how scientists performed experiments in order to search for an explanation for autoscopies [1]


Heautoscopy, or experience of a double, is a related phenomenon.

See also

References

  • Bunning, S., and Blanke, O. (2005). Prog Brain Res. 150:331-50. (PubMed Abstract PMID 16186034) describe the neural correlates of the autoscopic experiences.
  • PubMed Abstract PMID 16019077 and related articles describe many heautoscopic and autoscopic experiences with their neural correlates.
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