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The bodily self and its disorders: neurological, psychological and social aspects

Brugger, Petera,b; Lenggenhager, Bignaa,b

doi: 10.1097/WCO.0000000000000151

Purpose of review The experience of ourselves as an embodied agent with a first-person perspective is referred to as ‘bodily self’. We present a selective overview of relevant clinical and experimental studies.

Recent findings Sharing multisensory body space with others can be observed in patients with structurally altered bodies (amputations, congenital absence of limbs), with altered functionality after hemiplegia, such as denial of limb ownership (somatoparaphrenia) and with alterations in bodily self-consciousness on the level of the entire body (e.g. in autoscopic phenomena). In healthy participants, the mechanisms underpinning body ownership and observer perspective are empirically investigated by multisensory stimulation paradigms to alter the bodily self. The resulting illusions have promoted the understanding of complex disturbances of the bodily self, such as out-of-body experiences. We discuss the role of interoception in differentiating between self and others and review current advances in the study of body integrity identity disorder, a condition shaped as much by neurological as by social-psychological factors.

Summary We advocate a social neuroscience approach to the bodily self that takes into account the interactions between body, mind and society and might help close the divide between neurology and psychiatry.

aNeuropsychology Unit, Department of Neurology, University Hospital Zurich

bZIHP, Zurich Center for Integrative Human Physiology, Zurich, Switzerland

Correspondence to Peter Brugger, Neuropsychology Unit, Department of Neurology, University Hospital Zürich, Frauenklinkstrasse 26, CH-8091 Zurich, Switzerland. Tel: +44 255 5570; fax: +44 255 4429; e-mail:

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins