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Lancet. 2000 Feb 5;355(9202):460-3.

Dissociation in people who have near-death experiences: out of their bodies or out of their minds?

Author information

1
Department of Psychiatric Medicine, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville 22908-0152, USA. cbg4d@virginia.edu

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Some people who come close to death report having experiences in which they transcend the boundaries of the ego and the confines of time and space. Such near-death experiences (NDEs) share some features with the phenomenon of dissociation, in which a person's self identity becomes detached from bodily sensation. This study explored the frequency of dissociative symptoms in people who had come close to death.

METHODS:

96 individuals who had had self-reported NDEs, and 38 individuals who had come close to death but who had not had NDEs completed a mailed questionnaire that included a measure of "depth" of near-death experience (the NDE scale) and a measure of dissociative symptoms (the Dissociative Experiences Scale). Median scores in the two groups were compared with Mann-Whitney U tests. The association between depth of NDE and dissociative symptoms was tested by Spearman's rank-order correlation between scores on the NDE scale and the dissociative experiences scale.

FINDINGS:

People who reported NDEs also reported significantly more dissociative symptoms than did the comparison group. Among those who reported NDEs, the depth of the experience was positively correlated with dissociative symptoms, although the level of symptoms was substantially lower than that of patients with pathological dissociative disorders.

INTERPRETATION:

The pattern of dissociative symptoms reported by people who have had NDEs is consistent with a non-pathological dissociative response to stress, and not with a psychiatric disorder. A greater understanding of the mechanism of dissociation may shed further light on near-death and other mystical or transcendental experiences.

PMID:
10841127
DOI:
10.1016/S0140-6736(00)82013-9
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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