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Conscious Cogn. 2011 Mar;20(1):99-108. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.10.018. Epub 2010 Nov 17.

Depersonalization: a selective impairment of self-awareness.

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Depersonalization Disorder Unit, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London, United Kingdom.


Depersonalization is characterised by a profound disruption of self-awareness mainly characterised by feelings of disembodiment and subjective emotional numbing. It has been proposed that depersonalization is caused by a fronto-limbic (particularly anterior insula) suppressive mechanism--presumably mediated via attention--which manifests subjectively as emotional numbing, and disables the process by which perception and cognition normally become emotionally coloured, giving rise to a subjective feeling of 'unreality'. Our functional neuroimaging and psychophysiological studies support the above model and indicate that, compared with normal and clinical controls, DPD patients show increased prefrontal activation as well as reduced activation in insula/limbic-related areas to aversive, arousing emotional stimuli. Although a putative inhibitory mechanism on emotional processing might account for the emotional numbing and characteristic perceptual detachment, it is likely, as suggested by some studies, that parietal mechanisms underpin feelings of disembodiment and lack of agency feelings.

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