Autoscopy (psychological Effect): When We Perceive Ourselves “from The Outside”

A curious psychological phenomenon of which today we will explain its possible causes.

The brain continues to be one of the most enigmatic organs, if not the most, of the entire human body. Despite knowing practically all the tasks that it performs, from allowing us to carry out the physical processes for the activity of our body to all the intellectual and psychological processes, the brain still harbors many mysteries regarding its operation in itself.

Autoscopy belongs to that category of phenomena in which the brain “lies” to the person. Specifically, making the person perceive herself from the outside, as if she were another person, seeing and feeling outside her own body.

What is Autoscopy? Definition and characteristics

Autoscopy or autoscopic phenomenon as such consists of a subjective mental experience. Specifically, it refers to a series of sensory experiences in which the person has the sensation of seeing their own body from an extracorporeal perspective.

That is, the subject sees himself as if he were seeing himself in a mirror, while he thinks he is awake.

Characteristics of autoscopic phenomena

For an autoscopy to be classified as such, these three factors must be present:

  • Disincarnation : experiencing the exit of one’s own body.
  • Impression of seeing the world and from another perspective, but with an egocentric visual-spatial point of view.
  • See your own body from this perspective.

There is an experience, cataloged as an autoscopic phenomenon that has become quite famous thanks to both literature and film and television, it is the so-called ‘extracorporeal experience’, in which the person reports having left their body and having observed it from above.

But there are several types of autoscopies that are cataloged in different ways, depending on the person’s awareness of their own body. We explain them below.

Types of autoscopies

Four types of autoscopic experiences are known according to what the person perceives. They are as follows.

1. Autoscopic hallucination

In this type of hallucination the person can see a double of himself but without identifying with him. That is to say, during this experience the person does not perceive that his consciousness has left his body, but rather he perceives it as a double, as if it were another independent person. There is even the possibility that they come to perceive it as another version of themselves; which can vary well being younger, older or with a different specific facial feature.

2. Out-of-body experience (OBE)

In the out-of-body or out-of-body experience, the subject has the sensation of floating projected on the outside of his body. During this experience, the person feels that she is out of where she should be, that her “I” is outside her own body.

Unlike autoscopic hallucination, in out-of-body experience the person does identify the body he is seeing as his own.

A very characteristic feature of this experience and related in the same way in all those people who have experienced this experience, is that they observe themselves from a higher perspective, as if they were supported on their own body.

This phenomenon is closely associated with different types of meditation and near death experiences.

3. Heautoscopy

Heautoscopies are phenomena in which the person experiences a form of hallucination intermediate between autoscopy and out-of-body experience. The subject can perceive a double of his but he is not able to discover which body to identify with, he does not know in which body he is exactly.

People who have ever experienced this phenomenon report feeling owners of both bodies and neither at the same time.

4. Sense of presence

There is an extensive debate on whether or not these types of experiences should be classified as autoscopic. However, among the four types of phenomena, this may be the most common or the one that has been experienced the most among the population.

In the sense of presence, people do not see a double of their body, but rather perceive the physical presence of another person very close to them.

Symptoms that the affected person perceives

Living one of these events is very complex, since many systems, perceptions and sensations participate.

The fact of experiencing an autoscopic experience with all its intensity requires much more than simply seeing something that the person knows is not real. In addition to visual hallucination as such, other auditory and even tactile sensory variables must appear.

Likewise, during the phenomenon of autoscopy, the previously described hallucinations are accompanied by hallucinations of the vestibular system. This is the system that, along with other proprioception systems, informs us about the position of our body in space. In these experiences, this system seems to deceive the person; making her feel in another place or position that does not correspond to the real one.

Finally, along with all these phenomena, a strong sensation may appear that consciousness is elsewhere, as if it had moved to another place.

Causes and associated disorders

The fact of experiencing such a curious mirage as autoscopy does not necessarily mean that there is an associated psychopathology. These hallucinations can appear without warning for several reasons:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Diseases that cause a very high fever
  • Neurological injuries
  • Substance use
  • Transient imbalance of body chemistry

The study of these autoscopic phenomena suggests that there is something flexible in how the brain perceives our bodily being, hence it is capable of modifying it.

As regards the neurobiological origin of this class of experiences, the type of experience indicates that areas of sensory association are involved. These theories are based on the fact that autoscopy is a rich, complete and convincing experience; that is, it would consist of an altered perception derived from different sensory systems.

To be specific, there are certain more specific areas of the brain such as the temporoparietal junction which supports the processes of the vestibular system and multisensory information. In addition, it also participates in the information of  the limbic system and thalamic connections, so everything indicates that it is an essential area for an altered gait of it to end up leading to all these kinds of phenomena

Associated disorders: negative autoscopy

There is knowledge of a related psychiatric disorder known as negative autoscopy or negative heautoscopy. This is a psychological manifestation in which the patient cannot see his reflection when looking in a mirror.

In these cases, although the people around him can see the image, and even point to it, the person claims not to see anything.

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