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

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 functioning itself.

Autoscopy belongs to that category of phenomena in which the brain “lies” to the person. Specifically, making the person perceive themselves from the outside, as if they were another person, seeing and feeling outside their 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 believes he is awake.

Characteristics of autoscopic phenomena

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

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

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

Types of autoscopies

There are four types of autoscopic experiences depending on what the person perceives. They are the following.

1. Autoscopic hallucination

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

2. Out of body experience (OBE)

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

Unlike autoscopic hallucination, in the out-of-body experience the person does identify the body they are seeing as their own.

A very characteristic feature of this experience and reported 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 by 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 intermediate hallucination between autoscopy and out-of-body experience. The subject can perceive a double of himself but is not able to discover which body to identify with, he does not know which body he is in exactly.

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

4. Sense of presence

There is an extensive debate about 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 sensation of presence, people do not see a double of their body, but rather they perceive the physical presence of another person very close to them.

Symptoms perceived by the affected person

Experiencing one of these events is something very complex, since numerous systems, perceptions and sensations participate.

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

Likewise, during the phenomenon of autoscopy, the hallucinations described above are accompanied by hallucinations of the vestibular system. This is the system that, together with other proprioceptive systems, tells us about the position of our body in space. In these experiences, said 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 somewhere else, as if it had moved to another place.

Causes and associated disorders

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

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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.

Regarding the neurobiological origin of this type of experience, the type of experience indicates that sensory association areas 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 information from the limbic system and thalamic connections, so everything indicates that it is an essential area for an altered gait of the same to end up leading to all this type 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 he looks in a mirror.

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