Out-of-Body Experiences and Other Complex Dissociation Experiences in a Patient with Unilateral Peripheral Vestibular Damage and Deficient Multisensory Integration

in Multisensory Research
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Out-of-body experiences (OBEs) are illusory perceptions of one’s body from an elevated disembodied perspective. Recent theories postulate a double disintegration process in the personal (visual, proprioceptive and tactile disintegration) and extrapersonal (visual and vestibular disintegration) space as the basis of OBEs. Here we describe a case which corroborates and extends this hypothesis. The patient suffered from peripheral vestibular damage and presented with OBEs and lucid dreams. Analysis of the patient’s behaviour revealed a failure of visuo-vestibular integration and abnormal sensitivity to visuo-tactile conflicts that have previously been shown to experimentally induce out-of-body illusions (in healthy subjects). In light of these experimental findings and the patient’s symptomatology we extend an earlier model of the role of vestibular signals in OBEs. Our results advocate the involvement of subcortical bodily mechanisms in the occurrence of OBEs.

Out-of-Body Experiences and Other Complex Dissociation Experiences in a Patient with Unilateral Peripheral Vestibular Damage and Deficient Multisensory Integration

in Multisensory Research



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  • View in gallery

    Results of the bithermal water caloric testing. (A–D) Nystagmic responses for each ear irrigation: (A, B) Caloric testing of the right ear (A with 44°C; B with 30°C), (C, D) caloric testing of the left ear (C with 44°C; D with 30°C). (E) Freyss diagram (Freyss and Toupet, 1978) of horizontal (left and right) nystagmus showing the numerical values of the peak slow phase velocity of horizontal nystagmus (y-axes) for each irrigation. The x-axis indicates the percentage of weakness of one ear compared to the other. In case of symmetrical reflexivity, the intersection of both curves is located at 0% on the x-axis and 0°/s on the y-axis. In our patient, the caloric testing showed a decreased nystagmic response in terms of frequency and amplitude (A–D) as well as a paresis of 27% (the norm being ⩽20%; Demanez, 1986) of the right horizontal canal (E) with a discrete direction preponderance of the left nystagmus.

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    (A) Schematic view of the experimental setup. The patient was seated in a rotating chair that delivered whole-body rotations in the yaw plane. A computer monitor was positioned in front of him, showing a 3D pattern of dots that simulated self-rotation in the yaw plane. (B) Timeline of one experimental trial. The patient experienced two consecutive rotations in the same direction and had to decide whether the second rotation was bigger or smaller than the first one.

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    Results of the visuo-vestibular integration task. The patient fails to show integration, as his bimodal threshold (red line) is not better than the best single cue threshold (vestibular, black line) and significantly different from the predicted optimal threshold (dashed red line) on the deficit side. Error bars represent bootstrap standard error.

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    (A) Patient’s full body illusion questionnaire results for synchronous (black bars) and asynchronous (white bars) stroking conditions. The red lines represent the 95% confidence intervals for the control group (N=15), in the synchronous (solid lines) and asynchronous (dotted lines) conditions. (B) The questions employed.

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