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      Striking Discrepancy of Anomalous Body Experiences with Normal Interoceptive Accuracy in Depersonalization-Derealization Disorder


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          Disembodiment is a core feature of depersonalization disorder (DPD). Given the narratives of DPD patients about their disembodiment and emotional numbing and neurobiological findings of an inhibition of insular activity, DPD may be considered as a mental disorder with specific impairments of interoceptive awareness and body perception.


          We investigated cardioceptive accuracy (CA) of DPD patients (n = 24) as compared to healthy controls (n = 26) with two different heartbeat detection tasks (“Schandry heartbeat counting task” and “Whitehead heartbeat discrimination task”). Self-rated clearness of body perception was measured by questionnaire.


          Contrary to our hypothesis, DPD patients performed similarly to healthy controls on the two different heartbeat detection tasks, and they had equal scores regarding their self-rated clearness of body perception. There was no correlation of the severity of “anomalous body experiences” and depersonalization with measures of interoceptive accuracy. Only among healthy controls CA in the Schandry task was positively correlated with self-rated clearness of body perception. Depersonalization was unrelated to severity of depression or anxiety, while depression and anxiety were highly correlated. Anxiety and depression did not modify the associations of depersonalization with interoceptive accuracy.


          Our main findings highlight a striking discrepancy of normal interoception with overwhelming experiences of disembodiment in DPD. This may reflect difficulties of DPD patients to integrate their visceral and bodily perceptions into a sense of their selves. This problem may be considered an important target for psychotherapeutic treatment approaches.

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          Most cited references49

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          Interoception in anxiety and depression

          We review the literature on interoception as it relates to depression and anxiety, with a focus on belief, and alliesthesia. The connection between increased but noisy afferent interoceptive input, self-referential and belief-based states, and top-down modulation of poorly predictive signals is integrated into a neuroanatomical and processing model for depression and anxiety. The advantage of this conceptualization is the ability to specifically examine the interface between basic interoception, self-referential belief-based states, and enhanced top-down modulation to attenuate poor predictability. We conclude that depression and anxiety are not simply interoceptive disorders but are altered interoceptive states as a consequence of noisily amplified self-referential interoceptive predictive belief states.
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            An Interoceptive Predictive Coding Model of Conscious Presence

            We describe a theoretical model of the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying conscious presence and its disturbances. The model is based on interoceptive prediction error and is informed by predictive models of agency, general models of hierarchical predictive coding and dopaminergic signaling in cortex, the role of the anterior insular cortex (AIC) in interoception and emotion, and cognitive neuroscience evidence from studies of virtual reality and of psychiatric disorders of presence, specifically depersonalization/derealization disorder. The model associates presence with successful suppression by top-down predictions of informative interoceptive signals evoked by autonomic control signals and, indirectly, by visceral responses to afferent sensory signals. The model connects presence to agency by allowing that predicted interoceptive signals will depend on whether afferent sensory signals are determined, by a parallel predictive-coding mechanism, to be self-generated or externally caused. Anatomically, we identify the AIC as the likely locus of key neural comparator mechanisms. Our model integrates a broad range of previously disparate evidence, makes predictions for conjoint manipulations of agency and presence, offers a new view of emotion as interoceptive inference, and represents a step toward a mechanistic account of a fundamental phenomenological property of consciousness.
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              Significance of the insula for the evolution of human awareness of feelings from the body.

              An ascending sensory pathway that underlies feelings from the body, such as cooling or toothache, terminates in the posterior insula. Considerable evidence suggests that this activity is rerepresented and integrated first in the mid-insula and then in the anterior insula. Activation in the anterior insula correlates directly with subjective feelings from the body and, strikingly, with all emotional feelings. These findings appear to signify a posterior-to-anterior sequence of increasingly homeostatically efficient representations that integrate all salient neural activity, culminating in network nodes in the right and left anterior insulae that may be organized asymmetrically in an opponent fashion. The anterior insula has appropriate characteristics to support the proposal that it engenders a cinemascopic model of human awareness and subjectivity. This review presents the author's views regarding the principles of organization of this system and discusses a possible sequence for its evolution, as well as particular issues of historical interest. © 2011 New York Academy of Sciences.

                Author and article information

                Role: Editor
                PLoS One
                PLoS ONE
                PLoS ONE
                Public Library of Science (San Francisco, USA )
                27 February 2014
                : 9
                : 2
                [1 ]Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, University Medical Center Mainz, Mainz, Germany
                [2 ]Research Unit INSIDE, Research Group Self-Regulation and Health, University of Luxembourg, Walferdange, Luxembourg
                [3 ]Department of Clinical Psychophysiology, Institute of Psychobiology, University of Trier, Trier, Germany
                Vanderbilt University, United States of America
                Author notes

                Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

                Conceived and designed the experiments: MM AS. Performed the experiments: BR JA. Analyzed the data: MM BR JA IR MEB AS. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: HS AS. Wrote the paper: MM BR JA IR MEB CV HS AS.


                This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

                Page count
                Pages: 8
                The authors have no support or funding to report.
                Research Article
                Mental health
                Mood disorders
                Personality disorders
                Experimental psychology
                Psychological stress
                Sensory perception
                Social and behavioral sciences
                Experimental psychology



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