The brain is still one of the most enigmatic organs, if not the most, of the entire human body . In spite of knowing practically all the tasks 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 harbours many mysteries regarding its functioning in itself.

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

What is Autoscopy? Definition and characteristics

The 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 his or her own body from an extracorporeal perspective.

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

Characteristics of autoscopic phenomena

In order for a self-scopy to be classified as such, these three factors must be present:

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

There is an experience, catalogued as an autoscopic phenomenon that has acquired quite a lot of fame thanks to literature as well as to movies and television, it is the so-called ‘extracorporeal experience’, in which the person refers to having left his body and observed it from above .

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

Types of scopes

There are four types of autoscopic experiences known, depending on 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, 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 he or she may perceive it as another version of the person; which may vary either being younger, older, or with some particular facial feature.

2. Out-of-body experience (OBE)

In the out-of-body or extracorporeal experience the subject has the sensation of floating projected on the outside of his 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 an autoscopic hallucination, in the out-of-body experience the person does identify the body they are looking at as their 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

Halautoscopies are phenomena in which the person experiences a form of hallucination intermediate between the autoscopy and the extracorporeal experience. The subject can perceive a double of him but is not able to discover with which body he identifies, he does not know in which body he is exactly.

People who have ever experienced this phenomenon refer to feeling ownership of both bodies and neither at the same time.

4. Sense of presence

There is an extensive debate on whether or not this type of experience should be catalogued as autoscopic . However, among the four types of phenomena, this may be the most common or the most experienced among the population.

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

Symptoms perceived by the affected person

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

To experience 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.

Also, 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 systems of proprioception, informs us about the position of our body in space . In these experiences, this system seems to deceive the person; making him/her feel in another place or position that does not correspond to the real one.

Finally, along with all these phenomena, a strong feeling may appear that consciousness is elsewhere, as if it has 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 various reasons:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Diseases with 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 able to modify it.

As far as the neurobiological origin of this kind of experience is concerned, the type of experience indicates that it involves areas of sensory association. 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 and multisensory information system. In addition, it also participates in the information of the limbic system and thalamic connections, so everything points to it being an essential area for an altered functioning of the same to end up deriving in all these types 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 is unable to see his or her reflection when looking in a mirror.

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