Depersonalization is a dissociative disorder associated to a profound disruption of self-awareness in the form of emotional numbing and feelings of disembodiment. The salient feature of depersonalization is a breakdown in the familiarity of one’s psychological and somatic self (and surroundings when derealization is also present), in spite of being aware of the unreality of the change. At an early stage of research it was realized that people inclined to dissociation find it harder to tolerate discontinuity in perceptual environments, possibly due to a rigid perceptual attitude. Consequently, perceptual discontinuity experienced during momentary immersion into a VE would be expected to increase symptoms of dissociation among individuals prone to develop them. It has been put forward that a tendency toward immersion or absorption, linking to imaginative processes underlying the dissociative experience, significantly relates to the level of change in virtual reality-induced dissociative symptoms. Consequently, it has been implied that increased tolerability of perceptual discontinuities and a more flexible perceptual attitude in people suffering depersonalization/derealization disorder may be of help. We propose the use of adaptive immersive virtual environments to the treatment of depersonalization. In particular, we propose that implementation of biofeedback electrical stimulation to detect somato-sensory processing bias may contribute to selectively targeting deranged neurocognitive processing components, and as an indirect consequence promote, to some extent, the diagnostic process. Psychophysiological approaches may be of help in the treatment of depersonalization via additional series of afferent inputs – virtual reality (VR) stimuli – to alter the receptive fields of the affected proprioceptive systems and reorganize them. The aim of this paper is to stimulate future research towards the development of potential virtual rehabilitation programs based on biofeedback, electrical stimulation and concurrent measurement of galvanic skin response and EEG targeting selective somatosensory stimulation in patients with depersonalization. Our research hypotheses might constitute a starting point for the development of new treatment tools for depersonalization in particular and depersonalization/derealization disorder in general.

KEYWORDS: Neuropsychology, dissociation, virtual reality, biofeedback, depersonalization/derealization disorder

Panayiotis Patrikelis, George Konstantakopoulos, Lambros Messinis, Athanasia Alexoudi, Maria Stefanatou, Grigorios Nasios, Stylianos Gatzonis


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