Monday, July 2, 2012

Tutorial 8: Berlin and Medford

Monday, July 2 2012 13:30 - 16:30 @ Old Ship Hotel

Tutorial 8: "The phenomenology, neurobiology, and neurocognitive basis of depersonalization"

Heather Berlin (Department of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, USA)
Nick Medford (Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, UK)


We will explore the phenomenology, neurobiology, and neurocognitive basis of depersonalization. According to psychoanalytic theory, dissociation is a defence mechanism that keeps unwanted, anxiety-provoking thoughts and impulses from entering consciousness. Dissociation is a psychological state where certain thoughts, emotions, sensations, or memories are separated from the rest of the psyche. The DSM-IV-TR defines dissociation as “a disruption in the usually integrated functions of consciousness, memory, identity or perception”, and specifies five dissociative disorders, one of which is depersonalization disorder (DPD). DPD is characterized by persistent or recurring feelings of detachment or disconnection from one’s own mental processes, emotions, and/or body resulting from a distorted self-perception. Frequently, depersonalization is accompanied by derealization, a sense that one’s external surroundings are unfamiliar or that the world is ‘unreal’. However, people experiencing depersonalization and derealization retain full reality testing surrounding their perceptually altered experiences, i.e. they are not delusional.

Across psychiatric disorders, depersonalization symptoms are common, yet how these disturbances of self-experience interact with other aspects of mental state, such as post-traumatic, affective, or psychotic symptoms, is little studied. We will discuss studies from psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive neuroscience that are beginning to elucidate the neural basis of depersonalization. While primary DPD will be our main focus, we will also discuss the relevance of recent research findings in DPD with reference to literature on both healthy and pathological mental states, in particular the potential importance of depersonalization symptoms in the genesis of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.

Tutorial Outline:
Heather Berlin: Neurocognition in Depersonalization Disorder (60 min + 10 min discussion)
Nick Medford: Neural Substrates of the Unreal Self: Studies in Depersonalization Disorder (60 min + 10 min discussion)
General Discussion, facilitated by presenters (40 minutes)

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