Increasing evidence suggests that the basic foundations of the self lie in the brain systems that represent the body. Specific sensorimotor stimulation has been shown to alter the bodily self. However, little is known about how disconnection of the brain from the body affects the phenomenological sense of the body and the self. Spinal cord injury (SCI) patients who exhibit massively reduced somatomotor processes below the lesion in the absence of brain damage are suitable for testing the influence of body signals on two important components of the self-the sense of disembodiment and body ownership. We recruited 30 SCI patients and 16 healthy participants, and evaluated the following parameters: (i) depersonalization symptoms, using the Cambridge Depersonalization Scale (CDS), and (ii) measures of body ownership, as quantified by the rubber hand illusion (RHI) paradigm. We found higher CDS scores in SCI patients, which show increased detachment from their body and internal bodily sensations and decreasing global body ownership with higher lesion level. The RHI paradigm reveals no alterations in the illusory ownership of the hand between SCI patients and controls. Yet, there was no typical proprioceptive drift in SCI patients with intact tactile sensation on the hand, which might be related to cortical reorganization in these patients. These results suggest that disconnection of somatomotor inputs to the brain due to spinal cord lesions resulted in a disturbed sense of an embodied self. Furthermore, plasticity-related cortical changes might influence the dynamics of the bodily self. © 2012 Lenggenhager et al.
Lenggenhager, B., Pazzaglia, M., Scivoletto, G., Molinari, M., & Aglioti, S. M. (2012). The Sense of the Body in Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury. PLoS ONE, 7(11). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0050757