Depersonalization disorder: a functional neuroanatomical perspective

Stress. 2003 Sep;6(3):157-65. doi: 10.1080/1025389031000138538.


Clinical reports of depersonalization suggest that attenuated emotional experience is a central feature of the condition. Patients typically complain of emotional numbness and some patients ascribe their feelings of unreality to a lack of affective "colouring" in things perceived. Recent neuroimaging and psychophysiological studies support these assumptions as they show both attenuated autonomic responses in depersonalization, and decreased activity within neural regions important for the generation of affective responses to emotive stimuli. Furthermore, findings from neuroimaging studies indicate increased prefrontal cortical activity in depersonalised patients, particularly within regions associated with contextualization and appraisal of emotionally-salient information rather than mood induction per se. Taken together, these finding suggest that symptoms of depersonalization, and in particular emotional numbing, may be related to a reversal of normal patterns of autonomic and neural response to emotive stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Depersonalization / diagnosis*
  • Depersonalization / psychology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon*