Bodily illusions in health and disease: physiological and clinical perspectives and the concept of a cortical 'body matrix'

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2012 Jan;36(1):34-46. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.03.013. Epub 2011 Apr 6.


Illusions that induce a feeling of ownership over an artificial body or body-part have been used to explore the complex relationships that exist between the brain's representation of the body and the integrity of the body itself. Here we discuss recent findings in both healthy volunteers and clinical populations that highlight the robust relationship that exists between a person's sense of ownership over a body part, cortical processing of tactile input from that body part, and its physiological regulation. We propose that a network of multisensory and homeostatic brain areas may be responsible for maintaining a 'body-matrix'. That is, a dynamic neural representation that not only extends beyond the body surface to integrate both somatotopic and peripersonal sensory data, but also integrates body-centred spatial sensory data. The existence of such a 'body-matrix' allows our brain to adapt to even profound anatomical and configurational changes to our body. It also plays an important role in maintaining homeostatic control over the body. Its alteration can be seen to have both deleterious and beneficial effects in various clinical populations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Body Image*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Human Body*
  • Humans
  • Illusions*
  • Models, Biological
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Space Perception
  • Touch / physiology