[Autobiographical memory and self-disorders in schizophrenia]

Encephale. 2017 Feb;43(1):47-54. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2016.04.003. Epub 2016 May 20.
[Article in French]


Objectives: Disorders of self in schizophrenia have been considered as the core feature of the illness since its early clinical description. However, until recently, the understanding of these disorders referred mostly to philosophical considerations. The aim of this work is to examine how the various aspects of autobiographical memory deficits may be considered as possible cognitive mechanisms accounting for self-disorders in patients.

Methods: We performed a theoretical review of the literature on autobiographical memory studies in schizophrenia. Our approach of cognitive psychopathology was grounded in the model of the Self-Memory System put forward by Conway (2005), which posits reciprocal relationships between autobiographical memory and the self. This model stresses the distinction between the working-self and the autobiographical memory knowledge base. The latter contains all autobiographical information stored in our life and is organized according to the specificity of this information. The role of the working-self is to maintain the coherence of the self and to control the access to autobiographical memories and corresponding memory details. The working-self supports an experiential or phenomenological dimension of the self, especially when a highly detailed autobiographical memory is retrieved, and a past event is re-experienced by the rememberer. The working-self also entails a conceptual part, the conceptual self, which contains self-knowledge and self-images.

Results: Our review showed that autobiographical memories of patients with schizophrenia are less specific and contain fewer phenomenological details than those of healthy participants. Patients also have difficulty assessing the subjective temporal distance of past events, and their ability to re-experience unique past personal events is affected as shown by a reduced conscious recollection and a smaller frequency of Field visual perspective during recall of autobiographical memories. This global alteration of all phenomenological characteristics of autobiographical memories strongly suggests an alteration of the phenomenological dimension of the self in schizophrenia. Since some of these alterations are also found in patients when they plan for future personal events, the ability to mentally travel in time is reduced in patients and reflects an impaired sense of self across time. The literature also shows that self-images are more passive, less coherent and less stable in time in patients compared to healthy participants. These results point to an alteration of the conceptual dimension of the self in schizophrenia. This may be partly explained by a weaker connection between the self and autobiographical memory and by other alterations of autobiographical memories closely linked to the self. In fact, the reminiscence bump is disorganized in patients and comprises poorly detailed memories. Memories grounding self-images are less organized and weakly connected to self-images. Finally, patients have an impaired ability to give a meaning to or to draw lessons from self-defining memories of their life.

Conclusion: Based on these results, we discuss current and future therapeutic interventions including both cognitive remediation methods and cognitive psychotherapy applied to autobiographical memory. These methods appear relevant to help patients improve both the sense of self associatied with their autobiographical memory retrieval and the coherence and stability of the self.

Keywords: Autobiographical memory; Cognitive remediation; Identité personnelle; Mémoire autobiographique; Remédiation cognitive; Schizophrenia; Schizophrénie; Self.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders / complications
  • Memory Disorders / epidemiology
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Personality Disorders / complications*
  • Personality Disorders / epidemiology
  • Personality Disorders / psychology
  • Schizophrenia / complications*
  • Schizophrenic Psychology*
  • Self Concept*