Body ownership and embodiment: vestibular and multisensory mechanisms

Body ownership and embodiment are two fundamental mechanisms of self-consciousness. The present article reviews neurological data about paroxysmal illusions during which body ownership and embodiment are affected differentially: autoscopic phenomena (out-of-body experience, heautoscopy, autoscopic hallucination, feeling-of-a-presence) and the room tilt illusion. We suggest that autoscopic phenomena and room tilt illusion are related to different types of failures to integrate body-related information (vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile cues) in addition to a mismatch between vestibular and visual references. In these patients, altered body ownership and embodiment has been shown to occur due to pathological activity at the temporoparietal junction and other vestibular-related areas arguing for a key importance of vestibular processing. We also review the possibilities of manipulating body ownership and embodiment in healthy subjects through exposition to weightlessness as well as caloric and galvanic stimulation of the peripheral vestibular apparatus. In healthy subjects, disturbed self-processing might be related to interference of vestibular stimulation with vestibular cortex leading to disintegration of bodily information and altered body ownership and embodiment. We finally propose a differential contribution of the vestibular cortical areas to the different forms of altered body ownership and embodiment.

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