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BMJ. 2007 November 10; 335(7627): 962.
PMCID: PMC2072011
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Doctors map cortical areas associated with out of body experiences

People who survive a brush with death such as a cardiac arrest occasionally report out of body experiences. So do some patients with migraine or epilepsy. Although at the time the disembodiment seems very real, unusual activation of specific parts of the temporoparietal junction may be responsible. One man had an out of body experience every time doctors stimulated this area of the brain with an extradural electrode, which was placed in an unsuccessful attempt to cure his unilateral tinnitus.

Each out of body experience lasted up to 20 seconds—long enough for functional brain imaging with positron emission tomography to pinpoint the source. While the man felt that he was about 50 cm behind his body and somewhere off to the left, the scans showed coactivation of two crucial areas on the right side of the brain—one at the junction of the angular gyrus and the supramarginal gyrus, the other in the superior temporal cortex. The first area probably integrates incoming sensory signals to help place the head and body in their correct orientation in space. The second area is thought to be involved in self perception.

These findings are consistent with other anecdotal reports from patients with various brain lesions including epilepsy, say his doctors. Out of body experiences associated with nearly dying remain uncharted territory.

References

  • N Engl J Med 2007;357:1829-33 [PubMed]

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