Psychotic disorders are thought to represent altered neural function. However, research has failed to map diagnostic categories to alterations in neural networks. It is proposed that the basic unit of psychotic psychopathology is the moment-to-moment expression of subtle anomalous experiences of subclinical psychosis, and particularly its tendency to persist from moment-to-moment in daily life, under the influence of familial, environmental, emotional and cognitive factors.
In a general population twin sample (n=579) and in a study of patients with psychotic disorder (n=57), their non-psychotic siblings (n=59) and unrelated controls (n=75), the experience sampling paradigm (ESM; repetitive, random sampling of momentary mental states and context) was applied. We analysed, in a within-person prospective design, (i) transfer of momentary anomalous experience at time point (t–1) to time point (t) in daily life, and (ii) moderating effects of negative affect, positive affect, daily stressors, IQ and childhood trauma. Additionally, (iii) familial associations between persistence of momentary anomalous experience and psychotic symptomatology were investigated. Higher level of schizotypy in the twins (but not higher level of psychotic symptoms in patients) predicted more persistence of momentary anomalous experience in daily life, both within subjects and across relatives. Persistence of momentary anomalous experience was highest in patients, intermediate in their siblings and lowest in controls. In both studies, persistence of momentary anomalous experience was moderated by higher levels of negative affect, daily stressors and childhood trauma (only in twins), and by lower levels of positive affect. The study of alterations in the moment-to-moment transfer of subtle anomalous experience of psychosis, resulting in their persistence, helps to explain why psychotic and emotional dysregulation tend to cluster in a single phenotype such as schizophrenia, and how familial and environmental risks increase the risk of expression of psychosis from, first, subtle momentary anomalous experience to, second, observable clinical symptoms.