Depersonalization

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The term "depersonalization" refers to the appearance of subjective impressions of change affecting the person or the surrounding world. Their intensity varies, ranging from a simple feeling of dizziness to painful feelings of physical transformation, from the fleeting feeling of estrangement to the impression that the world has become unrecognizable, dead, or uninhabited. Moments of depersonalization can occur during the customary development of any individual or within overtly pathological clinical settings.

The concept of depersonalization is not directly present in the work of Sigmund Freud. In "Psychoanalytic notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia (dementia paranoides)" (1911c [1910]), the elements of depersonalization perceptible in the subject's memory—themes of physical transformation, nerves of voluptuousness, the "hastily improvised men"—are not treated as such by Freud. Similarly the themes of depersonalization found in the Wolf Man—the "veil" that is torn during successive washings—are not referred to as such even though they are analyzed in depth (1918b [1914]). It is possible that it was only after the development of his concept of narcissism and the reorganization of the concept of the ego it contained that Freud became aware of depersonalization, in "The Uncanny" (1919h) and later in "A Disturbance of Memory on the Acropolis" (1936a). In both cases it is through feelings affecting the perception of the outside world that the topic is * Stewart, Walter A. (1964). Depersonalization. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 12, 171-186. addressed, that is through the question of "derealization," which can be considered the result of a type of depersonalization.

Paul Schilder was one of the first authors to take an interest in depersonalization. He saw it as a function of the libido's withdrawal of cathexis from the image of the body. Paul Federn believed it corresponded to an alteration of the distribution of narcissistic libido throughout the body and its boundaries. Hermann Nunberg associated it with the loss of a significant object. Clarence Oberdorf emphasized the polymorphism of the clinical situations in which it could be observed and Andrew Peto investigated the role of the precocious loss of introjection. Maurice Bouvet, in an important study entitled "Dépersonalisation et relation d'objet," demonstrated the similarity of structure between states of depersonalization in their various clinical forms and treated "depersonalization as a state of weakened ego structure." He insisted on the importance of a "rapprochement" with the object, that is a decrease in the creation of psychic distance to the object, whereby the object returns to the position it held in the subject's unconscious fantasies. He also pointed out the character of the object relation that made it a narcissistic object since "the maintenance of the ego structure . . . depends on its unconditional and absolute possession." Bouvet also noted the importance of the conflict between the need to introject the object and the fear of this introjection.

PAUL DENIS

See also: Boredom; Bouvet, Maurice Charles Marie Germain; Ego boundaries; Ego feeling; Estrangement; Face-to-face situation; Disintegration, feelings of, (anxieties); Rosenfeld, Herbert Alexander; Self-consciousness; Tomasi di Palma Lampedusa-Wolff Stomersee, Alexandra. Bibliography


  • Freud, Sigmund. (1919h). The uncanny. SE, 17: 217-256.
  • ——. (1936a). A disturbance of memory on the Acropolis. SE, 22: 239-248.