This article explores the phenomenological and empirical rediscovery of anomalous self-experience as a core feature of the schizophrenia spectrum disorders and presents the current status of research in this field. Historically, a disordered self was considered to be a constitutive phenotype of schizophrenia. Although the notion of a disordered self has continued to appear occasionally over the years-mainly in the phenomenologically or psychodynamically oriented literature-this notion was usually considered as a theoretical construct rather than as referring to concretely lived anomalous experiences. Empirical research on the disorders of self-experience in schizophrenia can be traced back to the US-Denmark psychopathological collaboration in the well-known adoption and high-risk studies, which aimed at identifying trait or phenotypic vulnerability features. This research was later followed by clinical work with first-admission schizophrenia patients. We offer clinical descriptions of anomalous self-experience and outline the phenomenological structures of subjectivity that are needed for grasping the nature of these anomalous experiential phenomena. What appears to underlie these experiences is an instability of the first-person perspective that threatens the basic experience of being a self-coinciding, embodied, demarcated, and persisting subject of awareness. We summarize a series of empirical studies targeting self-experience in schizophrenia performed prior to and after the construction of a phenomenologically oriented psychometric instrument for assessing anomalies of self-experience, the Examination of Anomalous Self-Experience (EASE). These empirical studies support the classic clinical intuition that anomalous self-experiences form a central phenotype of schizophrenia. Implications for diagnosis and research are briefly discussed.
Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 2014, Vol 22, Issue 5, p. 251-265
Journal Article; Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't; Review