Dissociation as a disorder of integration – On the footsteps of Pierre Janet

Andrea Scalabrini, Clara Mucci, Rosy Esposito, Stefano Damiani, Georg Northoff

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


At the end of the 19th century Pierre Janet described dissociation as an altered state of consciousness manifested in disrupted integration of psychological functions. Clinically, such disruption comprises compartmentalization symptoms like amnesia, detachment symptoms like depersonalization/derealization, and structural dissociation of personality with changes in the sense of self. The exact neuronal mechanisms leading to these different symptoms remain unclear. We here suggest to put Janet's original account of dissociation as disrupted integration of psychological functions into a novel context, that is, a neuronal context as related to current brain imaging. This requires a combined theoretical and empirical approach on data supporting such neuronal reframing of Janet. For that, we here review (i) past and (ii) recent psychological and neuronal views on dissociation together with neuroscientific theories of integration, which (iii) are supported and complemented by preliminary fMRI data. We propose three neuronal mechanisms of dynamic integration operating at different levels of the brain's spontaneous activity - temporo-spatial binding on the regional level, temporo-spatial synchronization on the network level, and temporo-spatial globalization on the global level. These neuronal mechanisms, in turn, may be related to different symptomatic manifestation of dissociation operating at different levels, e.g., compartmentalization, detachment, and structural, which, as we suggest, can all be traced to disrupted integration of neuronal and psychological functions as originally envisioned by Janet.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109928
JournalProgress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry
Early online dateMar 16 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jul 13 2020


  • Dissociation
  • Integration
  • Pierre Janet
  • Right anterior insula
  • Spontaneous activity of the brain
  • Temporo-spatial dynamics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Biological Psychiatry


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