ScienceDaily has an item on the research of O. Blanke’s lab at the EPFL Switzerland (here). The sense of self-identification and self-location can be altered in healthy people under certain experimental conditions, yielding similar sensations to those felt in out-of-body experiences.
…research to see whether there are changes in touch perception when humans experience ownership of a whole virtual body. They designed a novel behavioural task in which the experimental participants had to try to detect where on their body vibrations were occurring. At the same time, they viewed their own body via a head-mounted display connected to a camera filming the participant’s back from two metres away. The participants had to ignore light flashes that appeared on their body near the vibrators. To induce the feeling that they were located in the position where they viewed their body (i.e. two metres in front of them), participants were stroked on their backs with a stick. This induced a “full body illusion” in which a person perceives herself as being located outside the confines of her own body.
By measuring how strongly the light flashes interfered with the perception of the vibrations, the researchers were able to show that the mapping of touch sensations was altered during the full body illusion. The mapping of touch in space was shifted towards the virtual body when subjects felt themselves to be located where the virtual body was seen.
This study demonstrates that changes in self-consciousness (‘where am I located?’ and ‘what is my body?’) are accompanied by changes in where touch sensations are experienced in space. Importantly, these data reveal that brain mechanisms of multisensory processing are crucial for the “I” of conscious experience and can be scientifically manipulated in order to animate and incarnate virtual humans, robots, and machines.
Our bodies seem to be inferred in our consciousness as are other sensory perceptions.