Schizophrenia, Consciousness and Sense of Time

Schizophrenia is a mental disorder listed in the DSM 5—The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition—as being associated with hallucination and delusions and other symptoms like decreased motivation, social withdrawal, attention problems, and lack of working memory. Positive symptoms like hallucinations and delusions typically start to appear during adolescence or early adulthood, and are usually the symptoms which garner psychiatric attention.

Research indicates minimal self and time are fundamental components of human consciousness. Conversely, schizophrenia is characterized by minimal self-disorder—disturbances in the most elementary component of self—and difficulties with temporal processing.

Consciousness and experience of time are still a mystery. No organ is dedicated to time and although we can perfectly feel it, there’s no way to catch and systematically see it. Experiencing time is not about cerebral activation, EEG, or nerve activity. It is the first-person perspective that makes each individual’s experience with time different from what neuroscience often tries to capture by evaluating the world from a third-person perspective. This is why we can only consider time as an experience of the self.

Studies demonstrate how emotions and body activation have an influence on the perception of time. The experience of an event will differ depending on the mood and physiological needs of the individuals experiencing it. Being worried, hungry, tired, etc. all influence time perception. This is the so-called embodiment: my state of mind is related to the interconnection between my body and my brain. 

In conclusion, time and the self cannot be experienced separately and studies reveal that how the two interact can completely change a person’s experience of the world. This is what happens with schizophrenia. However, studies also establish that schizophrenia is not the only mental disorder associated with distorsions in the perception of time and self.

Virtual Times, an European project which is part of a Horizon 2020 program, is investigating how psychopathological conditions like schizophrenia, depression, and autism may cause individuals to perceive time differently, like “time flying” or being “stuck in time”.

In Virtualtimes, we are analyzing and studying the sense and structure of time by generating a flow state with the use of VR gaming. Funded by the European Union, this project aims to provide individuals with opportunities to re-experience and normalize a variant and distorted sense of time.


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