Disintegration, Feelings of (Anxieties)

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The expressions feelings of disintegration and disintegration anxieties refer to a feeling of extreme anxiety that the personality is "falling to pieces" or disintegrating into elements that are no longer connected together. This serious form of depersonalization has been described in the psychoses, particularly schizophrenia. It has been mainly evoked, however, with regard to the earliest stages of the infant's development and their consequences.

Following Melanie Klein's description of the schizoid-paranoid position in "Notes on Some Schizoid Mechanisms" (1946), the notion of fragmentation appeared in theoretical descriptions and psychoanalytic clinical practice to characterize the anxieties inherent in that position. Under the influence of the death drive, and introjected in the form of the persecutory breast or penis, archaic defenses produce a major splitting of the self considered in terms of bad internal objects. This defensive mechanism is accompanied by feelings of destruction, annihilation, or fragmentation of the ego that have been interpreted by some as a precursor to castration anxiety. Linked to deprivation, privation, and frustration, only the introjection of a good object can restore the cohesion of such a fragmented self, by creating a path toward the depressive position.

These psychopathological notions have been taken up by Kleinian authors such as Donald Winnicott, although in his case greater importance is granted to the environment, particularly the mother. Esther Bick returned to the notion of fragmentation through her observations of infants, and Wilfred R. Bion makes it a constant, to varying degrees, of the psychotic part of all personalities, with the ever-active threat of "catastrophic change."

Pierre Marty describes another form of fragmentation in his work on "essential depression," and Heinz Kohut views it as one of the main elements in the pathologies of the self. Jacques Lacan, meanwhile, reverses the Kleinian positions by viewing the archaic anxieties of the "fragmented body" as the consequence of castration, which is by definition inscribed within the real from the beginning.

See also: Anxiety; Breast, good/bad object; Castration complex; Essential depression; Foreclosure; Fragmentation; Paranoid-schizoid position; Privation; Psychotic part of the personality; Schizophrenia.


Klein, Melanie. (1975). Notes on some schizoid mechanisms. reprinted 1975 in: The writings of Melanie Klein (Vol. 3, 1946-1963, p. 1-24). London: Hogarth. (Reprinted from International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 27: (1946), 99-110.)

Kohut, Heinz. (1971). The analysis of the self. New York: International Universities Press.

Lacan, Jacques. (1962-63). Le séminaire-Livre X: L'angoisse. Unpublished.