A psychoanalytical theory founded on the development of the Self postulates a stage of development at which its integration is achieved. This stage is characterized by a subjective feeling of continuity in time and space, and simultaneously by an ease of communication between body and mind. Before one reaches this stage, there is the psychological equivalent of separate zones of operation, characterized by distinct zones of pleasure and activity. A return to this previous stage of disparate activity amounts to a form of disintegration: any integration already achieved is undone. This disintegration is manifested by the emergence of isolated activities that are non-communicative and unlinked and involve isolated parts of the body, pleasure felt in one isolated zone, and an isolated ideational preoccupation. This can take various forms: hallucinatory thoughts, repetitive motor activity and/or hypochondriacal ruminations. This phenomenon can assume alarming dimensions, but it can easily be overcome by means of a rapid reintegration brought about by a connection, described as a Self-object relation, which serves to restore this temporarily lost state of cohesion.
From this point of view, the appearance and disappearance of psychotic symptomatology can be explained by the shift from an integrated Self to the emergence of products of disintegration. The particular cause of this regressive movement is some form of narcissistic wound: in other words, it stems from wounds to the Self that are serious enough to produce a downward spiral involving fragmentation. The appearance of products of disintegration in the course of psychological treatment is considered to be the result of the loss of a Self-object, which is the equivalent of a break in the Self/Self-object relation—a break which is in turn experienced as a narcissistic wound.
See also: Fragmentation; Self-object.
Kohut, Heinz. (1977). The restoration of the self. New York: International Universities Press.