Ego death

Ego death (also known as ego suppression, ego loss or ego dissolution) is the temporary experience of a partial or complete disruption of a person's sense of self, which often results in a range of profound changes to how the person perceives and interprets their own sense of identity and the nature of agency and self-hood. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Ego Death Subcategories

These changes can include but are not limited to any combination of the following three subcategories.

Type 1

Absent selfhood

An absent selfhood can be described as a complete lack of the subjective experience of one's own sense of identity. During this form of ego death, there is a profound experience of no longer having an “I” experiencing one's sensory input; there is just awareness of sensory input as it is and by itself without a conscious agent to comment on or think about what is happening to it.

Type 2

Objectified selfhood

An objectified selfhood can be described as a person remaining aware of the existence of their self, but they no longer feel integrally attached to their identity. Instead of feeling that they are a unified whole with their sense of self, their awareness feels entirely separate from it's own identity, as if this selfhood is now the object of experience instead of the subject.

Type 3

Expanded selfhood

An expanded selfhood can be described as one's sense of identity becoming coming to include a wider array of concepts than it previously did. For example, while a person may usually feel that they are exclusively constituted by their ego and physical body, this effect can cause their sense of identity to also include the external environment or an object they are interacting with. This results in intense and inextricable feelings of unity or interconnectedness between the self and varying arrays of previously "external" systems.

For more information on this experience, please see our comprehensive article on states of Unity and Interconnectedness.

Fear of losing control

Fear of losing control is a very common occurrence when a person who undergoes ego death is not emotionally prepared, not in an appropriate set or setting, or is simply unwilling to relinquish their sense of selfhood. During this experience, the person will often find themselves experiencing overwhelming fear and anxiety relating to the fear of losing control. This fear and anxiety is especially common in those who have not experienced ego death before.

To overcome this fear, it is recommended that the person does their best to stop fighting the loss of control, and simply surrender themselves to the experience of ego death. Upon successfully relaxing into ego death, the person will often experience a radical and positive change in their emotional state.

Transformative aspects

Ego death is well known for the transformative and significant impacts it can have on a person's perception of both themselves and the world around them. These responses and alterations can occur during the experience of ego death, but also in the hours, days, or weeks afterwards.

A few of the most common examples of this phenomenon are described and listed below:


Rejuvenation is a feeling of mild to extreme cognitive refreshment which is usually felt once the experience of ego death is over and the person has fully recovered from the trip as a whole. The characteristics of rejuvenation often include a sustained sense of heightened mental clarity, personal bias suppression, and increased emotional stability, calmness, mindfulness, motivation, wellbeing, and focus. At its highest level, feelings of rejuvenation can become so intense that they manifest as the profound and overwhelming sensation of being "reborn." Within the context of ego death, rejuvenation often feels as if it has occurred in a manner akin to rebooting a computer.

Personal Bias Suppression

Personal bias suppression is a decrease in the personal or cultural biases, preferences, and associations a person knowingly or unknowingly uses to filter and interpret their perception of the world. Within the context of ego death, personal bias suppression seemingly occurs because the prior associations the ego used to contextualize phenomena have been reset to a raw state. This often results in the feeling of processing concepts from a neutral perspective completely untainted by past memories, prior experiences, and stereotypes.

Overcoming fear of death

Overcoming the fear of death is very commonly associated with ego death. Those who have undergone ego death often report that they not only "experienced what it is like to die", but also became both accustomed to and substantially less afraid of the prospect. Letting go during ego death and willfully surrendering one's own sense of self is often likened to preconceived notions about what it is like to die, which may cause this effect.

Viewing the self as an illusory construct

Viewing the self as an illusory construct commonly results from the way undergoing the ego-death experience provokes a radical reframing of the nature of the self. This new perspective may take a number of forms. For example, in the case of absent and objectified self-hood, one may conclude that the ego is not an essential component of who they are, but is instead a construct of the mind, conditioned by one's history and particular circumstances.

In the case of expanded self-hood, where the experienced boundary between oneself and the external world is absent, it is common to become convinced that no such boundary ever actually existed. One may then believe that they are identical in nature to the universe as a unified whole, experiencing itself and expressing itself through a particular mind and body.

Increased openness to experience

Increased openness to experience is a shift in personality that is commonly reported after the experience of ego death. This change may occur as a result of feeling less obliged to conform to a particular identity and thus becoming more likely to engage in novel experiences.

Alternatively, those who have undergone personal bias suppression will also often find themselves more open to experiences that they may have previously disregarded because they are able to reassess their interest with a fresh perspective.

Subjective differences between various substances

Within the context of psychedelic use, ego death is most commonly triggered at heavy doses by states of high level memory suppression which causes the person to forget who they are. At other times it can be triggered by or in combination with sensory overload consuming the person's consciousness with information and overwhelming their sense of self.

Within the context of dissociative use, ego death seems to be triggered at heavy doses by increasingly intense cognitive disconnection causing a person to become dissociated from cognitive functions such as the maintenance of a sense of identity.

Psychedelic ego death usually occurs alongside states of level 6-7 geometry and internal hallucinations of an intense and often overwhelming nature. It may synergize with other coinciding effects such as personal bias suppression, unity and interconnectedness, spirituality enhancement, and delusions. These accompanying effects further elevate the subjective intensity and transpersonal significance of ego death experiences.

Dissociative ego death usually occurs alongside high level sensory disconnection and out of body experiences which may take place within voids or holes filled with hallucinatory structures. Dissociative ego death is less likely to cause an anxious response for those who are inexperienced compared to psychedelic ego death. This is because many people experience dissociatives as inherently calming and tranquil while high doses of psychedelics are quite often experienced as the opposite.

Outside of psychedelics and dissociatives, it is also possible to experience ego death under the influence of a few other classes of psychoactive compounds. For example, extremely heavy doses of deliriants such as DPH or datura can result in ego death that is accompanied by delusions, psychosis, and external hallucinations. Heavy doses of salvia divinorum are extremely effective at inducing ego death that is accompanied by bizarre internal hallucinations, autonomous entity contact, and machinescapes. Although these two classes of hallucinogens function very differently on both a subjective and neuropharmacological level, both of their variations on ego death feel as if they stem from a break down or deterioration in the brain's ability to maintain normal levels of cognitive functioning.


Similar Concepts

Throughout history there have been similar concepts that were not specifically called 'ego death,' but can be seen as antecedents. These include, but are not limited to, a wide array of religious and philosophical concepts such as Anatta [6] , Satori [7] , and Jhana [8] in Vedanta and Zen Buddhism, and Fana in Sufi Islam [9] .

Original usage

'The Psychedelic Experience - A manual based on the tibetan book of the dead' by Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, & Richard Alpert [11] contains the first identified literary use of the term 'ego death' or 'ego loss' that is in line with the contemporary concept. In it, Leary describes ego death as a product of the "complete transcendence − beyond words, beyond space−time, beyond self" experienced during the peak of the psychedelic experience. He breaks the experience up into three stages inspired by the Tibetan Buddhist bardos:

  1. Chikhai Bardo: ego-loss, a "complete transcendence" of the self and "game";
  2. Chonyid Bardo: The Period of Hallucinations;
  3. Sidpa Bardo: the return to routine game reality and the self.

Academic definitions

Since the publication of The Psychedelic Experience, ego death has been defined by academics and scholars in a variety of similar ways. These definitions are listed and documented below:

  • In 1964 Randolf Alnaes published "Therapeutic applications of the change in consciousness produced by psycholytica (LSD, Psilocybin, etc.)" in which he defines ego death as a "Loss of ego-feeling." [12]
  • In 1988, Stanislav Grof defined ego death as "a sense of total annihilation... This experience of "ego death" seems to entail an instant merciless destruction of all previous reference points in the life of the individual... Ego death means an irreversible end to one's philosophical identification with what Alan Watts called "skin-encapsulated ego." [13]
  • In 2001 Carter Phipps defined ego death as "the renunciation, rejection and, ultimately, the death of the need to hold on to a separate, self-centered existence." [14]
  • In 2007 religious studies scholar Daniel Merkur defined ego death as "an imageless experience in which there is no sense of personal identity. It is the experience that remains possible in a state of extremely deep trance when the ego-functions of reality-testing, sense-perception, memory, reason, fantasy and self-representation are repressed." [15]
  • In 2008, Johnson, Richards & Griffiths paraphrased Leary and Grof by defining ego death as "temporarily experiencing a complete loss of subjective self-identity." [16]
  • In 2010, the psychologist John Harrison defined ego death as a "Temporary ego death as the loss of the separate self, or, in the affirmative, a deep and profound merging with the transcendent other." [17]
  • In 2016, The Ego-Dissolution Inventory was developed as a validated self-report questionnaire that allows for the measurement of ego death experiences which occur under the influence of psychedelic compounds. It defines ego dissolution as "The experience of a compromised sense of self". [18]

Neuroscientific speculation

There is an increasing amount of speculation within psychedelic communities which posits that the neurological mechanisms behind ego death are tied to the way psychedelic substances disrupt the Default Mode Network (DMN) [19] , the large-scale brain network best known for being active when a person is awake but not focused on the outside world, such as during daydreaming and mind-wandering.

In terms of scientific evidence for this theory, one study has demonstrated that the psilocybin does indeed cause reduced blood flow to the posterior cingulate cortex and pre-frontal cortex, which are two areas of the brain considered to be the main nodes of the DMN. [20] Another study has also demonstrated that while LSD does not necessarily reduce activity within the DMN, it does infact desynchronize the brain regions that constitue it, thus causing them to become less correlated. [21] Despite these findings, however, it is worth noting that the exact relationship between changes within the DMN and the experience of egodeath have not yet been conclusively demonstrated.


  1. Lebedev, A. V., Lövdén, M., Rosenthal, G., Feilding, A., Nutt, D. J., & Carhart‐Harris, R. L. (2015). Finding the self by losing the self: Neural correlates of ego‐dissolution under psilocybin. Human brain mapping, 36(8), 3137-3153. |
  2. Nour, M. M., Evans, L., Nutt, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2016). Ego-dissolution and psychedelics: validation of the ego-dissolution inventory (EDI). Frontiers in human neuroscience, 10, 269. |
  3. Nour, M. M., Evans, L., Nutt, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2016). Ego-dissolution and psychedelics: validation of the ego-dissolution inventory (EDI). Frontiers in human neuroscience, 10, 269. |
  4. Fink, S. B. (2020). Look who's talking! Varieties of ego-dissolution without paradox. Philosophy and the Mind Sciences, 1(I), 1-36. |
  5. Milliere, R. (2017). Looking for the self: phenomenology, neurophysiology and philosophical significance of drug-induced ego dissolution. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 11, 245. |
  6. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2007, December 5). Anatta. Encyclopedia Britannica. |
  7. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2017, April 19). Satori. Encyclopedia Britannica. |
  8. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2014, November 13). Dhyāna. Encyclopedia Britannica. |
  9. Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia (2019, August 16). Fana. Encyclopedia Britannica. |
  10. What's an ego death? (Jungian psychology) - Jordan Peterson |
  11. The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead |
  12. Alnæs, R. (1964). THERAPEUTIC APPLICATION OF THE CHANGE IN CONSCIOUSNESS PRODUCED RY PSYCHOLYTICA (LSD, PSILOCYRIN, ETC.) 1: The Psychedelic Experience in the Treatment of Neurosis. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 39(S180), 397-409. |
  13. Grof, Stanislav (1988), The Adventure of Self-Discovery. Dimensions of Consciousness and New Perspectives in Psychotherapy and Inner Exploration, SUNY Press |
  14. Phipps, Carter (2001), "Self-Acceptance or Ego Death?", What is Enlightenment?, 17: 36–41 |
  15. Merkur, Daniel (2007), Crucified with Christ: Meditations on the Passion, Mystical Death, and the Medieval : Invention of Psychotherapy, SUNY Press |
  16. Johnson, M. W., Richards, W. A., & Griffiths, R. R. (2008). Human hallucinogen research: guidelines for safety. Journal of psychopharmacology, 22(6), 603-620. |
  17. Ego Death & Psychedelics By John Harrison, Psy.D. (cand) |
  18. Nour, M. M., Evans, L., Nutt, D., & Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2016). Ego-dissolution and psychedelics: validation of the ego-dissolution inventory (EDI). Frontiers in human neuroscience, 10, 269. |
  19. Understanding Ego Death’s Neurobiology by Graham Reed |
  20. Carhart-Harris, R. L., Erritzoe, D., Williams, T., Stone, J. M., Reed, L. J., Colasanti, A., ... & Nutt, D. J. (2012). Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(6), 2138-2143. |
  21. Carhart-Harris, R. L., Muthukumaraswamy, S., Roseman, L., Kaelen, M., Droog, W., Murphy, K., ... & Nutt, D. J. (2016). Neural correlates of the LSD experience revealed by multimodal neuroimaging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(17), 4853-4858. |


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