The pain matrix is conceptualised here as a fluid system composed of several interacting networks. A nociceptive matrix receiving spinothalamic projections (mainly posterior operculoinsular areas) ensures the bodily specificity of pain and is the only one whose destruction entails selective pain deficits. Transition from cortical nociception to conscious pain relies on a second-order network, including posterior parietal, prefrontal and anterior insular areas. Second-order regions are not nociceptive-specific; focal stimulation does not evoke pain, and focal destruction does not produce analgesia, but their joint activation is necessary for conscious perception, attentional modulation and control of vegetative reactions. The ensuing pain experience can still be modified as a function of beliefs, emotions and expectations through activity of third-order areas, including the orbitofrontal and perigenual/limbic networks. The pain we remember results from continuous interaction of these subsystems, and substantial changes in the pain experience can be achieved by acting on each of them. Neuropathic pain (NP) is associated with changes in each of these levels of integration. The most robust abnormality in NP is a functional depression of thalamic activity, reversible with therapeutic manoeuvres and associated with rhythmic neural bursting. Neuropathic allodynia has been associated with enhancement of ipsilateral over contralateral insular activation and lack of reactivity in orbitofrontal/perigenual areas. Although lack of response of perigenual cortices may be an epiphenomenon of chronic pain, the enhancement of ipsilateral activity may reflect disinhibition of ipsilateral spinothalamic pathways due to depression of their contralateral counterpart. This in turn may bias perceptual networks and contribute to the subjective painful experience.