The World Cup-winning centre-back says his nation only perform when they are fearful of elimination and has urged them to alter their mindset this summer
France qualified for next month's tournament in dramatic circumstances, overturning a 2-0 first-leg deficit to beat Ukraine 3-2 on aggregate in a play-off in November.
The 1998 winners were eliminated in the group stage at the last World Cup in South Africa four years ago, but appear to have a straightforward path to the knock-out rounds in Brazil.
Didier Deschamps' men have been drawn in Group E alongside Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras and are overwhelming favourites to progress as group winners.
And Desailly, who was team-mates with Deschamps when France won the competition on home soil, feels they need to channel the spirit of the second-leg showing against Ukraine in order to be successful at the World Cup.
"I grew up with Didier Deschamps in Nantes, a long time ago in '86. He was my friend and my captain also," Desailly told Laureus.
"He goes into small details and knows exactly where he's going. He is covering everything on his tactical aspect and his physical preparation. I'm sure talent is there in the team when you take the players individually.
"The only problem is collectively. France does not perform unless they are scared of getting eliminated.
"Against Ukraine, you could see that France have finally performed. But we are not expecting to win the World Cup. We are just there, hanging, hoping that game after game we can build up a collective motivation.
"It is about confidence. You build up the confidence game after game, and from there, you never know, because we have the talent and the group is not a difficult group.
"We have South American teams and we do not know what is their level. The first game every time is very important, to build up that confidence and to allow the coach to have his first choice XI. This is important for Didier."