A fascinating, if macabre, interview with a man who intentionally cut off his hand:
BME: We’ve touched on it, but I guess now the big question — “why”?
I’m one of those body-integrity-disorder (BIID) dudes. As long as I can remember, having two hands was a defect in my body — something that was not meant to be. For me philosophically, it’s totally different from body mods, which I also have. I don’t think I had any choice. My right hand just didn’t belong to my body. As a little kid, I soon learned that I was the odd one out, and that amputation was a bad thing. My parents reprimanded me for staring at amputations, but it was totally mesmerizing for me. Somehow I made it through high school, with hormones and peer pressure doing their best to mask my feelings. In college, I met a wonderful woman, and our love kept my thoughts of amputation at bay at first, but the need grew and grew. I don’t know how I ever made it through to getting my Master’s. My mind was more and more consumed, so that sometimes I would even blurt out an embarrassing word, like “stump” or “hook”. I don’t think she really grasped what was going down, but my lover couldn’t take my distraction, and we parted company very sadly.
That’s via kottke. I wonder if body integrity disorder has anything in common with eating disorders, like anorexia. Both seem to be profound rejections of the body as it is. Both illnesses cause people to become fixated on altering their own form, even though such alterations are extremely dangerous. Most neurobiological explanations for eating disorders focus on dopamine and activity in the prefrontal cortex – in this sense, an eating disorder is just perfectionism run amok – but I wonder (and this is utterly baseless speculation) if it really makes sense to talk about eating disorders without talking about the distortions of body image. I found this rather interesting brief report while searching for relevant papers:
Anorexia Nervosa (AN) has been associated with a functional deficit of the right hemisphere, a plausible cause for the severe disturbances of body image that are among the most important predictors for clinical severity of AN. However, current therapeutic approaches are relatively ineffective as regards this parameter. We therefore searched for a stimulation treatment that would increase right hemispheric activity and improve body image. We proposed intensive somatosensory stimulation of the whole body to serve this purpose. A conventional custom-made neoprene diving suit was worn by a female anorectic patient over underclothes for one hour three times per day.
At the beginning, the patient was 19 years old (46.50 kg, 179 cm; BMI 14.5). Since the age of 14, she has been suffering from AN (ICD-10 restrictive type). Before our treatment, she underwent two in-patient and three ambulatory psychotherapies. ody weight increased significantly from 47.22 kg (SD 1.01) without treatment to 48.06 kg (SD 0.76) during the period wearing the diving suit. We assume that significantly gained body weight and smaller angle deviations at t2 are consequences of an improved body image representation due to an activation of the right hemisphere by the increased somatosensory stimulation while wearing the diving suit.
In other words, the man who cut off his hand might have tried electrically stimulating the hand that didn’t feel like it belonged. Perhaps his somatosensory cortex just needed a bit more activation.