Cerebral Hemispheres 2


Body Integrity Identity Disorder

There was an article in the last issue of Scientific American: Mind I have been wanting to discuss, but I keep getting sidetracked. So, I’ll return to it now before I forget about it. The article focuses on a disorder that is slowly gaining more attention from both medical professionals and the public. Once resigned to guests appearing occasionally on the Jerry Springer Show and often considered an urban legend, the affliction is now taken seriously and considered very legitimate. It has been termed body integrity identity disorder (BIID), and is characterized by an irrepressible feeling of dissociation from part of your body, along with a desire to have that limb(s) amputated.

If you have not heard of it, it may sound a little outrageous, but those who suffer from it appear to experience serious mental anguish. And it is far from simply a cry for attention, as some of these patients have drastically taken matters into their own hands to alleviate their distress. One such patient wanted to be rid of both legs. After a surgeon refused to comply with his wishes, he obtained 100 lbs. of dry ice and buried his legs under it for six hours. He then went to the hospital with legs so frozen the tissue soon turned black. Eventually the doctors had no choice but to fulfill his original wish, and amputate both legs for his own safety.

There is no consensus on why this disorder occurs, or how it should be treated. Some consider it similar to gender identity disorder, as both begin early in life and are centered around a desire to fundamentally change some part of one’s body. Others attribute it to the patient being raised in an environment where he or she received little love and attention, causing them to envy the sympathy amputees might evoke. Many believe there must be a neurological origin to such an overwhelming obsession.

That neurological basis could involve a distortion in body-mapping regions of the cerebral cortex. One such region is the primary somatosensory cortex, an area of the parietal lobe to which sensory information of touch is relayed from all parts of the body. Just anterior to (in front of) the somatosensory cortex is another body-mapping area, the primary motor cortex. This region is involved in movement, sending information on planned muscle activation throughout the body. Both of these areas are subdivided into sections that deal with each specific part of the body, creating “body maps” of neural activity in the cerebral cortex. BIID could stem from a lesion or other disturbance in one of these areas.

Unfortunately, it is still not known exactly what is happening in the minds of these patients, nor is there a protocol for how to treat them. Traditional psychiatric medications don’t seem to have any effect. Surgery to remove the limb(s) in question so far has been the only treatment that has shown consistent success. For obvious ethical reasons, most doctors refuse to participate in such surgery. Others have granted the surgery, however, and those patients who do undertake it seem to feel gratified and at peace with their bodies for the first time in years. The medical field is far from agreement on how the disorder should be handled, but hopefully as recognition of the legitimacy of BIID continues to grow, so will efforts to develop a suitable treatment.

For more information on BIID, visit www.biid.org.


Sleep. Memory. Pleasure. Fear. Language. We experience these things every day, but how do our brains create them? Your Brain, Explained is a personal tour around your gray matter. Building on neuroscientist Marc Dingman’s popular YouTube series, 2-Minute Neuroscience, this is a friendly, engaging introduction to the human brain and its quirks using real-life examples and Dingman’s own, hand-drawn illustrations.

  • Dingman weaves classic studies with modern research into easily digestible sections, to provide an excellent primer on the rapidly advancing field of neuroscience. - Moheb Costandi, author, Neuroplasticity and 50 Human Brain Ideas You Really Need to Know

  • ...a highly readable and accessible introduction to the operation of the brain and current issues in neuroscience... a wonderful introduction to the field. - Frank Amthor, PhD, Professor of Psychology, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, author, Neuroscience for Dummies

  • An informative, accessible and engaging book for anyone who has even the slightest interest in how the brain works, but doesn’t know where to begin. - Dean Burnett, PhD, author, Happy Brain and Idiot Brain

  • Reading like a collection of detective stories, Your Brain, Explained combines classic cases in the history of neurology with findings stemming from the latest techniques used to probe the brain’s secrets. - Stanley Finger, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Washington University (St. Louis), author, Origins of Neuroscience


This book shows a whole other side of how brains work by examining the most unusual behavior to emerge from the human brain. In it, you'll meet a woman who is afraid to take a shower because she fears her body will slip down the drain, a man who is convinced he is a cat, a woman who compulsively snacks on cigarette ashes, and many other unusual cases. As uncommon as they are, each of these cases has something important to teach us about everyday brain function.

  • A unique combination of storytelling and scientific explanation that appeals to the brain novice, the trained neuroscientist, and everyone in between. Dingman explores some of the most fascinating and mysterious expressions of human behavior in a style that is case study, dramatic novel, and introductory textbook all rolled into one. - Alison Kreisler, PhD, Neuroscience Instructor, California State University, San Marcos

  • Through case studies of both exceptional people as well as those with disorders, Bizarre takes us on a fascinating journey in which we learn more about what is going on in our skull. - William J. Ray, PhD, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University, author, Abnormal Psychology

  • Bizarre is a collection of stories of how the brain can create zombies, cult members, extra limbs, instant musicians, and overnight accents, to name a few of the mind-scratching cases. After reading this book, you will walk away with a greater appreciation for this bizarre organ. If you are a fan of Oliver Sacks' books, you're certain to be a fan of Dingman's Bizarre. - Allison M. Wilck, PhD, Researcher and Assistant Professor of Psychology, Eastern Mennonite University

  • Dingman brings the history of neuroscience back to life and weaves in contemporary ideas seamlessly. Readers will come along for the ride of a really interesting read and accidentally learn some neuroscience along the way. - Erin Kirschmann, PhD, Associate Professor of Psychology & Counseling, Immaculata University