Out on a phantom limb

ABC Radio National’s opinion programme Ockham’s Razor has an engrossing edition on how our perception and ownership of our body can break down after brain injury – leading to disorders where we think our limbs are someone else’s, where we feel there’s a phantom body behind us, or where we think we’ve been cloned.

The talk is by neuropsychologist John Bradshaw who specialises in understanding how the body is represented by the brain, including the experience of having feelings from an amputated phantom limb.

The talk is a little dense in places but more than worth the attention it needs, as the somewhat wordy sentences unpack into an evocative tour through the far reaches of some strikingly neurological syndromes.

One of the most unusual of these disorders is somatoparaphrenia.

While limb paralysis is not unusual after brain injury, in somatoparaphrenia the patient denies the limb is their own and often suggests that it is someone else’s, such as their husband’s, their doctor’s, or even a ‘dead’ limb that has been attached by people trying to trick them.

One of the earliest discussions of these phenomenon is in a 1955 paper on the personification of paralysed limbs. Rather wonderfully, the full text of the paper is available online.

Link to Ockham’s Razor on bodily integration, identity and brain injury.
Link to paper ‘Personification of Paralysed Limbs in Hemiplegics’.

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