I won’t be complete until I lose a limb

Today’s Guardian has a fascinating first person account by someone with ‘body identity integrity disorder’ or BIID. The condition is where people are uncomfortable with their bodies, usually a particular healthy limb, and want to have it amputated.

Importantly, people who have this desire are not psychotic, and it’s not a sexual fetish, they just have this intense desire that they should be an amputee.

Individuals will often go to extreme lengths to have a limb amputated. A recent case in the medical literature described how a man used bandages and pipe clamps to try and cut the blood off to his legs so they would require amputation.

His legs were finally amputated after suffering irreversible frostbite after applying dry ice to them for 7 hours. Interestingly, a similar technique was used by the woman in The Guardian article.

A 2005 article in The New York Times also discussed this fascinating condition, and it was the subject of a 2003 documentary by film maker Melody Gilbert.

How we represent the body and our body image in the brain is still quite mysterious.

For example, after amputation about 90% of people will experience a phantom limb – sensations of touch and movement seeming to arise from the previous location of the amputated limb.

However, people who have a limb missing at birth (who never had one to start with) can also experience phantom limbs, suggesting that we can develop with curiously distorted body representations from the very beginning.

Link to article ‘I won’t be happy until I lose my legs’ (thanks Tom!).
Link to NYT article on BIID.
Link to info on BIID documentary Whole.
Link to full text paper on phantom limbs from birth.

One thought on “I won’t be complete until I lose a limb”

  1. Inevitably i would like to recommend a book recently published by OUP entitled: “Human Body Perception From the Inside Out” and edited by G. Knoblich, I. M. Thornton, M. Grosjean and M. Shiffrar -that i am currently reading- about body recognition and body perception that discuss this issue and related, and how we are conscious of the most intimate living object that is our body. It is a book for those interested in how we perceive our own body when we move and interact with it in the world and how we recognize other bodys, pathological conditions and techniques use by scientists to investigate the human body.

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