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.
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.