There is a bizarre story over at the Guardian, which is supposedly true, although since the writer only gives a pseudonym for the interviewee, I can imagine that somebody is pulling his leg (I remember the giant slime mould). The article is a first hand account of a woman with body identity integrity disorder, which is apparently where people feel detached from their body parts and often want to remove them. An extract:
First I needed to freeze and kill the leg so that surgeons would amputate it afterwards. I ordered dry ice pellets from a company near Edinburgh (the same stuff that is used in discos for the smoke effect). Nobody asked what it was for. I bought 40kg - it evaporates very quickly, so you have to buy a great deal. I put on layers of pantyhose, because you do not want it sticking to you, spread it in the back of the car and sat with my leg immersed in it for one hour. The pain was indescribable: it hurt so much I passed out a few times. I was scared, but more so of failure. I am that kind of person - I never fail.
So what is causing this behaviour? A sceptic might first suggest that the story is a hoax. But if it is not a hoax, this person has remarkable insight into her condition and it is very odd that there is a desire to lose healthy limbs - people without limbs are less able to survive than able bodied individuals, so there cannot be much genetic basis for the disease. From Wikipedia:
Today, very few surgeons will treat BIID patients by giving them what they want. Some act out their desires, pretending they are amputees using prostheses and other tools to ease their desire to be one. There are hence several recorded cases of sufferers resorting to self-amputation of a "superfluous" limb, for example by allowing a train to run over it, or by damaging the limb so badly that surgeons will have to amputate it. Often the obsession is with one specific limb, with patients "not feeling complete while they still have a left leg", for example. However, BIID does not simply involve amputation. It involves any wish to significantly alter body integrity. Some people suffer from the desire to become paralyzed, blind, deaf, use orthopaedic appliances such as leg-braces, etc. Some people spend time pretending they are an amputee by using crutches and wheelchairs at home or in public; in the BIID community, this is called the 'pretender'. The condition is usually treated as a psychiatric disorder.
And by psychiatric they mean that they can't find any obvious reasons for it, so they're stuck. There is another condition this reminds me of, which if not related, seems similar. Alien hand syndrome is a bizarre neurological condition where a patient's hand can move and act as if it is under the control of another person. Also known as anarchic hand syndrome and Dr Strangelove syndrome (hence the Kubrick clip), this is a real medical condition caused by damage to the brain. Why it occurs is as yet not quite understood (although there are some interesting theories). But patients with alien hand syndrome raise difficult questions about what exactly consciousness is and why we need it at all in the first place. The function of legs, is far clearer.Go Top