There exists a small and secretive population of people who voluntarily amputate limbs - either through a doctor or on their own. These individuals suffer from a disorder known as xenomelia, a condition not fully understood by doctors or scientists.
Alternatively known as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), xenomelia creates a deep need to remove one's limb to feel like a complete person. Though studied since 1977, more sufferers anonymously share their experiences these days, bringing increased awareness to the condition as a result.
Patients Don't See The Limb As Part Of Their Body
In 2000, Dr. Gregg Furth detailed his obsession with removing his right leg above the knee to Salon. The psychologist told writer Randy Dotinga the desire to amputate his leg dates back to around age 5. Furth says the leg is not part of him and it keeps him from being a whole person.
Other BIID victims report similar feelings that their limb is not an actual part of their being. Many even blame the offending limb for their depression or inability to create lasting relationships.
It Shares Characteristics With A Disorder Found In Some Stroke Victims
Researchers believe that somatoparaphrenia can occur after a stroke, affecting the right parietal lobe of the brain. The disorder manifests as a feeling of disconnection with limbs - frequently a left arm - which is very similar to BIID. Administering cold water into the patient's ear canal temporarily alleviates the symptoms.
Some studies suggest the same treatment may help those suffering from xenomelia, since the disorder might relate to the same part of the brain.
- Photo: Sundance TV
Only Amputation Can Cure The Patient Of Their Obsession
A 2005 group study discovered for "those who had psychotherapy or medication there was no change in the intensity of the desire for amputation." By contrast, six people in the 52-person study group proceeded with their amputations and claimed it stopped the obsessive behavior. No other appendage took the place of the removed limb, effectively "curing" the condition.
Of 21 BIID patients who removed their alien limb, all said that their lives improved without it. Most of those questioned remained content with the rest of their body parts, leading researchers to conclude amputation might be a viable treatment for the disorder.
- Photo: Sundance TV
Childhood Events May Play A Part In The Disorder
Many BIID subjects reported seeing a person with a disability during their early childhood. Most recalled feeling a sense of jealousy or veneration toward them because they functioned under adverse circumstances.
Interviewed patients - including Dr. Furth - claimed the feeling of an alien body part began at a relatively young. The 2005 group study revealed that 51 of the 52 participants first felt the need to remove a body part before puberty.