Loss of Self-Identity Following Traumatic Brain Injury
A front page story in Sunday's New York Times, entitled, After Injury, Fighting to Regain a Sense of Self, recounts the struggles of a 19 year old who sustained severe brain damage following a motorcycle accident. The 19 year old was thrown from his motorcycle after a car traveling in front of him began to act erratically causing him to lose control of his motorcycle. Although he was wearing a helmet, he none the less sustained severe brain damage.
The article explains that the brain damage sustained has resulted in injury to the medial temporal lobes of the brain resulting in a condition known as "delusions of identity"
A small group of brain scientists is now investigating misidentification syndromes, as the delusions are called, for clues to one of the most confounding problems in brain science: identity. How and where does the brain maintain the “self”?
What researchers are finding is that there is no single “identity spot” in the brain. Instead, the brain uses several different neural regions, working closely together, to sustain and update the identities of self and others. Learning what makes identity, researchers say, will help doctors understand how some people preserve their identities in the face of creeping dementia, and how others, battling injuries like the one described in the article, are sometimes able to reconstitute one.
For all that scientists have studied it, the brain remains the most complex and mysterious human organ - and, now, the focus of billions of dollars' worth of research to penetrate its secrets. The Brain Power series looks in depth at some of the insights these projects are producing. Read about the other articles in the Times Brain Power series.