Our brain is the most complex organ we have and is more mysterious to scientists and scholars the world over than the deepest reaches of the ocean. The cup of coffee you just picked up, your finger scrolling down this page, the voice you hear in your head as you’re reading these words (in your unique accent and tone) – you better believe it, this is all done in the brain.
Considering that our brains are pretty much responsible for producing our every thought, feeling and action throughout our lives, it’s all too easy to take our minds for granted – to assume that we’re all gifted a well-functioning brain at birth and that things will run smoothly from here on out. The fact is, the brain is just another organ in our body and is capable of deteriorating or working improperly at any time, much like any other body part. And since it runs the show, it’s unsurprising that the slightest change or damage to our brain is going to produce some pretty odd results.
We’re all familiar with common conditions that can affect how the brain works such as Alzheimer’s disease or the aftermath of a head injury, but some disorders can get a little more complicated. Symptoms like memory loss and a change in personality are commonly associated with brain trauma and genetic disorders – but what about believing you’re dead or feeling the urge to remove your own body parts? We’ve listed these bizarre neurological conditions and more below. Here’s our rundown of 15 incredibly odd brain disorders.
15. Flipped Reality (Visual Reorientation Illusion)
If you’ve ever watched the movie Inception, this is pretty close to what life is like for sufferers of visual reorientation illusion. In the same way that our brains can be temporarily tricked by a clever optical illusion, patients with VRI experience this but on a much bigger scale – their entire world as they know it can flip by 90 or 180 degrees.
This essentially means that they will have hallucinations that their environment has completely rotated, so that north and south becomes east and west. Little is known about the direct cause of visual reorientation or “tilt allusions” in the brain, but studies have shown that they are more common in older patients, since their decreased stability means they rely heavily on visual clues that their surface is level. So, walking on a slanted pathway with unlevelled fencing on either side could make patients experience the path folding over by 90 degrees. Freaky stuff.
14. Insane Jealousy (Othello Syndrome)
This bizarre condition is named after the Shakespearean character who killed his wife over suspicions that she was cheating. As you might have guessed, patients with OS can suffer the same jealous delusions about their own partner, which can often lead to patients suffering hallucinations of their partner’s supposed infidelity and even show violence towards their spouse.
Othello syndrome is said to originate in the right frontal lobe of the brain and has been linked to Lewy body dementia which includes Parkinson’s disease. Symptoms like paranoia and overly-sensitive behaviour can be common in some forms of dementia which may explain why Othello syndrome can occur. In some cases, OS has actually been brought on by the dopamine therapy used to treat patients with Parkinson’s.
13. Believing You’re Dead (Cotard’s Syndrome)
This hella disturbing disorder was named after the French neurologist Jules Cotard and is sometimes referred to as “walking corpse syndrome.” People with Cotard’s syndrome are under the delusion that they are dead or do not exist. Others believe that they are rotting or that their internal organs are missing. Nasty.
To this day, neurologists are puzzled as to the actual cause of this brain dysfunction, but believe it to be closely linked to a branch of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The first patient Cotard discovered with the condition in the late 19th century denied the existence of some of her body parts and was convinced that she no longer needed to eat. In the end, starvation was the cause of her “second” death.
12. Snapshot Vision (Akinetopsia)
You know how strobe lighting makes you feel as if you are watching a series of images rather than fluid movement? Well, people with Aniketopsia can view things in much the same way, which can make daily life a tad disconcerting to say the least. To watch one person walking across the street, for example, can create a trail of blurry images that only catch up to the original when the person stands still.
This rare and intriguing disorder has been found in patients who have suffered strokes, those with brain injuries and Alzheimer patients. In a 2013 case report into epilepsy, it was also found that one patient experienced Akinetopsia through epileptic seizures. Several times during the day, the patient would view people in a series of freeze frames whilst his surrounding field of vision would appear to shake. Thankfully, a prescription drug sorted out his symptoms, but in some cases of Akinetopsia, brain surgery may be needed.
11. Wanting To Have Your Limbs Removed (Body Identity Integrity Disorder)
If Cotard’s syndrome has people denying their own body parts, then body identity integrity disorder wants to take things a few steps further by urging you to forcibly removing them. Sufferers of BIID have a disturbing urge to have their otherwise healthy and fully-functioning limbs removed.
Patients have described feeling that their arms, legs or feet were “not a part of who they are” and that certain body parts just didn’t belong. Controversially in 2000, a British surgeon performed leg amputations on two patients at their own request. The condition is now better understood as an extreme form of body image disorder and is thought to be caused by a cognitive dissonance in the brain – in other words, the physical body doesn’t match up to the mental picture a BIID patient has of their self. Sure puts having a bad hair day into perspective.
10. Powerful Afterimages (Palinopsia)
We wouldn’t recommend that those with palinopsia binge-watch scary films or look at creepy internet memes, as there’s a strong chance that certain images will – quite literally – stay with them after a while. Patients with palinopsia effectively cannot “unsee” things. Think about the last time you stared at the sun for a little too long and bright spots appeared in your vision after a few blinks. Now imagine you start to see the same sun spots everywhere you look for days after the event.
For one 73-year-old woman with the condition, attending a Christmas party after suffering a severe headache caused her to project the image of Santa Claus’s beard in the face of every guest at the party. Days afterwards, she still saw this image on the faces of people walking down the street! Patients with palinopsia have often suffered with tumours and lesions on the brain that disrupt their visual pathway and cause after images to remain with them long after the original stimuli has left. Let’s hope patients with this disorder only come across nice images, eh?
9. Inability To Read Hand Gestures (Dysmimia)
Good luck trying to insult people with Dysmimia by flipping the bird (or praising them with a thumbs up). Patients with this strange brain dysfunction have trouble recognising hand gestures and they are also unable to express themselves through hand signals.
While the direct cause for dysmimia is currently unknown, it has been likened to the “face blindness” condition (Prosopagnosia) in which patients struggle to comprehend facial expressions or recognize faces that were previously familiar to them. Brain conditions involving memory loss such as these tend have their roots in brain trauma or in the after effects of suffering a stroke.
8. Ecstatic Epileptic Seizures
Epilepsy is a relatively frightening and unpleasant condition, so the word “ecstatic” isn’t something we’d immediately associate with it. As it turns out, an ecstatic epileptic seizure, or “ecstatic aura” is very real indeed and is experienced by just 1-2 percent of temporal lobe epilepsy patients.
The experience of an ecstatic epileptic seizure was once described by iconic novelist Dostoevsky, who remarked that he felt “complete harmony” in himself and the whole world. Another patient likened her seizure to a religious experience and claimed to “no longer fear death” as a result. Because many patients report an overwhelming sense of wellbeing and self-awareness in the event, some scientists believe that ecstatic seizures may finally explain what occurs in the brain during a near-death experience.
7. Unable To Speak (Broca’s Aphasia)
Frustratingly for patients with Broca’s Aphasia, they can do everything except speak. This disorder is the result of an injury to the Broca’s area of our brain, in the frontal lobe of the left hemisphere. In other words, the place responsible for helping us form language.
People with Broca’s aphasia live relatively normal lives, as they are able to write, read, listen and understand others. Patients could be considered mute if it weren’t for the fact that some sufferers have managed to say a very limited amount of words, but these may not always be comprehensible. A famous case of Broca’s aphasia involved a male patient whose only response to any interaction was the word “tono.”
Some have affectionately referred to this as Hodor’s condition after the Game of Thrones character who only communicates using his own name. (Could this mean all Pokémon species have Broca’s aphasia too?).
6. Inability To Copy Text (Dysantigraphia)
Any student wishing to copy their classmate’s paper at school might struggle to do so with Dysantigraphia (or if the teacher catches them). People suffering with this cannot reproduce any written or printed material that is not their own. Words or letters they recognize themselves may appear foreign in another’s handwriting (no matter how clear). This odd neurological disorder often occurs after a stroke and in some cases, can be the result of a tumour or injury to the brain.
The strange nature of Dysantigraphia has prompted neurologists to rethink how reading and writing is processed in each individual’s brain. Do we associate sounds with each letter or word we write, or is it the physical symbols we recognise when we copy down text? Cases of dysantigraphia have proven that both can be true. It’s cool to know that none of us are really copycats when it comes to being a copycat!
5. Failing To Find Pleasure In Anything (Anhedonia)
Anhedonia is a key symptom of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and is usually the result of a stroke affecting the globus pallidus area of the brain. The globus pallidus is where “pleasure chemicals” are released in response to a small high such as receiving a gift or accomplishing a hard task. Anhedonia occurs when this area is damaged and our pleasure centre shuts down.
Interestingly, some cases of anhedonia have resulted in very specific forms of displeasure – affecting a patient’s enjoyment of certain hobbies or activities. Anhedonia patients can, for instance, suddenly feel unmoved by their favourite music, feel no connection to a beloved sports team or no longer experience sexual desire or joy.
4. Inability To Recognize A Tune (Amelodia)
If, like me, you’re not a big fan of modern music, you could be under the assumption that you have this condition. Having Amelodia basically means you have trouble naming certain tunes or finding melody in music (I’m looking at you, Nicki Minaj).
One particular case study into the effects of Amelodia involved a highly accomplished musician. The retired 91-year-old man showed no signs of dementia or aphasia, which could be thought to contribute to amelodia. What’s more, he had no problem playing tunes from memory and could still discern high and low-pitched notes. But when any tune was played for him, he couldn’t recognize a single one. This very isolated from of brain disorder is exceptionally rare and can often accompany difficulty reading or walking.
3. Inability To Communicate In Logical Words (Jargon Aphasia)
The modern world is packed with jargon. Whether you’re attempting to assemble flat pack furniture or have a phone conversation with your insurance company, jargon is something that’s hard to avoid. Unfortunately for some – through no fault of their own – jargon is all they are able to communicate.
The speech of someone with jargon aphasia will appear logical to them, but to others listening, normal words can be replaced with nonsensical words or sounds that appear to remotely resemble the intended word. Fortunately, speech and language therapy can help patients “fill in the gaps” of their speech to help them communicate more effectively. Patients shouldn’t feel too bad about their condition – as far as we can see, half the corporate world seems to suffer with deliberate jargon aphasia.
2. Hearing Voices Before Someone Speaks (Sensory Desynchronization)
It almost sounds like a superpower, but this is a genuine neurological condition affecting the mid brain and brain stem – the parts of our brains that are responsible for our hearing, our sense of timing and how we perceive movement. For patients with sensory desynchronization, life can play out a little like watching a movie with a poor sound and picture sync.
Scientists have put this fascinating brain dysfunction down to the fact that all brains need to process sight and sound at different rates in order to compensate for the various speeds that light and sound travel. In the first confirmed case of SD, it was discovered that the patient also experienced a delay between his own voice and his mouth moving – this must’ve made any social interaction interesting to say the least!
1. Alien Hand Syndrome
Ever sat on your hand for so long that it becomes numb and – for a matter of seconds – doesn’t feel like your own hand? Okay, now imagine you can no longer control that hand and feel as if you’re constantly at war with it – this is the disturbing reality for sufferers of Alien hand syndrome.
For epilepsy patients with severe seizures, cutting the corpus callosum (the nerve fibers in the brain that help control the left and right side of you) is a last resort to help the seizures stop. Whilst many patients recover well from this surgery, some can be left with the two halves of their brain acting independently from each other. This has led some patients to experience walking around in circles and buttoning a shirt with one hand while the other tries to undress them!
Thankfully, symptoms of AHS can be controlled with the right medication. If only this had been available to Dr. Strangelove when he tried (and failed) to conceal his Nazi salute.