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Blind Woman With Dissociative Identity Disorder Started To See When One Of Her Personalities Changed

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A woman in Germany who became blind after a tragic accident that occurred more than a decade ago suddenly started to see-only, her eyesight returned whenever one of her personalities manifested.

Doctors originally diagnosed the German woman, who is referred to as B.T., with cortical blindness. Her brain and skull suffered trauma, and her visual processing centers were damaged, her doctors said.

B.T. had since then lived with an eye dog to escort her, but aside from her visual impairment, she also had 10 different personalities which competed for control over her mind and body. The German woman manifested 10 personalities that differed in voice, reported age, name, gesture, gender, personal inclinations, facial expressions, temperament, aptitude and other traits. Her condition was known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

B.T. decided to seek out treatment for her condition and visited Dr. Bruno Waldvogel. Over the course of months, B.T. underwent therapy. Some of the woman's identity states were able to speak only German, some spoke only English and some spoke both.

During her treatment, B.T. began to visually recognize some parts of her external environment again.

"The regaining of vision happened immediately after a therapy session in which a major traumatic event had been worked on. That was many years after the blindness first began," explained Dr. Hans Strasburger who worked on B.T.'s case.

At B.T.'s fourth year of therapy, doctors said she suddenly recognized words on a magazine's title page. At that time, B.T. was in her teenage boy identity state.

Her therapy continued, and B.T. gradually regained sight for all of her personalities, except two. As she switched from one personality to the other, B.T.'s eyesight also flicked on and off, doctors said.

B.T.'s doctors explained that her blindness was not caused by the damage in her brain. In a report featured in the PsyCh Journal, they said that her condition was something more close to a brain directive and that it was more psychological or psychogenic than physical.

Strasburger and Waldvogel traced back B.T.'s original diagnosis. They found that the woman was subjected to vision tests that involved lasers, lights shined across the room, and special glasses.

One possible explanation was that B.T. had been malingering or lying about her disability, but an EEG test disproved this theory. When B.T. was in her two blind states, doctors saw thru the EEG test that her brain showed no electrical responses to visual stimuli which people with sight would display.

The two doctors said that something must have happened during the accident which caused B.T.'s body to react by cutting out her ability to see. Two of B.T.'s identities still retain this coping mechanism.

"In situations that are particularly emotionally intense, the patient occasionally feels the wish to become blind, and thus not 'need to see'," said Strasburger.

What kept B.T. from seeing may lie with the lateral geniculate nucleus, her doctors said. This was some sort of neural relay center that sent visual information into the brain's processors.

Doctors believe that the root cause of B.T.'s blindness was her DID. However, some experts and patients are still skeptical about the disorder. Before it was referred to as DID, it was known as Multiple Personality Disorder. Critics of the diagnosis say that DID was not treated by psychiatrists but were induced through suggestion.

Still, Strasburger and Waldovel said their findings were evidence that DID could also manifest at a biological level. The condition did not only affect B.T.'s cognitive functions, but her depth perception was affected as well. The EEG further supported their findings, they said.

Meanwhile, Professor Dr. Richard P. Kluft of Temple University School of Medicine, who was not associated with the study, commented that B.T.'s case may represent "the mind's attempt to compartmentalize its pain."

Photo : Helga Birna Jónasdóttir | Flickr

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