Leaving the World Behind: How the Brain Protects Itself


The brain can develop disorders as coping mechanisms to trauma. (Brain Anatomy Human Pixabay, labeled for reuse).

Notice: This article contains subjects on mental illnesses that may make some readers uncomfortable. Discretion is advised.

As a species, humans thrive on communication. Love and compassion are not only desired, but also needed for a human to develop and grow with a healthy brain. This was proven in the 1940s when a scientist named Rene Spitz tested two groups of children: Those being raised in an isolated hospital, and those being raised in prison with their mothers.

The orphan children had better healthcare, medicine and environmental surroundings than those in the prison. Strangely, a year after the study started, the children in the hospital ended up with far inferior health compared to those in the prison. They were shown to be more likely to develop mental disorders, and 37 percent of them died. The reason was found to be a simple lack of human touch.

The children in the prison, although in a worse area, at least had their mothers to nurture them. The isolated hospital’s children had no one to care for them. This study showed that humans, quite literally, love in order to survive. We animalistically crave touch and affection from others.

When human beings don’t receive a necessary “dosage” of compassion and love, our brains will desperately search for something to help us cope with it. The same thing commonly happens to people who were neglected or abused in their childhood.

People use substances to mask negative feelings of abandonment or childhood trauma,” said Mike Hillstrom, a psychology teacher at AAHS. “They help people forget these… temporarily.”

Sometimes, however, the brain finds unique ways to cope with pain. Not with substances, but disorders. Granted, it is rare that this occurs in people’s minds, and childhood trauma is not responsible for disorders 100 percent of the time. However, research shows that negative instances in adolescent years do increase the risk of disorders occurring, such as Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly known as multiple personality disorder, creates multiple different “people” inside the person’s head. The different people may talk to one another, and commonly have names of their own. The personalities are also known to alternate externally. For example: Bill, a masculine, serious man will be the alter ego that controls the body. While on other days, it will be controlled by Jim, a laughable, laid-back jokester.

An article from the Cleveland Clinic states that “about 90 percent of the cases of DID involve some history of abuse.” Many people diagnosed with DID are reported to use it as a coping mechanism. It allows them to escape from reality and recede into their minds, letting some other person take over for a while.

“Children dissociate all the time,” said Hillstrom. “They create fantasy characters, so it’s very natural for a child to go somewhere else in their mind. So when trauma occurs they’re really going to do that.”

Another disorder that is sometimes used to deal with distress or trauma is schizophrenia. However, it is used as a coping mechanism much less frequently than DID. Though studies do find that symptoms are far more likely to emerge if unhealthy levels of stress are apparent.

Schizophrenia is a mysterious and confusing disorder in which the person with it may experience auditory hallucinations and/or visual hallucinations. People with schizophrenia tend to be very recessive towards social situations, and may have strange moods and behaviors such as paranoia.

Many people with visual and auditory hallucinations report having “imaginary friends.” These hallucinations are sometimes created to fill in voids. For instance, say a person with schizophrenia is lonely. Their brain may create a friend to give them company, though this type of response is very rare due to the various possible causes of schizophrenia, such as genetics.

Sadly, these “imaginary friends” can quickly become negative entities in the brain, as lots of schizophrenic people have reported the voices in their heads tempting them to harm themselves or others.

A different, “imaginative” disorder that helps people cope with childhood stress is known as Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder, a psychopathological disorder in which the person experiencing it is somewhat trapped in a daydream. This disorder is unique as it completely leaves the real world behind and immerses the person in an imaginary world of their own.

The worlds created aren’t simply an average daydream, they’re entire realms with fully fabricated languages, people, geography, and even history. They allow the person a complete, temporary escape from reality that can last from minutes to hours. While this may seem like fun, people with this disorder commonly neglect the real world, damaging relationships and leaving important tasks incomplete.

These disorders, while sometimes developed to help cope with horrible memories, are debilitating. They each take away experiences from reality and tend to worsen the mental health of the person they occur in. There are many other disorders not listed that have the same effect on the mind.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental problems here are some contacts that can offer assistance:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health 1-800-662-4357

National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264