Imagine cruising down the highway, wind in your hair, sunshine on your face. You have the radio on, your favorite songs are playing, and your hands seem fine. That is, until they start taking over the steering wheel and trying to crash you.
Or you are sitting in your chair and your hand is repeatedly slapping you.
This is what is can be like to have alien hand syndrome.
And yes, this is the disorder Dr. Strangelove in Stanley Kubrick’s movie had. In fact, alien hand syndrome is sometimes called the Dr. Strangelove syndrome.
One sufferer, 55-year-old Karen Byrne, developed alien hand syndrome after having her corpus callosum severed in an effort to control her epilepsy. The corpus callosum is the bundle of nerve fibers running down the center of the brain, connecting the two hemispheres so that they can communicate. Severing the corpus callosum is a last-effort in treating epilepsy. However, doing so can create split-brain patients (the topic of the next disorder).
Getting back to Karen. It is her left hand, and sometime even her left leg, that are not always under her control. For example, after her corpus callosotomy, Karen was with her doctor. She was talking to him until he asked her what she was doing. Turns out, her left hand was undressing her, unbuttoning her shirt. Karen had no idea until the doctor had pointed out to her what her left hand was doing. Karen started rebuttoning her shirt, this time with her right hand. Her left hand soon undid what her right hand had done.
This wasn’t the worst of it. Karen would light a cigarette and place it on her ashtray. Her left hand would reach out and snub the cigarette out. Her left hand would take things out of her purse, and Karen would walk away, not realizing her things had been taken out of her bag.
Sometimes, an alien hand can strangle its owner. But it is not only the patient that can be attacked by their own hand. Sometimes, the offending hand can even attack other people. One lady, known as HM, went to Dr. Kurt Goldstein, the first to document alien hand syndrome. HM declared that her hand had “a will of its own.” HM thought her hand was being possessed. At one point, sitting in the doctor’s office, HM’s offending alien hand attacked poor Dr. Goldstein. The woman couldn’t control her hand.
Alien hand syndrome is not the same as say, BIID, because the sufferer is aware and understand that the offending limb is still a part of their body. They do not believe that the limb belongs to someone else, though they do report that it feels like the limb is being controlled by an external agent. They even talk about the offending limb in the third person.