The Strange Case of Seizures That Turned a Woman Into a Man

Researchers report an odd case in the latest issue of Epilepsy & Behavior. Whenever their patient had an epileptic seizure, she thought she'd become male - and that other women near her had turned into men too. What caused it?

Apparently when this woman had seizures, she felt that her voice had become deeper and her arms were hairy. Once, when a female friend of hers with her as a seizure came on, she thought her friend was turning into a man too. The woman had no history of mental illness, nor did she have symptoms of gender identity disorder.

After imaging her brain, the researchers discovered that she had some damage to her amygdala, and weird electrical activity in her right temporal lobe during seizures. Had they discovered some gender identity center of the brain, which when damaged results in the feeling of changing sex? Absolutely not. In fact, there is no such center in the brain.

Instead, the researchers believe that this unusual case is simply one flavor of a more general experience of self-alienation that comes during epileptic attacks.

Reports ScienceNow:

More likely, [New York University neurologist Orrin Devinsky] says, the amygdala is one node in a network of brain regions essential for self-identity. When neural activity in this network goes haywire, a range of bizarre experiences can result, Devinsky says. The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote of feeling the presence of God in the moments preceding a seizure. More common, Devinsky says, are feelings of déjà vu or its opposite, jamais vu, the sense that a familiar environment has become unfamiliar. "In epilepsy, you can experience these intense and extreme emotions and in some cases misidentification of yourself and where you are in relation in the world," he says.

via Science Now