Treating the Brain Damage Caused by Severe Childhood Trauma
Posted On March 10, 2018
I am neither a mental health professional, nor do I hold at present a college degree higher than an associate. All the information I am going to share comes from things I have learned in classes in college and by conducting online research. I will share the links where I have found pertinent information later in this piece.
It has long been thought that brain damage caused by excessive exposure to stress hormones released in the blood streams of young children during abuse episodes. Now it appears that many of these disorders such as Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Dissociative Identity Disorder may have an even larger common link, damage done to the corpus callosum.
Brain Anatomy in Brief
A brief description of brain anatomy is in order.
The brain is split into two hemispheres, the right and the left. Under normal circumstances, these two parts of the brain mirror one another and things that happen on one side of the body is processed in the opposite hemisphere.
For these two parts of your brain to communicate, there is a complex region called the corpus callosum. This area can be described as a collection of organic wiring which is covered by a fatty layer which acts as insulation like an electric wire. Like an electric wire, the wiring functions well only with this protective coating of insulation and without it or without enough of it, a short can occur which keeps the signals from either passing through well or at all.
There has been ample research to see what can occur if this wiring is missing using by studying people who have had to have their corpus callosum cut to stop seizures in severe epilepsy.
What They Found Is Amazing
The left hemisphere, it has been found, acts like an interpreter of what is going on in our world, where the right hemisphere is the mute partner that comprehends our environment.
In other words, the right hemisphere understands what is going on but cannot elaborate other than to act, and the left interprets why that action occurred.
For example, a person with a split brain sits in a chair with headphones on. They are told in their right ear (right hemisphere) to stand up, walk across a room, and pick up a pencil. Immediately they will rise and do the task they were asked to do. When the person is then asked why they did the action, their left hemisphere makes up a story because it has no clue. It may state, “I wanted to.” Or “I needed a pencil.” The person who is being tested will not know they have lied, in fact to them what they said is exactly what happened.
Everyone is familiar with the idea that if an electric wire loses its insulation, it will short out and not carry a current. The same can be said of the corpus callosum.
So, when my neuroscience class in college covered a chapter on the corpus callosum and its importance to helping the brain hemispheres “speak” to one another, with emphasis on the importance of myelin (the fatty tissue) that acts as insulation on the “wiring,” I began to suspect there may be a correlation between a commonly reported symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder, mythomania (clinical term pseudologia fantastica).
Mythomania is a very difficult and frustrating symptom that is very hard to treat. The person who exhibits this symptom tells lies and believes them to be true. No amount of persuasion can dissuade them from their beliefs and they often feel persecuted and ill-used when confronted with their fabrications.
I asked myself the question, have there been studies done on changes to the corpus callosum in people living with borderline personality disorder? I began to search and I found tons of research.
Normal Formation of the Corpus Callosum
Under usual circumstances, the human brain of a child experiences amazing grow between the ages of birth to seventeen years of age. White matter (the corpus callosum included) increases rapidly as the gray matter (the other structures) decrease. However, the size of the brain does not change.
With positive and stimulating input from experiences in their environment, children’s “wiring” between the two hemispheres develops healthy myelination (coating by fatty insulation) and the child can regulate well their emotions and integrate their experiences normally.
The Effects of Childhood Trauma
However, if there is intense stress in the child’s life, such that the stress hormones involved in activating the fight, flight or flee response continually blood the child’s brain, the myelin coating (insulation) on the corpus callosum does form correctly.
What I am saying is that a child’s brain can be severely damaged by overwhelming stressful situations such as abuse and neglect. In these situations, children aren’t allowed to go back to baseline after being afraid, and the hormones that their bodies have released are toxic to normal brain development. They experience brain damage.
What is My Point?
I have considered my experiences with folks who have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and how they would hear or see something experienced by someone else and within a few days hours believe they are also experiencing the same thing.
What I am saying is that they use mythomania to describe their experiences when interacting with their environment.
For example, a person living with borderline personality disorder hears on television there is a nasty flu bug going around complete with the symptoms being suffered by those unfortunate enough to contract it.
Within hours or days of hearing this news, they too believe they are ill even though do not actually have the flu.
This is only one mild example of the kind of effects of mythomania. The idea that they have the flu isn’t something they are lying about, they sincerely believe they are afflicted with the disorder and will act on those beliefs.
This behavior sounds a lot to me like the right hemisphere hearing something, and the left hemisphere misinterpreting what was said and making up a story to explain the behavior.
What the Research Shows
I found research done using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) done on people with Borderline Personality Disorder. There in black and white before my eyes was proof that yes, the myelin insulation had been found to be damaged. This means that signals from one hemisphere of the brain is not efficiently transduced (electrically connected) to the other.
These findings aren’t just for borderline personality disorder, but for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and many other mentally challenging disorders.
My Theory About What is Happening
The extreme stress experienced by children in childhood trauma floods their young developing brains with hormones that cause them not to be able to properly form myelin sheaths around the neurons that make up the corpus callosum.
The result is that the left hemisphere and right hemisphere lose the ability to communicate efficiently. Thus mythomania (pseudologia fantastica), visual and audio hallucinations, and a host of other mental health problems form and inhibit people from having ordinary lives.
My Plea and My Hope
My sincere hope is that someone with a PhD who is involved in research may consider this post and begin a new program.
What if I am right? What is the damage done to the corpus callosum during childhood is the basis for many of the major mental illnesses that have been recognized including Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Alzheimer’s Disease and Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Shouldn’t the mental health field be coupling with the folks who are at the forefront of research being done to treat and possibly cure Multiple Sclerosis, a disorder known to involve the myelination of the brain?
There is a Cure on the Horizon!
There are great advances being done right now in laboratories around the world in genetics and its uses to replace damaged parts of the body. Can the corpus callosum be one of these damaged organs that is replaced in the future?
That would mean cures for many if not of the major mental disabilities known today.
Think about it.
“The power of one, if fearless and focused, is formidable, but the power of many working together is better.” Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
Below are only a few of the papers I have found about research being done on the corpus callosum and mental health.
Dodja, A., Sesar, K., & Simiae, N., (2018). The Neurobiological Aspects of Exposure to
Childhood Maltreatment. In Costa, A., & Villaba, E. (Ed.), Horizons in Neuroscience
Research (Volume 35, Ch. 3). Zadar, Croatia: Nova Biomedical
A Panzer – African journal of psychiatry, 2008 – journals.co.za
… to glucose depletion in the hippocampal cells, making them sensitive to damage by excess
glutamate.7 … 3 Oligodendrocytes make the myelinsheaths of neurons, ie white matter.16 High
levels of … superior temporal gyrus3, or it may be the basis of the increased social intelligence …
V Haroutunian, KL Davis – … of Neuropsychopharmacology, 2007 – academic.oup.com
… International Journal of Neuro– psychopharmacology. Publishedonline: 12February2007 …
Futher evidence for altered myelin biosynthesis and glutamatergic dysfunction in
schizophrenia. International Journal of Neuropsychopharmacology …
A Panzer – African journal of psychiatry, 2008 – journals.co.za
Severe stress during the sensitive periods of neurodevelopment,(which include the prenatal period, infancy, childhood and adolescence), has a long-lasting organizing effect on the brain and stress axes. Child abuse and neglect thus exert a cumulative harmful effect on neuroendocrinological development, which persists into adulthood. It is not merely the memory of the trauma which leaves a mark, but rather the effect on neurodevelopment which negatively influences the ability of adult survivors of childhood maltreatment to cope with
M Toritsuka, M Makinodan, T Kishimoto – Neural plasticity, 2015 – hindawi.com
Myelination is one of the strategies to promote the conduction velocity of axons in order to adjust to evolving environment in vertebrates. It has been shown that myelin formation depends on genetic programing and experience, including multiple factors, intracellular and extracellular molecules, and neuronal activities. Recently, accumulating studies have shown that myelination in the central nervous system changes more dynamically in response to neuronal activities and experience than expected. Among experiences, social experience-