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The human mind has many protection failsafes built in. For example, if a sound or scent is continuously present, the mind will "tune it out," so to speak. It will gradually become less and less noticable, until it is difficult or impossible to distinguish it from the rest of the environment even through concerted effort.

When reality becomes too much for the conscious mind to handle, it must shut down or change its perspective. Some people faint when confronted with an overload of the mental processes. Shock is an accepted medical condition, and affects those confronted by trauma, even when they have been physically unaffected. Adrenaline accounts for a good part of this, but the rest is the mind's reaction, attempting to fit whatever it just saw into its previous grasp of reality.

An excellent example of someone's mind twisting to fit his or her surroundings acceptably into his or her conscious state is Dorothy Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. Gilman writes of a woman in the late 19th century, the narrator of the first-person short story. The narrator, who is never explicitly named, has been diagnosed with "melancholia," the generic designation for all mental conditions of females (Her actual condition is likely post-partum depression, unknown at that time). The prescription given by her husband, a physician, is for a "rest cure," i.e., she must do absolutely nothing considered taxing. The narrator is a writer, and has now been forbidden to write or even do her wifely duties such as getting out of bed and entertaining. As her muscles atrophy and ennui sets in, she develops a fascination with the wallpaper in the room to which she is confined. She attributes maliciousness and other personifications to the patterns in the paper, burning off the steam, as it were, of a normal, active mind and imagination forced to do absolutely nothing.

She exhibits more and more irrational behaviors, as her subconscious frantically attempts to twist the situation into something it can handle. Not surprisingly, many of these strange and insane behaviors have to do with escape: she sees a woman inside the wallpaper, trying to get out, et cetera. The mind needs occupation and stimuli; experiments have been carried out with isolation and sensory deprivation chambers wherein the subjects have reported increasing irrationality. The mind will twist into a form of either supplying its own stimulation, or deteriorate so far that such is no longer required for normal function, as said function has ceased.

The narrator of the story develops a type of split personality at the end, which is again a protective mechanism, as is seen in many abuse cases. Some victims of abuse wall themselves off from their abusers and perform a complete split, in which case some comfort and protection can be derived from the thought, "That's not me. That's happening to this other person. No one can touch me." The victim disregards the strangeness that this other person should be in his or her body, much as the mind disregards a continuous tone or odor.

Not being an expert on the subject, but having read many books, this is the theory that insanity is just another coping mechanism. Perhaps a rather drastic one, but a last-ditch effort to preserve the function of the body and hopefully the mind.

It hath come to my attention that the title is a quotation from the book, VALIS (Thanks, dTaylorSingletary) I've never read it and had never heard of it before now. (Read: the reason I hadn't attributed the quote and had twisted the topic around to what made sense to me) Perhaps I shall go read... and update with the significance to the book.

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