People that are in a state of isolation start experiencing odd things. Whether this state of isolation is due to self-imposition or due to an outside factor like incarceration, it certainly does something to the mind. What exactly does it do, though?
Let’s talk about loneliness.
That is the easiest way to approach the mystery that is isolation. Loneliness is physically bad for humans. People who are lonely are more prone to having Alzheimer’s or dementia in old age, have higher blood pressure and are more likely to be susceptible to infection. It also affects a plethora of other things – lonely people have a harder time paying attention and performing complex tasks. Their sleep patterns are also affected. When someone is lonely, they start to get a bunch of hormones and their system kind of goes into hyperdrive.
Great for our Neanderthal ancestors, not so much for us.
As far as effects in the mind, there are many. Time begins to distort, and people in isolation begin to experience anxiety and anguish. They don’t perform well in tests, for instance. There is an extensive study about humans in isolation – though it was originally about what happens when they reduced the subject’s perceptual simulation, it shed some light on what happens when humans become isolated from their environment.
The subjects, whom were paid for their time, experienced hallucinations and even when they were reintroduced into a normal environment had a hard time shaking off what they had felt while isolated. They had to cut the experiment short because the subjects were so distressed.
Experiments like this have been performed since and they all seem to yield the same result.
Subjects become distressed, anguished, hallucinate, become paranoid and cannot perform tasks at the same level that they could before.
What’s happening in the brain during all this?
One theory is that, because the brain is used to dealing with so many things at the same time, it really struggles to deal with nothing. The brain tries to make whatever information it has into a pattern, because things don’t make sense to it if it’s not getting stimulated. That’s why hallucinations happen – the brain is just trying to do it’s job, it just has nothing to do it with and it doesn’t know how to deal with that.
There is also a social factor. We take so many of our cues socially, and when we are in isolation, there is no way to do that. We are not sure what is or isn’t appropriate – basically, there is no gauge.