Banissy and others have hypotheses about this disorder. This is not some miswired system. Instead, it is simply empathy on steroids; empathy brought into the conscious experience to a disruptive level. Humans are already so good at understanding each other through mirror systems that all it takes is a little nudge, and we begin to confuse the line between “self” and “other”. We use our own systems to represent others’ experiences, and in this case, it can be potentially dangerous.
Humans are great at understanding other people.
More research not only needs to help us understand the distinction between “self” and “other” in the brain, but it needs to do so from a developmental perspective. This is so that we know the exact moment where we begin crowding ourselves with the presence of others, we can start to parse apart where things go wrong, and hopefully we can help alleviate people suffering from disorders such as mirror-touch synesthesia.
The link between how we develop and where things go wrong is clear. We use mirror systems so effectively to understand each other, but we constantly run the risk of overstepping our bounds, letting others' emotions take over. It is up to scientists to help understand the link between "self" and "other" within ourselves. When do things spiral out of control? Where in the brain do these phenomena occur?
In fact, research is already on the way which may illuminate the connection between mirror-touch synesthesia and childhood development. Researchers have identified the temporoparietal junction, shown above, which has strong links to the delineation between "self" and "other" in the brain (Saxe & Wexler, 2005).
This does not change the fact that work still needs to be done. Researchers need to take what they have learned from Theory of Mind and apply it to situations where it goes out of control. Not only could future discoveries help understand more about the brain and healthy individuals, but it even help the woman struggling through her perceived pain to save the boy who hit his head on the grocery store floor.