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Cutting or burning one's self can, apparently, serve such a tension-reducing function. I read an account of a young woman who was consumed with suicidal thoughts which pushed her towards a compulsive feeling that she should end her life.
So, a person who dissociates may not remember something that happened to them that was very painful because through the process of dissociation they were able to store that painful memory in a section of their mind that the rest of themselves doesn't know how to find.
Feelings can also be dissociated or detached from the events that provoked them such as occurs in Depersonalization Disorder.
Some of them will self-injure so as to generate a strong sensation that is capable of bringing them back to feeling something again. Not all numb dissociated people will use physical pain to "return"; some will use other strong sensations such as are afforded by drugs or sex, etc. Sometimes, people who self-harm are not skilled at using language to describe their inner experiences.
This can be because they are not particularly good with words.
This basic understanding is not often there when people are confronted with someone who is cutting or burning or otherwise traumatizing themselves.
This process of physical expression of inner experience is sometimes called "acting out." One rather impulsive and aggressive form of acting out involves inflicting wounds on one's self with the intention of using these physical wounds as a communications device.
People sometimes harm themselves because by doing so, they are able to gain a subjective sense of control over chaotic internal emotions and thoughts.Seizing this control involves shifting the focus of their attention away from something more troubling towards something less troubling.Cutting or burning one's self causes physical pain which is a very compelling and strong sensation.Self-Injury (which occurs when someone cuts or burns or otherwise harms themselves) is one of the harder behaviors associated with mental illness for people to fathom.People mostly understand (I think) when someone becomes psychotic, gets stuck in a deep depression or has mood swings.Sometimes an aspect of a person's chaotic internal experience is that feelings and thoughts build up a subjective state of tension or arousal that motivates people to do something to take action to reduce that tension or arousal.