Robb, to understand how the features of the network can possibly work you will need to look into the nuts and bolts I’m afraid. Step by step I think anyone who is willing can get to a level of being satisfied, but it’s not a simple or short process, so keep questioning!
Two of the key pieces to understand are how data is stored/distributed around the network, and self encryption. The MaidSafe video at maidsafe.net (assuming it is still there) is a good start, then get to grips with self encryption. Then look at how authentication is done, but note that nowhere do nodes “look up” anything about you, they just handle very simple operations, sending messages that ultimately move chunks of encrypted data from one node to another without knowing where the request came from, what the chunk is, or where it is going. Your credentials don’t even leave your machine - because you don’t log into a server, but your credentials act like a key that opens a map, which let’s you retrieve your data from the network (still encrypted), and which your password then allows you to decrypt (on your own machine). So no authority, no servers, no way to identify you with your data, no surveillance, no points of censorship.
It takes a bit to get your head around because we are all schooled in a different way of systems working/thinking, but it is well worth learning how this works. It is quite beautiful, like nature from which the fundamentals of the design are inspired. Not least, ants