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6/21/11

Cotard's Syndrome: The Walking Dead


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So I am dead, see. Don't ask me how I can be writing this. You just have to understand that I am dead. The doctor says I suffer from Cotard's Delusion, but I know better. He's wrong. I'm dead. It is so clear to me, if not to him. This is real. He is deluded.


Such might be the response of a patient with Cotard's Syndrome, or Cotard's Delusion.
It can be described as a very rare neuro- psychiatric disorder in which a person believes he or she is dead, does not exist. Jules Cotard (1840–1889), a French neurologist, first described the condition, which he called le délire de négation ("negation delirium") in an 1880 lecture in Paris. He spoke of a Mademoiselle X, who denied the existence of several parts of her body, her need for food, the existence of God and the Devil. Add to this her self-contradictory belief that she was eternally damned and unable to die a natural death.

More recently, Young and Leafhead reported a patient in a motorcycle accident. Suffering brain injury, the man felt that things were not real and that he was dead. Taken from Edinburgh to South Africa, the heat made him feel he was in Hell.

The syndrome is probably related to Capgras's Syndrome, as both seem to result from a disconnect between brain areas that recognize faces and areas associating emotions with that recognition. V.S. Ramachandran has described a brain-injured man with Capgras who thought his mother was an impostor when he saw her but believed she was his mother when he spoke to her on the telephone. Vision activates one kind of emotion-cognition linkage, while audition involves another.

The video below involves a role-playing interview with a Cotard's patient.

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