Measured Against Reality

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Cotard's Delusion

Yesterday I wrote about Capgras Syndrome, and today I want to talk about another very interesting and similar mental disorder, called the Cotard delusion.

In this disorder, nothing at all arouses any kind of emotional response. Sights, smells, sounds, touches, and tastes have no impact. As with Capgras, the brain has to make sense of this bewildering lack of emotion, and it does in it a very strange way: the patient believes that they are, in fact, dead. Being dead is the only way to feel nothing, so given complete apathy to everything, the brain concludes that it must be dead.

Once convinced of being dead, it is nearly totally impossible to use logic to convince the person that they’re alive. For example, they’ll admit that dead people don’t bleed, but if you prick them with a needle, they’ll say that dead people must bleed. No evidence, no matter how damning to their belief, will make them see the truth.

This boggles my mind. Imagine a life without any emotional response to anything. Even if you knew that you were alive, it certainly must feel like death. I’m curious about how many sufferers end up killing themselves (although if they already think they’re dead, perhaps they feel no need). What an unfortunate condition.

Besides being quite bizarre, this also teaches something about how the brain works. Once it has become convinced of a version of reality, it is nearly impossible to convince it otherwise. Although I doubt that anyone needed convincing of that little fact; we all have personal experience with it. Interesting, nonetheless.

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  • A variant of this "delusion" saved my life, so I don't knock it. I was trapped in a very abusive relationship with nowhere to go and was ready to kill myself when it hit. I decided that this could not reasonably be happening that every step I took to escape was blocked, including by my family. It only made sense if I were in Hell, and therefore being deliberately and systemically tormented. If I were already dead, then suicide would be no use...I would simply wake up in a worse Hell.

    There wouldn't have been any way to "prove" that I wasn't dead. Of course I would bleed, and feel pain if you pricked me....this was Hell, it's all about pain. Anyway, I never told anyone for years. Unlike these people I didn't believe I was dead and walking around among the living, I thought I was in an illusion created just for my torment. Letting on that I knew would just have created a new worse illusion to exist in as surely as trying to kill myself would.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:25 PM, July 30, 2009  

  • I honestly doubt that you'll find this, but would you mind talking with me about your experience with the syndrome?

    Perhaps you didn't have the same syndrome described in the article, but you said it was similar. I'm writing a paper on the subject of Cotard's Syndrome and it would be an honour to speak with you about it.

    If you wish, you can reach me at

    By Anonymous Chris Pritchett, at 8:38 AM, March 11, 2010  

  • I have a similar problem, except I am figuratively dead. I am not living. I've made everything up. The world as I know it will die along with me, if I ever take my life.

    I have a hard time functioning in daily life, so I fake my way through it just to blend in.

    Even this article, was made up in my mind. At least that's how it feels.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:37 PM, July 20, 2010  

  • As you said, it has to be like being dead alive... I cant imagine what it has to be like not responding to any stimulation from the outside... horrible thing to suffer.,

    By Anonymous Discount Viagra, at 11:07 AM, May 25, 2011  

  • The delusional aspect of Cotard's offers can be an odd comfort to the sufferer.

    I identify with Anonymous in that I can only arrive at my current existence as a version of Hell or the afterlife since I have no control over my fate or actions. I feel like I am living in an illusion created just for my torment and entertainment for those around me. I must have died as some point in time and not have been aware of it. Leading to the question: If I died how would I really "know?"


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:01 PM, September 15, 2011  

  • This will not actually have success, I consider this way.

    By Anonymous, at 1:56 PM, October 08, 2011  

  • I have heard of Capgras Syndrome, but I have not heard or had an idea about the Cotard delusion and it is very interested to me since I would like to study Psychology or mental health in college, so thanks!

    By Anonymous online pharmacy, at 12:28 PM, January 05, 2012  

  • I had age 21. It was horrible. But I didn't know it was horrible at the time. It was part of a depressive breakdown. Whoa. I felt weightless, empty inside, hollow, like I was a mannequin. I had never been daring; but I regularly managed to sneak out of the facility I was put in, late at night, to walk 8 or so blocks and see a male friend of mine who lived in the area (uptown NYC). Then I'd calmly walk back and walk in to the facility (security was much weaker back then!). My parents (who were also nearby, luckily) were very worried, but couldn't cure my ills from their end, of course. I went thru' a lengthy manic depressive psychotic episode from Fall 1976 to mid-Spring 1977 that had me in a psych. hospital first for 3 weeks, then 4 months (relapse only worse) of that time period, on various medications - and this condition was a part of that. At that time, no one mentioned this term to describe it. I felt as if in a dungeon - "down underground" - and at the time, Hotel California was a hit song, and I felt as if the hotel was real. I likened it to a place that was near I was - a very deep, dark place. Also, Kenny Nolan's "I Like Dreamin'" hit song got re-interpreted by me to fit my condition - I connected it with life being just one continuous big dark dream. A symptom of the condition is that everything gets re-interpreted as spooky and dark. I wouldn't wish this on anyone. I kept saying to myself "You are dead, dead, dead" - then I'd say my full name, and then "is dead." My face looked one-dimensional - flat - when I looked in the mirror - I didn't like to look in the mirror at all because of that - it was too weird. I also had delusions of smelling foul odors such as at mealtimes when I reinterpreted food orders as the smell of death. This was extreme. May, 1977 I came out of it, but then I was manic for a short while, and wanted to be a conductor (out of nowhere, even tho' I am a musician!). Ultimately, with Lithium for awhile and therapy visits, I got back to my college studies after having to take a year off. Part of the breakdown was from my father's terminal cancer illness - the stress of seeing him getting more and more ill and weigh less and less when he had been a muscular, very healthy man was just too much, and my mom was under terrible duress. Well - I graduated in June, 1978 with a BA in Music, and although it took 5 years because of my breakdown, I'm thankful to say that I did it, and now, at almost 58, have built a decent life for myself, having been a secretary for 30 years and a performing musician for 28 so far, and now semi-retired and working part-time as a library page, shelving books. And to boot, I have a fun and interesting 2nd husband of 11 years and counting. Best to all and please take care!

    By Anonymous jazzlady1028, at 4:25 AM, October 15, 2013  

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