On Science Friday last week, I heard a segment about Cotard’s Syndrome, also known as the Walking Corpse syndrome. This is where some people are convinced that they are dead and actually tell other people so, saying things like “It is no use talking to me. I am dead.”
How can someone think they are dead when they are thinking and speaking and walking around? It appears that when you talk with them they can reason and they realize that by talking with you they cannot be dead but yet they have the firm conviction that they are dead. It is not that they want to die. They actually dread it and yet they cannot shake the feeling of being dead.
It is an extreme form of things like Alien Hand Syndrome where people think that their hand is not an organic part of their body but as a disposable attachment with an independent existence, like a wristwatch. In Cotard’s syndrome they think of their entire body as a disposable attachment and that they have discarded it.
The appearance of this syndrome has been noted for over a hundred years (since 1880) and no one is quite sure exactly what causes it. Its onset has been associated with either severe physical or mental stress but in some cases it seems to be a side effect of taking a common anti-viral medication.
You can read more about Cotard’s syndrome here.
I had never heard of this before and it boggled my mind.