Cotard’s syndrome, also known as Cotard’s delusion or Zombie syndrome, is a neuropsychiatric condition in which someone believes that they are dead. The patient is convinced that parts of their body are missing, they have no organs and their body contains no blood.
Cotard’s delusion, named for neurologist Jules Cotard after he discovered the condition in 1880, it’s a rare syndrome, citing only 200 cases worldwide.
Patients suffering from Zombie syndrome are self-loathing, clinically depressed, and believe that they simply do not exist. People afflicted with this condition often feel like they are an imposter, they sense a disconnection from themselves and their physical body. They cease to feel an emotional connection to their daily personal experience or the world around them, thereby reinforcing the idea that they are no longer part of a living reality.
Here is a list of five signs you may be in the delusional grip of Zombie syndrome:
1. You aren’t dead.
Simply put, if you are breathing but think you are dead, you are by default not dead, but most likely suffering from Zombie syndrome.
A 53-year-old Filipino woman described smelling rotting flesh and the sensation of being dead. Understanding the woman’s feelings was a gross mental delusion, her family immediately transported her to the hospital where she remained until her condition was diagnosed and a treatment plan was in place.
When suffering from what some call the Walking Corpse syndrome, a person truly does not see the contradiction in that they are dead, but also walking, talking, and breathing. The patient’s brain is firing in such a way that it lies to them, offering them a false understanding that they are walking around in a body that ceases to exist. Just as people who accept firmly, that they reside in a living body, those who are suffering from Cotard’s delusion believe, without exception, that they are deceased.
2. You believe that you are putrefying, and experience the smell of rotting flesh.
A common symptom of Cotard’s syndrome, reported by patients, is the smell of their rotting flesh. People also stated that they believed their internal organs were missing completely. Firm in their strange convictions, a patient will disregard a well-intended family member’s effort to identify body organs within the thickness surrounding the patient’s stomach area. The patient will steadfastly claim that there is nothing within the cavity of their body.
Hostage to the function of their misfiring brain, one man believed that his face was full of holes and another, that his muscles had become useless, his stomach was gone and that he was fading away to nothing.
In 1880, a 43-year-old woman confessed that she had no brains, nerves, chest, or entrails. There is no clear understanding of why patients with this syndrome feel hollow inside.
As for the smell of rotting flesh, the olfactory complex, which allows your brain to process smells, is located in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. What scientists know is that issues that begin in the olfactory nerves in the nose itself, or the olfactory bulb just above the nose, account for up to 72% of phantom smells.
3. You stop speaking and hear voices that confirm you are dead.
If you suddenly hear disembodied voices telling you that you are dead, you may be suffering from Cotard’s syndrome.
According to California-based psychiatrist and author Dr. Gayani DeSilva, MD, “When people experience a severe, major depression, they can often develop psychotic symptoms, like auditory or visual hallucinations..” If someone is experiencing hallucinations, they are sensing something that is not there.
Along with succumbing to severe depression, a patient who is suffering from Cotard’s syndrome will often refuse to speak. They will no longer keep up with their hygiene and will stop grooming themselves.
Cotard’s syndrome is seen in association with a neuropsychological condition called schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a condition that lends itself to hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking. 70% to 80% of people with schizophrenia hear voices that call their name, threaten, and argue with them.
4. You suddenly have the urge to walk into oncoming traffic.
Patients diagnosed with Cotard’s syndrome possess the insatiable need to cause themselves harm. Mr. B, a 65-year-old teacher attempted suicide multiple times during his bout with the dreaded Cotard’s syndrome. Like so many others with this syndrome, he developed delusions of nihilism or the feeling that nothing exists and that existing itself is meaningless. This led Mr. B to adopt the unfortunate conclusion that if life was an illusion, then he too should perish.
A 62-year-old homemaker, also suffering from bipolar affective disorder, refused to eat reasoning that eating would be futile, given that she was dead. The homemaker’s thinking sadly resulted in her near starvation.
Another man, believing sincerely that he had no brain, also attempted to take his own life, and another believed he needed to be killed to make amends for the wrongs he had committed as a youth. There seems to be no limit to distorted thinking relative to this strange, destructive condition.
5. You have a strong desire to surround yourself with dead people.
Referring back to the case of Ms. L, the 53-year-old Filipino woman who believed that she was deceased, she requested that her family transport her to the morgue so that she could rest comfortably among the dead. Ms. L sincerely believed that being in the company of the dead was where she belonged. Other case studies show that many who share this particular feature of delusion had similar requests.
In an attempt to determine whether or not a patient is indeed suffering from Zombie syndrome, a doctor will analyze how firmly the patient’s belief is in their nihilistic thinking. Also, comprehensive blood tests and brain scans can help identify specific causes.
The process through which a doctor will diagnose a patient with Cotard’s syndrome, may at first seem benign or archaic, but with such a finite understanding of the condition as a whole, we can only hope that, in time, medical advancements will propel our limited understanding forward.
Cotard’s syndrome is usually accompanied by multiple disorders and is often connected with a primary disorder. If the primary disorder is schizophrenia the treatment may include anti-depression medication with antipsychotic medication, sometimes including a mood stabilizer and ECT. Electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, is a technique that is used to force a small amount of electric current to pass through your brain inducing a seizure. This treatment is done two to three times a week for up to 4 weeks. The hope is to change the brain chemistry, resulting in the reversal of certain mental health conditions.
Although the future may seem bleak for patients suffering from the Walking Corpse syndrome, many people have been successfully treated. Most people will improve and often recover from the symptoms of Cotard’s syndrome once the correct treatment is established. However, some are resistant to treatment and unfortunately, some do not respond at all.
Scientists are still uncertain of the exact origin of Cotard’s delusion although, it is sometimes associated with lesions in the parietal lobe of the brain. Also, there has recently been a specific gene mutation linked to psychotic symptoms, including Cotard’s syndrome. Some physicians believe that traumatic brain injury, subdural hemorrhage, or epilepsy could trigger Cotard’s delusion as well.
Overall, it is important to remember that those who are suffering from this unfortunate condition are not lying, they are not pretending and they do not have a weird fascination with dead things. Although what triggers this syndrome is still largely unclear, it is a legitimate mental health condition and one that devastates and at times consumes its host.
Nevertheless, if you wake up one day and suddenly hear an ethereal voice whispering your name and suggesting you are just a body with no soul or insides, try to remember, that you’re not alone.
Pick up the phone, and get some help. We need you here, on the earth plane, for just a little while longer.