Cotard’s syndrome is a rare mental condition where a person believes that he is already dead and decomposing. In some cases, a person affected with the syndrome believes that he has lost his blood or that a part of his body or an internal organ is already gone and has ceased to exist. Some people with the delusion may even believe that they are immortal. Another term used to call the condition is “the walking corpse syndrome”.

ZombieCredit: Mary Madigan

The Three Phases of Cotard’s Delusion

People suffering from Cotard’s syndrome experience a distorted belief of his or her existence. There are three stages of the syndrome: the germination phase, blooming phase, and chronic phase.

Germination Phase

During the germination phase, a person with Cotard’s delusion suffers from either depression or hypochondria.

When a person suffers from depression, he tends to stray from other people and refrain from doing any kinds of activities involving groups and going outdoors. Suicidal tendencies may be seen from a person with severe depression.

Hypochondria or hypochondriasis, on the other hand, is a condition where a person thinks that he has a serious health illness, without any evidences. He gets excessively worried about the illness that essential activities such as maintaining hygiene and eating meals are already being neglected.  

Blooming Phase

The blooming phase of the syndrome is when the person starts to exhibit full blown symptoms. He may verbalize to others that he’s already dead and there’s no point in eating or doing any kind of activities because he’s dead. He may also tell others that he had lost an internal organ and that he’s starting to rot or decompose.

Chronic Phase

During Cotard’s chronic phase, the person affected experiences severe forms of the delusions and may begin to suffer from chronic depression.

There was a case of Cotard’s delusion where a person remained for a long time in graveyards because he believed that he’s already dead and being in a graveyard made him feel close to where he should be. Another case was that of a woman with the syndrome who had demanded to be sent into a morgue so she could be with other dead people. Cotard delusion can get as severe as such cases.

People suffering from Cotard’s syndrome may neglect their own well-being and refrain from eating meals or bathing. It can be impossible for a person with the delusion to make sense of reality. He may believe that he has lost all his blood but when he sees himself bleeding from a tiny wound, it will be difficult for him to understand what just happened.

History of Cotard’s Delusion

This condition is first described in 1880 by the French neurologist Jules Cotard, from whom the name ‘Cotard’s delusion’ was taken. At that time, the condition was referred to as ‘le délire de négation’ which means ‘delusion of negation.

In the case described by Cotard, a patient called Mademoiselle X was experiencing self-loathing at some time and depression and delusions at other times. Mademoiselle X believed that certain parts of her body were non-existent and that she was damned for eternity. Mademoiselle X eventually died of starvation since she refrained to eat.