Cotard syndrome: symptoms, causes and characteristics

Cotard syndrome is one of the strangest psychological disorders, Among other things, because of the difficulty of putting yourself in the shoes of someone who experiences it.

Because the symptoms of this phenomenon are defined neither by personality changes, nor by sensory or motor alterations, nor by very extreme mood swings. Instead, it’s all based on a feeling: the feeling of being dead.

In this article, we will look at what Cotard syndrome is, what are its symptoms and what are its possible causes, among others.

    What is Cotard syndrome?

    It is quite common to think that people interpret reality only from data that comes directly to us through the senses. From this point of view, when we see a rectangular body of the corners going down 4 extensions, we have come to the conclusion that what we are looking at is a table, provided we have learned this concept before.

    The same would happen with landscapes, people and animals: we would perceive each of these physical elements through our senses and we would identify them automatically, Cleanly and predictably, as long as we don’t run out of data. The truth is, while most of the time there is a very clear relationship between the raw data entering our senses and what we interpret to be real, this is not always the case. the foreigner Cotard syndrome is an example.

    Cotard syndrome is a mental disorder in which the subject he sees himself as something that, in a way, is not there or it is separated from reality.

    People with this syndrome are able to sensorially perceive their own body (for example, they can be seen in a mirror, like all people without a visual impairment) but they notice it as something strange, as if they don’t. did not exist. A significant number of people with Cotard syndrome, for example, they are believed to be dead, literally or figuratively, Or be in a state of decay. It is not a metaphorical way of saying how they feel, but a strong belief, which is taken literally.

    This is a psychological phenomenon similar to depersonalization, in which it is experienced a disconnection between oneself and everything else. The alteration appears in the way that what is perceived through the senses is experienced emotionally, and not in the way the senses provide information. Technically, everything you see, feel, touch, and taste or smell appears to be real, but it doesn’t feel real.

    In Cotard syndrome, this emotional disconnection goes hand in hand with a more precise idea and which is a pseudo-explanation of what one feels: oneself is dead, and therefore anyone who has this disorder no longer has an interest. marked to stay connected to the world.


    Although this picture of symptoms can be called nihilistic delirium, Has nothing to do with the person’s philosophical or attitudinal positioning. A person with Cotard syndrome tends to sincerely believe that the plane of reality their body is in is not the same as that of their conscious mind, and acts accordingly.

    What people with Cotard syndrome experience is very similar to how some people who are strongly influenced by a particular culture or religion may come to think about their bodies, other people, and the environment in which they are. live; the difference is that people with the syndrome always perceive it this way, regardless of the context, because of a abnormal functioning of some of their brain structures.

    Cotard syndrome takes its name from the French neurologist Jules Cotard, who at the end of the 19th century coined the term denial syndrome to describe the case of a woman who believed to be dead and had all of her internal organs rotten. This person, believing that he was suspended somewhere between Heaven and Hell, did not believe that food was necessary, because the planet Earth had lost all meaning to him.

    The fundamental idea is the non-realization

    The concept of unrealization involves the idea of ​​perceiving the data that comes to us about the environment as something stranger to the reality of who perceives them. It refers to a psychological phenomenon that appears in certain psychological disorders (not exclusively in Cotard syndrome), as well as in specific times that do not constitute an indication of psychopathology.

    You may experience something similar, for example, if you are in a room with low light, you place one of your hands in front of your eyes. You will see the silhouette of one of the parts of your body, something that you have already memorized throughout your life, and you will notice that its movements correspond to the ones you want it to do. However, the darkness can make you feel that even though all the data you have on your hand is what you associate with your own body, your hand is not yours or is dissociated from you in some way. of another.

    Something like this is what people with Cotard syndrome go through: all sensory information about themselves and the environment looks good, but the feeling persists that none of it makes sense or is unreal. Also, this delirium is large enough to be caught different ways of manifesting. Some people believe they are dead, others feel immortal, and there are even cases of patients who only perceive some parts of his body like something strange or decaying.

    Possible causes

    Cotard syndrome is complex in its manifestations and causes, which are mainly found in the functioning of the brain. As we have seen, the information processing that which comes from outside and which is given by sensory stimuli is correct. What fails is the emotional response which should accompany this treatment, since everything lack of meaning. It is therefore believed that the main root of nihilistic delirium lies in the abnormal functioning of the part of the brain associated with processing emotions: the limbic system, at the base of the brain.

    Thus, Cotard’s syndrome would be associated with dissociative type alterations in which there is an abnormal way of feeling certain experiences, and not of sensory perception. It would be an inconsistency between what our senses tell us and the emotional response that we might consider “common sense”.

    Either way, Cotard syndrome teaches us what the human brain carries very complex and varied tasks so that we can comfortably perceive and interpret reality. Just because this process is automatic and runs smoothly most of the time doesn’t mean that some of these pieces can’t fail, leaving us with eyes, noses, and mouths that properly portray a meaningless world.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Debruyne H .; Portzky M .; Van den Eynde F .; Audenaert K. (2010). Cotard syndrome: a review. Current psychiatric reports. 11 (3): 197-202.
    • McKay R1, Cipolotti L. Attributive style in a case of Cotard’s illusion. Aware of cogn. June 2007; 16 (2): 349-59. Epub 2006 Jul 18.
    • Morgado, Pedro; Ribeiro, Ricardo; Cerqueira, João J. (2015). “Cotard’s syndrome without depressive symptoms in a schizophrenic patient”. Psychiatric case reports. 2015: 643191.
    • Sogomy, V. (2012). Depersonalization and sense of reality. Philosophy, psychiatry and psychology. 19 (2).
    • Yarnada, K .; Katsuragi, S .; Fujii, I. (2007). A case study of Cotard syndrome: stages and diagnosis. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica. 100 (5): 396-398.
    • Young AW1, Robertson IH, DJ Hellawell, Pauw KW, Pentland B. Cotard Arousal After Brain Injury. Psychol Med. Fa 1992,; 22 (3): 799-804.

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