The Cotard Delusion: Symptoms and Causes

The Cotard delusion is a mental disorder in which the affect person believes they're dead and separated from their bodies. Read all about it here!
The Cotard Delusion: Symptoms and Causes

Last update: 28 January, 2019

We often hear people use the phrase “dead inside” to describe someone who’s lost hope and the motivation to keep living. This is just an expression, though, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the person’s actually dying. Nevertheless, there’s a terrible mental affliction called the Cotard delusion that makes this expression true in a sense.

The Cotard delusion is also known as “the delirium of negation”. Most people who suffer from it believe that they’re dead or decomposing.

The Cotard delusion

The Cotard delusion is a mental disorder in which the affected person perceives themselves as non-existent. They may believe that they’re living outside of reality or just dead.

A man burying his face in his hands.

When someone who suffers from Cotard delusion looks at themselves, they believe they’re dead. They  may even believe that their body is decomposing.

A person who suffers from the Cotard delusion believes that their mind and body are on completely different planes of existence. While the person’s body is decomposing, their mind exists in an alternate reality and is living a separate life. These beliefs may lead to erratic and strange behaviors.

Jules Cotard and the Cotard delusion

Jules Cotard first described the Cotard delusion in the 19th century. One of his patients was a woman who believed she was stuck halfway between heaven and hell. Because of that, she felt that earthly needs, such as eating and sleeping, weren’t important at all.

The Cotard delusion is very complicated. Psychologists don’t know why it manifests, but they believe it’s related to brain function. Specifically, it’s linked to the way the brain processes information. Some experts believe that there’s a break between the areas of the brain that deal with facial recognition (the fusiform gyrus) and the areas related to emotional processing (the amygdala and the limbic system).

Thus, the people who suffer from this disorder are able to correctly process the information they get from their environment. The problem is that the emotional responses these information cause don’t make sense to them.

The negation of existence is one of the most prominent symptoms of this delusion. Other possible symptoms are hallucinations, anxiety, depression, delirium, and the inability to relate to others. The affected person may believe they’re immortal or that they have no blood. Also, the afflicted person might feel that they have worms under their skin and that their body is decomposing.

The Cotard delusion may make you feel like you are trapped.

People who are separated from reality

A person who suffers from the Cotard delusion lives in another reality. Another main characteristic of this condition is that the affected person’s mind distorts almost every thought. This applies to both information about themselves and their environment. Because of that, a person with the Cotard delusion might make the decision to stop eating or drinking.

The disorder makes them live in limbo. This limbo is located between the elevated existential plane of the mind and the empty, foreign carcass that is the person’s body. Of course, this can differ from person to person, as people can suffer this disorder to varying levels of severity.

As you can see, this condition can have serious consequences because a person who suffers from it stops worrying about their well-being. As such, experts recommend that you see a specialist right away if you have it.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.