The Cotard delusion was first described by French neurologist Jules Cotard in the late 19th century. One of his patients, whom he called Mademoiselle X, believed that she had “no brain, nerves, chest or entrails, and was just skin and bone.” She was also convinced that she did not need food for “she was eternal and would live for ever.” The lady, Dr. Cotard claimed, was suffering from a neurological condition he called le délire de negation (negation delirium).
The disorder -sometimes also called ‘Walking Corpse syndrome’- is so rare that it largely remains a mystery today. People affected by the syndrome believe that they or part of their body parts are dead, dying or don’t exist at all. It is usually accompanied by severe depression and some psychotic disorders. But what intrigues neuroscientists and neurologists is not just the uncommonness of the syndrome, it is that the brain of the patients may hold the key to understanding the mysteries of human consciousness.
Research at Radboud University. Image courtesy of Marleine van der Werf