May 7, 2023 | Facts

What Is Cotard’s Syndrome?

Morgan Collier

Morgan Collier

Named after Jules Cotard, a French neurologist who first described the condition in 1880, Cotard’s syndrome, which is also referred to as Cotard’s delusion or walking corpse syndrome, is an uncommon psychiatric disorder that is characterized by a delusional belief that an individual is deceased, nonexistent, rotting, or has lost body parts.

Cotard’s syndrome is rare, with only about 200 known cases worldwide.

Famous Cases Of Cotard’s Disease

Back in 1788, Charles Bonnet documented one of the earliest known cases of Cotard’s Delusion. The incident involved an elderly woman who experienced a paralysis attack on one side of her body while preparing a meal. Upon regaining her senses, she instructed her daughters to dress her in a shroud and place her in a coffin, as she believed she was dead. 

Despite the attempts of her loved ones to convince her otherwise, the woman persisted in her delusion for several days, demanding that they treat her as if she were deceased. Eventually, her family gave in to her wishes, and they staged a fake wake for her. Even during the service, the woman complained about the color of her shroud and adjusted it frequently. 

Her family finally put her to bed when she fell asleep, but her delusions continued to recur intermittently over the following months. She was treated with a combination of opium and a “powder of precious stones,” temporarily relieving her symptoms.

In 2012, another peculiar case was described by Japanese doctors. This case involved a 69-year-old patient who made a startling declaration to one of the doctors, stating that he believed himself to be dead and requested the doctor’s opinion. When the doctor pointed out that dead men could not speak, the patient acknowledged the logical inconsistency of his belief but remained steadfast in his conviction that he was deceased. 

Although his delusion eventually waned after a year, he continued to affirm the validity of his experiences during that period, asserting that “I was once dead at that time, but now I am alive.” Furthermore, the patient also believed that Kim Jong-il was a fellow patient at the same hospital.


Symptoms of Cotard’s syndrome include:

  • Delusions about death, dying, or non-existence
  • Severe depression
  • Insensitivity to pain
  • Social withdrawal
  • Selective mutism
  • Refusal to eat due to the belief of being dead or dying
  • Auditory hallucinations of being dead or dying
  • Self-harm attempts
  • Ideas of damnation or rejection
  • Delusions of immortality

What Causes Cotard’s Syndrome?

The root cause of Cotard’s syndrome remains unclear. However, it is often an indication of an underlying medical condition that impacts the brain, including:

  • Encephalopathy
  • Stroke
  • Bleeding outside the brain from a severe brain injury
  • Epilepsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Dementia


Treatment for Cotard’s delusion may involve a combination of medication and psychotherapy, with the goal of addressing the underlying mental health condition and helping the individual regain a sense of reality and connectedness to the world around them.