“Take my word for it, doctor. I’m dead.” The living dead have been a subject of much interest in horror films and comics in the past ten years, but as it turns out there are more than a few ways the walking dead could actually come about. But one illness rarely gets much attention in the media. What if you -or someone you knew- became convinced by the overwhelming notion that you had died and were now a zombie?
It isn’t a fashion craze or internet sensation sweeping the culture on the heels of zombie fiction, but rather a very real and terrifying disease. Sufferers are under the intense impression that they have died and lost either part or all of their bodies. The sufferers report having lost all of their material possessions and feel as though their body is deteriorating due to decomposition rapidly. As time wears on they will even report feeling insect larvae crawling within their bodies. But these people have not died. In fact, as they are tested they are found to be very much alive. The entire disease takes place within their own minds. It is a form of psychosis called “Walking Corpse” syndrome. And while it is by no means common it is one of the most dramatic neurological disorders around.
Walking Corpse Syndrome, also known as Cotards disease often affects people with facial recognition problems and has been linked with Capgras syndrome, the disease causing sufferers to believe their loved ones have been replaced by alien doubles. Capgras syndrome was the basis for characters to be skeptical in films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
But the patient is affected in more ways than just one. Often they report being immortal and unable to die, and sometimes patients claim they no longer need to eat or drink though their bodies still require nourishment to survive. Just what causes walking corpse syndrome is unknown. Theories have ranged from a dissociation between neurological factors to (in some more dubious circles) parasites. Parasites making people figurative zombies isn’t completely unheard of, but making them believe in a specific delusion is.
One of the most famous cases of Walking Corpse syndrome used in literature on the illness was of a Scottsman who believed after the incident that he was living out his afterlife in his own personal afterlife (or as he called it Hell) after believing he had died of AIDS which the patient did not actually have.
What are the treatments for this disease? As little is known about the rare delusion, doctors are still studying ways of medicating the illness.