Walking Corpse Syndrome: Why Did One British Man With Cotard's Delusion Believe He Was A Zombie?

By iScienceTimes Staff on May 28, 2013 10:50 AM EDT

zombie
A British man identified only as Graham suffered from Walking Corpse Syndrome, a rare disorder in which patients believe parts of their body are dead. (Photo: Flickr: Tobias M. Eckrich)

A British man suffering from a rare disorder called Walking Corpse Syndrome says that he thought he was a zombie and that his brain had died.

The man, identified only by his first name of Graham, described to New Scientist what it was like to live with the disorder, also called Cotard's delusion or syndrome, in which sufferers believe that parts of their body or even their soul no longer exist.

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After suffering from severe depression, Graham had attempted to kill himself by getting into a bathtub with an electrical appliance. It was after his failed suicide attempt that the Walking Corpse Syndrome set in. Graham baffled doctors by insisting that his brain no longer existed.

"When I was in hospital I kept on telling them that the tablets weren't going to do me any good, 'cause my brain was dead," Graham told the New Scientist. "I lost my sense of smell and taste. I didn't need to eat, or speak, or do anything. I ended up spending time in the graveyard because that was the closest I could get to death."

Despite the fact that he was very much alive, no amount of reasoning could convince Graham that he was not dead or a zombie.

"I just got annoyed," Graham said. "I didn't know how I could speak or do anything with no brain, but as far as I was concerned I hadn't got one."

It took two neurologists, Adam Zeman at the University of Exeter in England and Steven Laureys at the University of Liège in Belgium to diagnose the rare case of Cotard's syndrome.

"I've been analyzing PET scans for 15 years, and I've never seen anyone who was on his feet, who was interacting with people, with such an abnormal scan result," said Laureys. "Graham's brain function resembles that of someone during anesthesia or sleep. Seeing this pattern in someone who is awake is quite unique to my knowledge."

Essentially, Graham was awake and walking around, but had the brain activity of someone in a coma state.

"It seems plausible that the reduced metabolism was giving him this altered experience of the world, and affecting his ability to reason about it," Laureys said.

Patients diagnosed Walking Corpse Syndrome do not only experience the bizarreness of thinking they have no brain or soul, but they can end up dying from the rare mental disorder. Some patients, thinking that they no longer have to maintain their own body, have starved themselves to death or tried to get rid of their bodies using acid.

But Graham's story has a happier ending. After being properly diagnosed with Cotard's syndrome, Graham underwent therapy and took medication to overcome his zombie disorder.

"I don't feel that brain-dead anymore," he told New Scientist. "Things just feel a bit bizarre sometimes."

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