You wake up one morning and look into the mirror. Something is different today. You don’t recognize yourself. An imposter has taken over your body that is your exact replica. You turn to your spouse only to find yet another impostor. You have Capgras Syndrome and even the family pet may look like an impostor.
Capgras Syndrome was first discovered in 1923, by Jean Marie Joseph Capgras, a French psychiatrist. It is classed as a delusional misidentification syndrome. Capgras Syndrome can occur in acute, transient or chronic forms. A person suffering from Capgras Syndrome believes that a close friend or relative has been replaced by an impostor, an exact double. Often the patients do not recognize their own image. The technical name for this aspect of the syndrome is mirror self-misidentification.
Capgras Syndrome is not the same as a related class of disorders called prosopagnosia. Prosopagnosia is characterized by the inability to recognize people’s faces, but unlike Capgras Syndrome, it is caused by bilateral lesions in the inferior temporal lobes. These regions of the brain are thought to be partially specialized for face recognition.
There are five characteristics of Capgras Syndrome. 1) The patient believes that someone close to them has been replaced by an identical impostor. 2) The patient sees true and double persons. 3) The patient’s delusions can extend to animals and objects. Family pets, chairs, books, lamps or televisions are replaced by exact replicas in the patient’s mind. 4) The patient is aware of the abnormal perceptions-they are not hallucinating. 5) When the disease first begins there is a key figure that becomes the “impostor”. If the patient is married, the spouse is always this initial key figure.
The causes of Capgras Syndrome are not specifically known, but there are a few possible causes. One possible cause includes brain lesions in the right temporal lobe that are caused by a traumatic injury or epilepsy. However, very few Capgras Syndrome patients show signs of brain lesions. Another possible cause is Schizophrenia. There seems to be a big connection between Capgras Syndrome and Schizophrenia because for many patients both conditions coincide. It occurs most often in patients who suffer from paranoid-hallucinatory schizophrenia. Capgras syndrome can also occur in patients who suffer from other forms of dementia.
Capgras Syndrome is deemed as an unusual disorder, but it is not rare. The syndrome can affect thousands of people in the United States at any given time. Capgras Syndrome commonly occurs during the course of functional or organic psychotic illness. Age is an important factor in predicting the etiology of the underlying psychosis.
Most people can’t even imagine what it would feel like to look in the mirror and not recognize the person looking back, but those with Capgras Syndrome know the feeling all too well. Every day they face this impostor that looks just like them. Even more so they face all these other impostors that look just like their family and friends that they once knew so well.