In the 1956 classic sci-fi/horror movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a young boy insists that his mother is not his mother. This is followed by a woman who swears that her Uncle Ira is not her Uncle Ira. It soon escalates to an epidemic.
In the excellent 1978 remake of the film, a main character claims her live-in boyfriend is not her boyfriend, and a woman at a bookstore event insists that her husband is not her husband. Again, it evolves into an outbreak.
Now, in these two films about “pod people,” alien spores are duplicating humans and destroying their bodies as they take their places—fiction, of course. But you might be surprised to know that this is a real psychiatric disorder, first identified nearly a century ago, called Capgras Delusion.
“THE ILLUSION OF LOOK-ALIKES”
Capgras Delusion, sometimes referred to as Capgras Syndrome or delusional misidentification syndrome, derives its name from Joseph Capgras (pronounced “cap-GRAH”), a French psychiatrist who lived from 1873-1950. It involves the misidentification of people, places, and objects and can be either acute or chronic. The delusion usually shows up in people who have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, but can also occur due to brain injuries or dementia. Females comprise about 60% of those who suffer from the delusion.
Along with Jean Reboul-Lachaux, his intern, Joseph Capgras first described the disorder in a 1923 paper that the pair co-authored. It involved the case of a French woman, known only as “Madame Macabre,” who swore that “doubles” had replaced not only her husband but a number of other people that she knew. They called the disorder “l’illusion des sosies,” which translated to “the illusion of look-alikes.”
IS THERE A CURE?
Capgras and others that followed held to the belief that the syndrome was a purely psychiatric disorder, a symptom of schizophrenia. They also believed it to be exclusively a female disorder, symptomatic of hysteria. (Why do women always get the bad rap!) Today, the Capgras Delusion is identified as a neurological disorder, mostly resulting from brain lesions or degeneration.
There is no certain way to diagnose Capgras Delusion. For the most part it is made by a psychological evaluation of a patient after that person is brought to counseling by the one—usually a family member—that the person believes to be a double.
Treatment is also ill-defined. It usually involves therapy, and if the therapist is a psychiatrist, anti-psychotic medication can be prescribed.
So what happens tomorrow when you wake up to discover that your spouse is not your spouse, or your kid is not your kid? You’re either suffering from Capgras Delusion, or the “pod people” have truly arrived! 😊