The human mind is a strange and mysterious thing. Lately, New Scientist magazine has been documenting its exceptional oddities in its Mindscapes column, highlighting cases of rare neurological conditions like prospognosia, also known as face blindness, and depersonalization disorder, with which the sufferer feels detached from her own body, thoughts and actions.
The latest case that the magazine covers, however, may be the most bizarre yet. It reports of the plight of a man named Graham, who became afflicted with Cotard's Syndrome, also known as Walking Corpse Syndrome. It's an extremely rare condition with an extraordinarily odd symptom: sufferers feel like they cease to exist, or that parts of their body are destroyed or missing.
In Graham's case, he believed he was dead, thinking that he had killed his brain during a suicide attempt while suffering from severe depression.
"It's really hard to explain," Graham tells the magazine. "I just felt like my brain didn't exist any more. I kept on telling the doctors that the tablets weren't going to do me any good because I didn't have a brain."
According to New Scientist, Cotard's syndrome is incredibly rare, with most studies on the condition limited to single cases. Scientific American reports it is caused by misfiring of the parts of the brain that are responsible for recognizing faces and for attaching emotion to those recognitions, leading to a sense of detachment even when patients view their own faces.
The condition is not only strange, it can also be extremely dangerous; some patients with the condition have died of starvation out of neglect for their bodies or have even attempted to get rid of their bodies with acid, New Scientist says.
Although Graham had people around him to make sure he didn't starve or damage his body, he says he was unable to feel pleasure in anything. "All the things I was interested in went away," he says. "I lost my sense of smell and my sense of taste. There was no point in eating because I was dead. It was a waste of time speaking as I never had anything to say."
Graham even tells the magazine he began visiting graveyards to be closer to death.
The results of a positron emission tomography (PET) scan were alarming: the level of activity in certain parts of his brain was extremely low, prompting neurologists to question whether Graham's antidepressants were altering his sense of self.
"Graham's brain function resembles that of someone during anaesthesia or sleep. Seeing this pattern in someone who is awake is quite unique to my knowledge," neurologist Steven Laureys told New Scientist.
Eventually, with psychotherapy and drugs, Graham recovered. Although he says he isn't yet entirely back to normal, he can now live independently. "I'm just lucky to be alive now," he says.