Consider what it would be like to wake up one morning to find that a person who has been part of your life for years has been “abducted”. If that wasn’t bad enough, an impostor who looks just like your loved one has taken their place. Subtle differences in appearance or behaviour betray the impostor.
This is exactly what happened to David.
David sustained a severe head injury during a road accident, and remained in a coma for five weeks. Serious injuries also led to the loss of his right arm. When he regained consciousness, David’s mental capacities appeared to be intact. He was articulate and intelligent. Except for one bizarre belief: that both his parents had been replaced. The woman who came in the morning to prepare his breakfast was a better cook than his mother, and his father’s double was a better driver.
David was diagnosed as having a rare delusional misidentification syndrome called the Capgras delusion. The illusion of the “look-alike” was first reported in 1923 by two French psychiatrists, Joseph Capgras and Jean Reboul-Lachaux. Their patient, Madame M, for the last ten years, had been:
Transforming everyone in her entourage, even those closest to her, such as her husband and daughter, into various and numerous doubles … her children had been the object of substitutions; one was abducted when he was with his nurse and replaced by someone else … Her husband, Mr C. was also reported as disappeared, a double took his place; she wanted to get a divorce from this double and made a request for a separation to the courts. Her husband had been murdered and the “men” came to see her were double*s?* … she counted at least 80.
Although people are usually the objects of the delusion, there have also been reports of pets being substituted, and work tools and other personal possessions being replaced with inferior items. Capgras has also been experienced by people with visual impairment. In one account, a patient known as M.H thought that her pet cat had been replaced by a replica because of changes in its miaow.