The Man Who Saw His Double In The Mirror

By Neuroskeptic | August 27, 2015 10:37 am

A creepy case report in the journal Neurocase describes a man who came to believe that his reflection was another person who lived behind the mirror.


The patient, Mr. B., a 78-year-old French man, was admitted to the neurology department in Tours:

During the previous 10 days, Mr. B. reported the presence of a stranger in his home who was located behind the mirror of the bathroom and strikingly shared his physical appearance. The stranger was a double of himself: he was the same size, had the same hair, body shape, and features, wore the same clothes, and acted the same way.

Mr. B. talked with this stranger and was puzzled because he knew much about him. Mr. B. even brought food to the mirror with cutlery for two persons. Eventually, the stranger became aggressive, and Mr. B.’s daughter decided to drive her father to the hospital.

…Mr. B. was well oriented and was perfectly able to recognize the members of his family.

In the hospital, tests revealed possible Alzheimer’s disease. Mr B. was prescribed medication, including an antidepressant and an antipsychotic.

Three months later, the recovery was complete. The delusion had disappeared, and Mr. B. explained that his double had gone.

The authors, Capucine Diard-Detoeuf and colleagues, describe this as a case of “Capgras syndrome for ones own mirror image”. Capgras syndrome is the belief that someone, often a spouse or relative, has been replaced by an exact double who is not really who they appear to be. Mr B. believed that his own image was actually a double of himself.

Diard-Detoeuf et al. note that there have been two previous cases of mirror Capgras syndome, including a 1989 report of “a 77-year-old woman with right temporoparietal atrophy who had long conversations with a double of herself in the mirror.”

The mirror Capgras syndrome is distinct from “mirrored-self misidentification“, a symptom that can occur in dementia, in which the patient thinks that their own reflection is another person.

In that syndrome, the reflection may be seen as a stranger, or a relative. However, Mr B. was aware that the man in the mirror looked just like him – in other words, he didn’t misidentify his reflection as anyone else. Rather, he saw the man in the mirror as some kind of double, similar yet different.

ResearchBlogging.orgDiard-Detoeuf, C., Desmidt, T., Mondon, K., & Graux, J. (2015). A case of Capgras syndrome with one’s own reflected image in a mirror Neurocase, 1-2 DOI: 10.1080/13554794.2015.1080847

CATEGORIZED UNDER: neurocuriosity, papers, select, Top Posts
  • Enzo Tagliazucchi

    Very interesting!
    Most animals fail the “mirror test” and cannot recognise their reflections in a mirror. For them, the reflection likely appears as an animal in front of them (although I think my dog realises this is not another dog because she can’t smell it).
    One can conceive some pathology that could make a human fail the “mirror test” as well. The difference is that humans crave explanations, so if you are not the person in the mirror, this has to be explained somehow (i.e. why is there an stranger behind a glass in your home). Animals don’t need to do this, but we need to fabulate to fill explanatory gaps. And the most straightforward explanation is that the person is actually behind the glass, and that the glass divides two different worlds or spaces.

  • Jayarava

    Yeah, fascinating. I once was prescribed some Gabapentin, but soon after taking it began to hallucinate. One of the most disturbing things was seeing my face in the mirror and it was like another person that looked just like me looking back. Very disturbing. Capgras must be horrible.

    • KristiKlo

      That happened to me the first (and only) time I used Ambien. I looked in the mirror and I was convinced that the medication changed my face.. it also somehow changed my boyfriend’s face.

  • Uncle Al

    When I look in a mirror I see one of the Marx brothers in a nightshirt. What is abnormal about that?

  • Rolf Degen

    Sam Kean, in his book “The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons”, reports that there have been a few cases suffering from this syndrome: “Consider those people who see doubles of themselves, especially lurking in the mirror… As with Capgras generally, some people respond magnanimously to this intrusion… Another noted that his double “wasn’t a bad-looking fellow.” More often, though, victims see a mirror-double as sinister: a stalker bent on replacing them. The families of some victims have to cover up mirrors and even reflective windowpanes with curtains, lest the victims catch an inadvertent glimpse and attack.”

  • Rolf Degen

    In the “Suda”, a 10th-century Byzantine encyclopedia, there is the account of a woman “who, it is said, when she saw her own image in a mirror, mistook it for someone else.”

  • 1boringoldman

    Long ago we had a young woman who didn’t speak, but walked the halls looking at everyone she passed with a “quizzical” look. She had been put on antipsychotics with a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, Catatonic type but the medication didn’t change anything and was stopped. We decided to do an Amytal Interview, and shortly after beginning the injection, she “woke up.” She smiled a big smile and explained that she thought all of us had been replaced by someone else, including her family and friends. It was like being at a lecture on the Capgras Syndrome. Her discussion of this was as normal as anyone you might meet on the street. When the medication wore off, she was back in the hall, looking at everyone she passed with a “quizzical” look. I rotated to another service and didn’t find out what came of her.

    Amytal essentially ablates anxiety, and I’ve always wondered how it related to her condition, why it worked so well. That’s the only Capgras patient I’ve ever seen…

  • Overburdened_Planet

    Interesting that none of the people with those conditions have ever tried to explain the phenomena they were experiencing other than what was described in the article.

    No pod people, multiverse doubles, alien or demonic possession.

    Or do all of these people have an aversion to conspiracy theories?

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  • david

    I like to sometimes ruminate about the mirror universe. It looks just like ours and seems to mimic ours exactly. OR is it ours that mimics the mirror exactly? What goes on outside of the boundary of what we can see in our mirrors? There is Length Depth Height and Time in there. Who is to say there isn’t chance and choice? Life and death are in there.

    • J_R_K

      I guess all we can do is hope that what happens in the mirror stays in the mirror.

  • Greg Parker

    When I look in the mirror I do wonder who the old git is looking back at me.

  • Shakeel Jam

    Most probable Possible in old age.

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  • Zarrar Paloba

    My Grand Mother suffered from Capgras and she would look herself in the mirror and would think that a poor woman has come to our door asking for financial help. She would scold her and shoo away. We would just ask her what happened and she would repeat it.

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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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