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The Delusion of Doubles

Mr B was a 19 year old Irish male with no previous psychiatric issues [1].  He worked as a sheep shearer, and by all accounts lived a relatively happy and stable life. That was, until he was arrested and charged with breaking and entering his girlfriend’s parent’s house. He claimed that his mission was to save his girlfriend from his father, who he said was sexual assaulting her. The police reported that he also spoke guardedly about “global thinking” and “spiritual matters”. When brought to the station he became agitated, damaging his police cell and shouting that one of the police officers was… his father. A drug test showed that he had recently been smoking marijuana, and he admitted freely to smoking four joints over the last two days.

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Over the following four days Mr B continued to act erratically. He accused a number of nurses of being his father, and could not be convinced otherwise. When asked how his father was appearing in the forms of these people he replied that his father was “very clever”. It was reported that Mr B had been beaten by his father throughout his childhood, and that these feelings of persecution, triggered by his drug use, could have resulted in this case of the Fregoli delusion.

The Fregoli delusion, as you may have guessed, is a rare disorder in which the sufferer believes that different people are in fact a single person who changes their appearance. There are rarely, if ever, similarities between the original person and the misidentified people, however the sufferer may think they detect similarities in voice, mannerisms, or other subtle behaviours [2].

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A very interesting 2012 study described what they called a “contemporary” case of Fregoli syndrome [3]. Their subject, Mr A, had come to believe that his facial cream had the power to perfect his facial look and attract females. He spent a ridiculous amount of time on Facebook where he met a young woman and developed a fledgling relationship, however the young woman would eventually reject him. After that, he came to believe that every woman he talked to on Facebook was in fact the first woman who was now disguising herself. He also believed that she was using the same brand of facial cream in order to perfect her facial looks. This is believed to be the first documented case of Fregoli syndrome in relation to social networking sites.

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You may have noticed the similarity between this delusion and my previous article on the Capgras delusion, and they do indeed both belong to the family of Delusional Misidentification Syndromes, however there are some notable differences:

  • Fregoli delusions: the belief that many people are in fact one person in disguise.
  • Capgras delusions: the belief that a friend or family member has been replaced by an imposter.

Fregoli syndrome is also more likely to affect patients who are younger and male in comparison to Caprgras syndrome [2].

One case study actually identified a patient suffering from both Capgras and Fregoli syndrome [2]. The patient initially believed that his wife had been replaced a mysterious imposter (Capgras), but later began to claim that his wife was in fact his deceased mother! (Fregoli).

References

All images produced by the author unless otherwise specified.

  1. Eva, F., & Perry, D. (1993). The Fregoli syndrome and cannabis delusional disorder.Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, Vol 10, Issue 2, 87-88. Doi:10.1017/S079096670001291X
  2. Mojtabai, R. (1994). Fregoli Syndrome. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. Vol 28, Issue 3, 458 – 462. Doi:10.3109/00048679409075874
  3. Kochuparackal, T., & Simon, A. E. (2012). A “Contemporary” Case of Frégoli Syndrome.The Primary Care Companion to CNS Disorders, Vol 14, Issue 1. http://doi.org/10.4088/PCC.11l01227
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