Everyone Around You Is An Impostor
The first of the delusions, in which a person becomes convinced impostors have replaced their friends and family, is known as the Capgras delusion, named for the French psychiatrist Joseph Capgras who along with Jean Reboul-Lachaux first described the condition in 1923. (If you’re wondering why it’s not known as the Reboul-Lachaux delusion instead, I need only mention that one was the other’s intern.)
Their case study described a 53-year-old Parisian seamstress who had become convinced those around her were being kidnapped by strange creatures known as “sosies”, which imprisoned her loved ones underground as they plotted to steal all her property:
Her husband […] also disappeared: a sosie took his place; she wanted to divorce this sosie; she drew up a complaint and requested a separation from the court. Her real husband was murdered and the “gentlemen” who come to visit her at the hospital are “sosies” of her husband; she counted at least eighty of them.
“If this person is my husband, she says, he is totally unrecognizable, he is transformed. I certify that this so-called husband that they are trying to foist on me in fact ceased to exist ten years ago. To replace my stolen daughter, they always put another one who was in turn removed and immediately replaced … Whenever they took away a child, they gave me another one who looked like her. I had over two thousand in five years […]. Every day girls came to my home and every day they were taken away; I warned the Police Superintendent, saying that their parents had disappeared and that these girls had pricks to the face to remove all their ideas.”
Capgras and Reboul-Lachaux noted that everyone the woman knew — including the entire staff of the hospital where she was being treated — had supposedly been replaced by these sosies. Their paper speculated that something had gone very wrong in the patient’s face recognition, with her losing any sense of familiarity when she saw those she thought she knew. This discord between her thoughts and her feelings led her eventually to assume those around her were impostors, an evolving state that was “an emotional state first, then a habit, finally an automatic state of mind.”
The World’s Greatest Master of Disguise
Leopoldo Fregoli was one of the greatest entertainers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.