The world is full of of embarrassing conditions you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Every week, Carian discusses one. This week: Fregoli Delusion.
It’s must be confusing when on one single day your mother has taken the form of a waitress serving you breakfast, a few hours later she has disguised herself as a baby boy smiling at you in the bus, while you realize at night that the old bartender who’s pouring you a glass of wine is again your mum.
The fregoli syndrome, named after the Italian actor Leopoldo Fregoli who was famous for his ability to make quick changes of appearance during his stage act, leads a person to believe that a loved one or another person he or she knows changes appearance or is in disguise. At the same time, the personality and identity of that person (for example their mum) is perceived the same as always.
The syndrome may be related to a brain lesion and is often of paranoid nature with the delusional person believing themselves persecuted by the person they believe is in disguise.
The condition was reported for the first time in 1927. The paper describes a 27-year-old woman living in London who believed she was being persecuted by two actors she often saw at the theatre. She was convinced these people pursued her closely, taking the form of people she knew or met.
Treatment, which normally results in some improvement, often involves antipsychotic medications.
Photo via Quick Change Magic
Ellis HD, Whitley J, & Luauté JP (1994). Delusional misidentification. The three original papers on the Capgras, Frégoli and intermetamorphosis delusions. (Classic Text No. 17) History of psychiatry, 5 (17 Pt 1), 117-46 PMID: 11639277