Monday, March 28, 2011

Medical Mondays: Doppelgänger Diagnosis


A doppelgänger is a distinct double of a person that can be seen. It's often thought of as a bad omen or evil entity, but is often used casually as a description of someone who closely resembles you.

There may actually be a medical reason for seeing doppelgängers in real life.

  • With electrical stimulation to the temporoparietal (that's the side of the brain, towards the back) part of the brain, a woman could distinctly feel the presence of a sinister double copying her actions. (See full article in NatureNews)
  • Syndrome of subjective doubles, or Syndrome of Christodoulou is an unusual delusional syndrome whereby a person believes a doppelgänger who looks like them but acts differently, is out in the world leading a separate life. Often it is caused by mental illness or neurological problems in the right temporal lobe of the brain. There may be some overlap with Capgras delusion ("Are You My Mother?"), which I've blogged about.
Some famous figures have experienced doppelgängers in their lives, such as Goethe, Abraham Lincoln (that was more of a two-faced person), and John Donne.

In literature,
doppelgängers as fantasty elements have been Edgar Allen Poe's short story "William Wilson"and Dostoyevsky's short story "The Double: A Peterson Poem."

Anyone see the movie Black Swan? Natalie Portman's doppelgänger should have won best supporting actress!

Have any of you read a good novel lately portraying a doppelgänger?

Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice.

If you've got a fictional medical question, let me know! Post below or email me at
All I ask is that you become a follower and post a link on your blog when I post your answer.

53 comments:

Nick Thomas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vicki Rocho said...

I had no idea there was a medical basis for this. You're making me smarter one post at a time!

Laura Pauling said...

Interesting! I haven't seen Black Swan, but I've heard a lot about it and will see it once it hits Red Box!

Connie said...

Hmm. I'm not sure if I've read William Wilson. I'm a big Poe fan so it's time to look that one up. Thanks for the info.

jbchicoine said...

Wow, I'd never even heard of this one... would make an interesting ingredient in a character!

Sarah said...

The most interesting book I've ever read about a doppelganger was Charles Williams' Descent Into Hell, which is a kind of theological thriller (he was a contemporary of CS Lewis). I think he portrays his character's fear of meeting her double quite well--it gave me chills.

lbdiamond said...

I love this stuff!

I suppose the most recent doppleganger story I'm familiar with (other than Black Swan) is the Vampire Diaries--haven't read the books, but watch the show, LOL!

Susan Fields said...

That's fascinating! Sounds like a great basis for a story.

Melissa said...

Totally agree with you about Natalie Portmann and black swan!

I didn't realize there was real reasons behind the dopelganger stuff! How AWESOME (though not for those experiencing it)!

Anne Gallagher said...

Wow, this is just totally fascinating. And it does sound like a great storyline. What was that old fairy tale, or was it Dickens? The Prince and the Pauper?

Tracey Neithercott said...

That's so interesting. I didn't know seeing doppelgangers was an actual condition. It reminds me of How I Met Your Mother--each of the main characters sees his/her doppelganger.

Munk said...

Bizzaro Superman or Seinfeld?

Janet Johnson said...

Wow, I didn't know this could be an actual medical condition. Fascinating! I love these posts. :)

Carol Kilgore said...

My WIP has a bit of a doppelganger thing going on, but it's planned.

Bossy Betty said...

Love it! I knew about doppelgangers, but not in this detail. Very interesting!

Matthew MacNish said...

Ooh, so maybe Lincoln's doppelganger was a vampire hunter, what fun!

Heather said...

This is really interesting! I actually haven't read any novels that involve dopplegangers. A great idea!

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Doppelgangers are a fun concept to play with in our writing. I used the Doppeleganger of Dr. Watson in a Sherlock Holmes novel, JILL THE RIPPER.

Sadly, it burned up along with many other of my earlier writings. Have a great new week, Roland

Raquel Byrnes said...

That so creeps me out! What an interesting device for a plot though. I think I read a book with that recently...Riven? Not sure, but it was very unsettling.
Edge of Your Seat Romance

Sondrae Bennett said...

Whenever I think of Doppelganger I always think of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode titled the Doppelganger. A vampire Willow from another dimension is brought into theirs. The idea has interested me ever since but it's really fascinating to know some of the science behind it (not the whole vampire thing but the doppelganger phenomenon, lol). I just adore this blog feature.

Alleged Author said...

I used to get scared of running into a doppelganger when I was MUCH younger. I blame some cruddy Lifetime movie for that fear. :P

Danyelle said...

Interesting post. I had no idea people in real life experienced this. I've always dreamed of having a few doppelgangers for cleaning and cooking and such. ;-)

Chris Phillips said...

I either have the second one or Brad Pitt is really evil and trying to make me look bad!

Angela Felsted said...

Doppelgangers and evil twins. I've read a lot of both, but not such much of either in real life.

Karen Lange said...

I've heard this term but didn't realize what it meant. This would make for an interesting plot! Thanks, as always, for the info. ;)

Talli Roland said...

Scary!

I've always wondered about this. Thanks!

Colene Murphy said...

Freaky! Either way is freaking. An actual me running around or I'm insane. Geez. ;)

runawaybride said...

If I remember right, Goethe even cut off ears due to his mental illness.

mist of the blossom rain said...

This is so fascinating! I have actually never heard of this. I also had no idea that Abraham Lincoln suffered from it.

Maria McKenzie said...

Fascinating as always! I didn't know what a doppelganger was.

Ghenet Myrthil said...

I also didn't know this was a real diagnosis. So interesting. Now that I know what this is, Black Swan is a perfect example.

Old Kitty said...

The Double by Dostoyevsky!

That Nature article is so creepy!! Wow. Thanks for the link - the poor brain is such a delicate but very powerful entity!! Amazing, thank you! take care
x

Krispy said...

Black Swan was the first thing I thought when I read your bullet about the electrical stimulation and the sinister other being a copycat! Haha.

Very interesting stuff.

M Pax said...

Interesting. I did read a story about dopplegangers a long time ago. Don't remember the name of the novel. It had to do with Druids and Stonehenge and stuff.

Indigo said...

Great post. I've bookmarked this, as I've written about a doppelganger in my latest WIP. Thanks for the information!

Poe's "William Wilson" came to mind immediately. Not to mention I'm a huge Edgar Allen Poe fan.
(Hugs)Indigo

Nas Dean said...

Dopplegangers were potrayed in Virginia Andrews FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC series. And now the very famous Vampire Diaries have one of it's main character's doppleganger arriving!

Your post was interesting. Thanks.

Linda Gray said...

Wow, as soon as you mentioned mental illness I thought of Black Swan--totally agree re best supporting actress! Didn't know there was an actual medical basis for it, though. Thanks! (do you think soap operas' evil twin characters are just dumbed-down doppelgangers?)

Theresa Milstein said...

Soap operas have evil twin sisters, but that's not the same is it?

I haven't seen Black Swan. I want to but it looks pretty intense.

Hanny said...

I thought evil Doppelgangers all had goatees:)

Lisa Potts said...

Can I just say I LOVE your medical Mondays. I always find the posts fascinating and learning something new is always a plus.

Meredith said...

How strange! The idea of doppelgangers freaks me out!

Walt Mussell said...

When I've seen this used, I don't think I thought of it as a doppelganger.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I have heard of Doppelganger, but had no idea that there was a medical reason for them. Lydia, thankyou for increasing my knowledge. :)

The Words Crafter said...

Again, I thought this was just a fictional element used by writers. How fascinating that it's real, wow!

Jonene Ficklin said...

Abraham Lincoln? Wow! Thanks for a great post!

Olga said...

As usual, this is a fascinating post. I don't even know how this knowledge might come in handy in my life, but it's just so interesting. I was surprise to know that Dostoyevsky describes this syndrome.

Lisa Gail Green said...

I know I've said this before but I absolutely love these posts! I actually almost went this way with my new WIP but decided on a different direction. *wiggles fingers in mysterious and elusive way*

Nisa said...

I haven't read a book on it, but I think it would be riveting! The suspense would be awesome! You could go so many ways with it. Nice inspirational post!

LTM said...

oh, I SO agree about Black Swan, and ew. Creepiness re: that Abe Lincoln thing.

So what's the explanation for deja vu? I've been experiencing it a bit lately... lately. :D <3

K.V. Briar said...

Super cool post . . . now I have an idea that would make a great short story. Thanks Lydia! These Medical Mondays are awesome :)

Jai Joshi said...

This is an interesting issue. I haven't read any stories like that recently but when I was a kid I remember watching and reading lots of stories like that. And being intrigued by the idea that there might be someone who looked just like me out there in the world, living there life.

Jai

Ciara said...

I never knew that this was based on a real disorder. I always learn so much from these posts. :)

athan chilton said...

A friend of mine who reads various blogs pointed me to this one--because I had just put a song up on 'Tunescoop' called...you guessed it...'Doppelganger'...written many years ago, based partly on a dream & partly on imagination. But 'my' doppelganger wasn't scary--it was just like a younger 'me' standing in my doorway in the rain, and crying. More sad and strange than scary. Fascinating research!!

 
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