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Caine, D. (2009). Reflecting on Mirror Self-misrecognition. Neuropsychoanalysis, 11(2):211-226.

(2009). Neuropsychoanalysis, 11(2):211-226

Reflecting on Mirror Self-misrecognition

Diana Caine

We have previously reported impaired mirror self-recognition in two remarkable patients in whom this was, unusually, an early presenting sign in a progressive dementing illness (Breen, Caine, & Coltheart, 2001). They each believed that a stranger had taken up residence in their home and, indeed, in their life, a belief sustained and elaborated over a period of many months. Our principal interest, reflecting an information-processing approach drawn from cognitive neuropsychology, was an exploration of the cognitive deficits underlying delusions of misidentification. The fact that the problem of misidentification arose specifically in the context of a reflective surface, a mirror, was fascinating, but we accorded it scant attention. Somewhat ironically, then, in paying close attention to the cognitive deficits that might underlie the patients' inability to recognize their mirror reflection, we paid scant attention to the complexity and richness of their mirror-based delusion. The acquisition, during infancy, of the ability to recognize the reflexive relations between the “me” who sees and the “me” who is seen, is a singularly complex achievement (Barzilai, 1995). Recognizing that complexity, albeit belatedly, this paper takes Maurice Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological account of infant acquisition of mirror self-recognition as its point of departure. I use this account to make a close and detailed reading of the extensive, previously unpublished and unreported written and taped records of interviews conducted by us with the two patients in the Neuropsychology Unit at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney. This re-reading focuses less on self-misrecognition per se and more on the subtle but dramatic shifts and gaps, the movement, the conflict, between self-recognition and perception of the self as other. A new interpretation of the phenomenology is offered in this process.

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