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Some kind of WW3/resource war event happens. The majority of human beings (definately over 90%, so billions) are killed by a series of bioweapon diseases used by both sides or die in the ensuing collapse (starvation, breakdown of infrastructure and medical care, general chaos, suicide from despair). There may be a limited nuclear exchange that destroys major targets, but not on the level of making the entire planet a radioactive wasteland, and it is not what kills most human beings. Obviously, the global economy as we know it and virtually all government ceases to exist.

Most survivors live in pockets of countryside backwater enough to avoid the worst of the collapse. They typically live by small scale agriculture and craftsmanship (roughly around the level off the Amish, maybe a little less. My point is, they don't go all the way back down to caveman-level). Some of these communities were founded by survivalists/homesteaders who believed that the world as they knew it was heading towards some kind of collapse. Some of these communities attempt to integrate surviving refugees from modern society, others leave them to die.

The survivors of the setting, especially the refugees from the not-backwater regions of the world, have seen a level of death and destruction unprecedented in human history. Billions dead, cities full of corpses, the entire modern way of life gone. I was thinking about the psychological and cultural effects of this. Obviously, many people would be traumatized and there would be a peculiar stress of knowing that the world you once counted on is now gone. I had the idea that something like a mass psychogenic illness or a culture bound syndrome might develop where people hallucinate that they are seeing the dead, or hearing dead people talk to them (if you are a survivor, it can be taken for granted that almost everyone you have encountered- from old classmates and coworkers to people in the checkout line of the grocery store, are now dead). How plausible is this?

This is my first question. I hope it was properly formatted and tagged.

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  • $\begingroup$ It might be easier in many cases to simply give the survivors a carbon monoxide leak. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jan 12 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ I'm sorry, I don't understand what you mean by that. I think you're being sarcastic but I don't get the joke. I don't think there would be a lot of carbon monoxide leaks if society returns to a pre-industrial, rural agrarian state. $\endgroup$ – TidalPool Jan 12 at 14:42
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Absolutely yes.

What you describe for these survivors is PTSD - post-traumatic stress disorder. Your survivors could definitely have PTSD. One part of PTSD is flashbacks. They are bad.

https://www.talkspace.com/blog/happens-brain-ptsd-flashback/

Flashbacks are like waking nightmares. They are intense, repeated episodes of re-living the traumatic experience while you’re fully awake. Flashbacks can come on suddenly and feel uncontrollable. They are more like a nightmare than a memory because sufferers often cannot distinguish between the flashback and reality, feeling like the traumatic experience is happening again, in the moment. Flashbacks are vivid, sensory experiences. During one, a sufferer might see, hear, and smell things they saw, heard and smelled during the traumatic moment.

If the flashback is seeing a person you knew dying again before your eyes, that sounds like seeing a ghost to me.

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It's already happened in the past that certain communities have developed what we today describe as psychosis or mass hysteria: the witch hunt in Salem, the hunt for groups who allegedly spread the plague during the black death are just a few examples.

Therefore it is plausible that your community will develop something analogue. The right mix of desperation, ignorance and fanaticism can do "miracles" from this point of view.

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When I first started treatment for my psychosis, I was introduced to a model depicting the correlation between stress and psychosis. Essentially, everyone could potentially develop a psychosis if they're stressed enough, and trauma is pretty stressful. So in our society, we who go on to develop schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders would have a relatively low tolerance for stress, meaning this is triggered earlier for us than "normal" individuals.

There's also the whole deal about having more dopamine than others, which moves me to my next point. Potentially, the bioweapons used could have an unpredicted long-term effect which alters neurochemistry in those affected, making them more prone to hallucinating.

I've also noticed a tendency of borrowing/adopting beliefs other psychotic people have, at least if the new belief fits the delusions the psychotic individual already has. So if a few people start seeing ghosts, this could potentially spread (kind of like how seeing or feeling bugs crawling on your skin is a pretty common hallucination).

Anyway, I hope this was somewhat helpful!

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