Prosopagnosia: I See You But Who Are You?

18 Jun



Heather Sellers doesn’t know who she is. I mean she knows, but she can’t recognize her own reflection in the mirror. Or the faces of others. She suffers from Prosopagnosia, or face blindness. It’s not as uncommon as you might think, but most often it is mild and only slightly aggravating.

Acquired prosopagnosia often results from head trauma, stroke, or developmental prosopagnosia (as Heather Sellers has) seems to genetically determined and begins at a young age, before the development of normal facial recognition abilities. How do these folks recognize family and friends? And themselves? Usually by some combination of voice, clothing, hair style, mannerisms, walking gate, body language, or some combination of these and other cues.

Here is an interesting video of someone who has this malady.


9 responses to “Prosopagnosia: I See You But Who Are You?

  1. Raymond Benson

    June 18, 2013 at 7:19 am

    My 2003 novel, FACE BLIND, is about a woman with this very condition!


  2. habitforming2

    June 18, 2013 at 8:51 am

    I thought that face recognition starts developing in infancy; when does this start developing, around age 2-3?


    • D.P. Lyle, MD

      June 18, 2013 at 9:03 am

      Yes it begins very early but with this condition it apparently doesn’t develop in the normal fashion.


      • habitforming2

        June 18, 2013 at 9:09 am

        So, I’m just being curious – seems the condition develops after the basic facial recognition we use as infants, and disrupts further recognition & neural connectivity?


      • D.P. Lyle, MD

        June 18, 2013 at 10:00 am

        It’s poorly understood as are many psycho/neuro syndromes. The brain remains a mystery. But it can be either developmental (more or less genetic or in born) or acquired from some traumatic injury. As with most things it is likely some a combination of both in many cases.


  3. Sally Christie (@SallyChristie)

    June 18, 2013 at 8:53 am

    I tell my husband all of the time that if he changed his hair and style of dress I wouldn’t know him until he spoke or walked.

    There have been times that I couldn’t pick my daughter out of a group. Now a days I note the color of her clothes.

    In one of my books, gathering dust, a character had a bit of dialog stored up to recognize her room-mate. She would ask a question and the reply might be ladybugs, then the character would go ahead and tend to whatever.

    In the mornings before each left for work the room-mate would call out that she’d be wearing the blue scrunchy in her hair.

    Sally says don’t touch anything sharp.


  4. Michele Drier

    June 18, 2013 at 9:53 am

    My Sisters in Crime chapter, Capitol Crimes, is publishisng an anthology of short stories by members and one of them is a murder predicated on a woman’s inabiity to recognize and remember faces. Fascinating stuff!


  5. Cheryl B. Dale

    June 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    I’m not as bad as the woman in the video but it takes me days, or weeks, to learn to recognize someone by face. I’ve always laughed off my inability to recognize people I should know by joking I have facial ADD. Glad to know there’s a name for it.


  6. Carola

    June 19, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    There is a particular area of the brain that recognizes faces and is poorly developed in people with prosopagnosia. Oliver Sacks’ The Mind’s Eye is a very readable book in which he discusses his own severe prspgnsia.



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