Research Reveals Frightening Details Of Disorder That Causes People To See Faces As Demons

Victor Sharrah, a 59-year-old man from Tennessee, was diagnosed with prosopometamorphopsia (PMO), an extremely rare neurological disorder that causes human faces to appear distorted. More specifically, it makes them look like demons.

For Victor, this sudden change in perception occurred out of the blue in November 2020 when he woke up to see his roommate’s facial features looking like “something out of a ‘Star Trek’ movie, like a demon face.”

“My first thought was I woke up in a demon world,” he said. “You can’t imagine how scary it was.”

Then, he noticed the same demonic faces—with ears, noses, and mouths stretched back—on other people as well.

Image credits: Mello, Antônio et al. The Lancet, Volume 403, Issue 10432, 1176

When he told his roommate about it, his symptoms were mistaken for a mental health problem.

“I tried to explain to my roommate what I was seeing, and he thought I was nuts,” the 59-year-old told CNN.

“Imagine waking up one morning, and suddenly everybody in the world looks like a creature in a horror movie.”

Faces only appear distorted for Victor when he sees them in person. When he’s staring at someone’s face through a computer screen or on a picture, he sees them as everyone else does.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, fewer than 100 cases of PMO have been reported since 1904, and many doctors don’t even know about the neurological disorder.

Experts believe the condition is underreported, especially because patients’ symptoms are often misdiagnosed as schizophrenia or psychosis.

Thanks to his descriptions, researchers were able to learn more about the disorder and recreate the way Victor sees the world

Image credits: Mello, Antônio et al. The Lancet, Volume 403, Issue 10432, 1176

Antônio Mello, a Ph.D. student who works in Dartmouth’s Social Perception Lab, explained that, unlike people with schizophrenia, PMO patients “don’t think that the world is really distorted — they just realize that there is something different with their vision.”

Furthermore, Mello said that many patients “don’t tell anybody or tell very few people about it because they’re afraid of what others are going to think.”

Victor’s case helped scientists gain new insight into the rare condition. For the first time, experts were able to see the world from the point of view of someone with PMO. They did so by asking the patient to describe the differences between a person’s photo and their in-person features.

With this information, Mello and other researchers modified the digital photographs to match Victor’s description, as shown in a report published in The Lancet.

“Imagine waking up one morning, and suddenly everybody in the world looks like a creature in a horror movie,” Victor described

Image credits: Mello, Antônio et al. The Lancet, Volume 403, Issue 10432, 1176

Learn more about PMO below

Image credits: BIU Vision Science

Researchers believe PMO is linked with dysfunction in the brain network that handles facial processing. However, they’re not sure about what triggers said dysfunction. While some patients had histories of head trauma, stroke, epilepsy, or migraines, others didn’t experience any structural changes in their brains.

As for Victor, two possible triggers were identified that may explain his disorder, as per NBC News. The first one is that he had carbon monoxide poisoning four months prior to his PMO symptoms. Then, the Tennessee resident had injured the left side of his brain as a result of a domestic accident when he was 43.

Mello says that, for some people, “it’s impossible to find a single event that was responsible” for the disorder. He also added that many individuals with PMO have been seeing demonic faces since their childhood.

Another mystery surrounding the disorder lies in an unlikely element that alleviates Victor’s symptoms: green light.

Scientists have yet to find an explanation for it, but when he’s in a crowd, the man wears glasses with green-tinted lenses, which allow him to see faces as they really are instead of the spooky alternatives.

“So the movie Smile is real,” someone commented

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