Monday, September 27, 2010

Life with Prosopagnosia

I'll admit up front that I'm not officially diagnosed, but I'm pretty sure I have prosopagnosia.  The symptoms of it are present throughout my life and I can't remember ever not having them.

Prosopagnosia is also known as face blindness.  It is the inability to see faces properly or recognize them at all and can range in severity from just not being able to recall most people to not recognizing your own face in the mirror.  I lay on the middle of the spectrum.  I can recognize a few people and remember a few faces vaguely, but the great majority are blurs and I usually can't find myself or anyone else in a picture.  I can see a picture of just me and know intellectually that the person in it is me, but I don't really recall myself or how I look.

I realized that I couldn't see faces when I was 17 and bored at work.  Walking through the aisles of the store I work in, I tried to remember the face of someone I worked with and kept trying for several minutes before realizing that as hard as I tried, the face of this person was a big blur and I could only see their hair and clothes.  This alarmed me - I had never really thought about my inability to see faces before, and the more I thought on it for the next year, the more I realized that there was something wrong.  I can't recall faces from my life except for still photographs of people, and even those are sketchy at best.

This has an interesting effect on school and classes.  As hard as I try, I don't recall any classmates from school.  Every day was and still is sitting in a classroom of strangers.  I'll remember where I sit and can often recognize that someone sits near me by their backpack or hair or a jacket they always wear, but I'd never know who they were outside of class.

Forming relationships is odd.  I've been told it takes more effort than someone who can properly see faces and that seems true, though I can't say for myself.  Last year I was waiting for my boyfriend at a park.  It's a pretty big area, but I told him what side of the building in the middle of it I would be on.  There were lots of people moving around near me and I didn't realize that he was standing right at the end of the road next to me until he finally came up to me and asked if I saw him.  I didn't.  I also walk right past my roommates in the hallway without knowing who they are, which insulted one of them before I explained to her why I didn't say hello.

An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today said that children with autism usually process faces with the part of the brain normally used to process objects.  I wonder if this is part of why I can't remember them and also wonder if more people on the autistic spectrum have this and have never reported it.  It took me 17 years to realize that I couldn't because not seeing faces was the norm for me and I didn't know that others could see them until I tried and talked to others.

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