Rare disorder leads man to perceive ‘demonic’ faces, diagnosed with prosopometamorphopsia. Published study sheds light on this rare neurological condition.

Victor Sharrah, known to have sharp vision, experienced a life-altering event in November 2020 when he suddenly perceived people’s faces as demonic. Their facial features appeared distorted, with stretched ears, noses, and mouths, along with deep grooves in their foreheads, cheeks, and chins. Sharrah, a resident of Clarksville, Tennessee, described his initial reaction as a terrifying realization that he had entered a demon world.

After seeking advice from someone who worked with visually impaired individuals, Sharrah was diagnosed with prosopometamorphopsia (PMO), a rare neurological disorder that causes faces to appear distorted in shape, size, texture, or color. This diagnosis allowed researchers at Dartmouth College to create digital representations of the warped faces that Sharrah was experiencing, a visualization opportunity previously unavailable.

PMO symptoms typically resolve within days or weeks, but in Sharrah’s case, the demonic faces persist. The underlying cause of PMO is believed to involve dysfunction in the brain’s facial processing network. Some cases have been associated with head trauma, stroke, epilepsy, or migraines, while others have occurred without noticeable structural changes in the brain.

Possible triggers identified in Sharrah’s case included carbon monoxide poisoning and a head injury sustained years earlier, resulting in a lesion on the left side of his brain. Researchers at Dartmouth’s Social Perception Lab discovered variations in PMO symptoms among different patients, with some experiencing distorted faces since childhood. Despite being underreported, new cases of PMO are emerging regularly.

Patients with PMO may be misdiagnosed with mental health disorders, leading to inappropriate treatments. Unlike psychological disorders, individuals with PMO are aware that their vision is different rather than perceiving the world as distorted. Treatment strategies for PMO patients vary due to the unique nature of their symptoms.

Individual experiences of PMO manifestations can range from drooping faces to seeing multiple faces on one person. PMO symptoms may worsen when observing moving faces, explaining why some individuals only notice facial distortion in real life rather than in static images. Sharrah, who has found relief from his symptoms with the use of green-tinted glasses, emphasizes the importance of managing the condition and supporting others who may be struggling with similar challenges.

Thanks to the study published in The Lancet, we gain valuable insights into the complexities of PMO and its impact on individuals like Victor Sharrah.

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