Do I know you?

Intriguing story of Heather Sellers, who has one of the most severe ever-documented cases of prosopagnosia, or face blindness: the inability to recognize faces. The severity of prosopagnosia varies (the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks may be the most famous prosopagnostic), but In Sellers’s case, she can’t even recognize her own face.

Apparently people with prosopagnosia learn to recognize familiar people through voice, gesture, what they wear, the sound of their footsteps. Still, what would it be like never to recognize the faces of the people you love? Never to recognize yourself? Would you feel that you lived forever in a world of strangers?

Interestingly, Sellers wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood; apparently that is not infrequently the case for people with developmental (possibly genetically based) prosopagnosia (as opposed to prosopagnosia acquired as a result of injury or damage to the brain). Because if you never did recognize faces, then you wouldn’t necessarily be aware of what you’ve never been aware of. As noted by the Prosopagnosia Research Centers at Harvard:

Of course, they have never recognized faces normally so their impairment is not apparent to them. It is also difficult for them to notice, because individuals with normal face recognition rarely discuss their reliance on faces. As a result, there are a number of individuals who have not recognized their prosopagnosia until well into adulthood.

Which leads to the intriguing question: what might any of us not know that we’re not seeing?

I once walked into a building and caught sight of a person walking towards me and thought, “I know that person from somewhere.” I had a vague feeling we’d enjoyed meeting at some point. And then I realized that I was walking towards a mirror and that the person I was seeing was me.


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