Prosopagnosia – face blindness

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CW: mention of mental health conditions, brain injury, gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia.

Prosopagnosia  (or face blindness) is the inability to recognise people’s faces. Some people with this neurodivergence cannot recognise family members, or even themselves in mirrors or photographs. Others can struggle with people with certain characteristics. This can also mean we have issues with recognising facial expressions and a person’s general mood.

Some people are born with (developmental) prosopagnosia and some aquire it after an acquired brain injury, such as having a stroke or being involved in an accident.  Developmental prosopagnosia appears to have a hereditary component – so if you have face-blindness it is likely someone in your biological family has too. Developmental prosopagnosia is more common than you may think – there are over 1.5 million people in the UK who have it (NHS).

Prosopagnosia is more common in Autistic people and people who have Williams Syndrome ( a genetic difference which comes with distinctive facial features and learning difficulties) and Turner Syndrome (a chromosome difference which affects a person’s height and ovary development).

Prosopagnosia is problematic for many reasons:

  • not recognising people makes us appear rude or ignorant
  • we can be scared by partners and family members when they are overly familiar with us
  • it can be difficult following the plot of TV shows, films or comic books
  • it complicates issues with body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria in which there can be major issues with how we look or believe we look

All of the above means that people with prosopagnosia can live a fairly isolated and unhappy existence directly linked to not being able to socialise in the way we would like.

My prosopagnosia means I can’t differentiate between different people with blonde hair and I take a long time to recognise people when they are not in their usual context. Watching films and TV is difficult, especially with my attention differences, I have trouble differentiating between characters and understanding who is the ‘good guy’ or ‘bad guy.’ I also worry about how people react to me not recognising them but my biggest issue with prosopagnosia have been other people’s responses when I tell them. People take it as me making a joke, or just being ditzy. They don’t understand that what I am talking about is real and can be extremely anxiety-inducing for me and others who have face-blindness.

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