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Man Sees Distorted, Demon-Like Faces Due to Rare Neurological Disorder

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When Victor Sharrah woke up one day in November 2020, he feared he was in some sort of “demonic world.”

When he looked at people’s faces, they looked like “demons”, with their ears, noses and mouths stretched back, and with deep grooves on their foreheads, cheeks and chin.

“You can’t imagine how scary it was,” said the 59-year-old from Clarksville, Tennessee.

What he was actually seeing were distortions caused by an incredibly rare neurological disorder known as prosopometamorphopsia, or PMO.

What is even more unusual in Mr. Sharrah’s case is that when he looked at a phone or computer screen, people’s faces appeared normally.

This gave scientists an interesting opportunity to place Mr Sharrah at the center of an interesting new study – the results of which were recently published in the respected medical journal The Lancet.

For the first time, researchers were able to recreate these rare PMO distortions in image form.

Victor Sharrah was seeing distortions caused by an incredibly rare neurological disorder known as prosopometamorphopsia, or PMO.  Here is a representation of what he saw.  Photo: Antonio Mello/The Lancet.
Picture:
Photo: Antonio Mello/The Lancet.

Victor Sharrah was seeing distortions caused by an incredibly rare neurological disorder known as prosopometamorphopsia, or PMO.  Here is a representation of what he saw.  Photo: Antonio Mello/The Lancet.
Picture:
Photo: Antonio Mello/The Lancet.

“As the patient reported no distortion when viewing facial images on a screen or on paper, we asked him to compare an in-person face to a photograph of the face taken in the same room under conditions of identical lighting,” the authors said in their report. report.

“By alternating between observing the in-person face perceived as distorted and the photo on a computer screen perceived as undistorted, it provided real-time feedback on perceived differences.

“We then used image editing software to edit each photo until it matched his personal perception.”

What is the PMO?

There are reportedly fewer than 100 published case reports of PMO, and scientists don’t fully understand what triggers it.

However, they suspect this is due to a dysfunction in the brain network that manages face processing.

Distortions can vary from case to case, with other people reporting seeing people with droopy or shifted eyes, and others reporting seeing “witch-like” features.

Interestingly, unlike someone suffering from hallucinations due to a mental disorder, a person with PMO is aware that what they are seeing is a distortion or that something is wrong with their vision.

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According to Sky News’ US partner NBC, researchers have proposed two possible triggers in Mr Sharrah’s case.

The first was that he had carbon monoxide poisoning four months before his PMO symptoms began.

The second was that he had suffered a serious head injury 15 years earlier when he hit his head on concrete, with the MRI showing a lesion on the left side of his brain.

Mr. Sharrah also has a history of bipolar affective disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, the study found.

Victor Sharrah was seeing distortions caused by an incredibly rare neurological disorder known as prosopometamorphopsia, or PMO.  Here is a representation of what he saw.  Photo: Antonio Mello/The Lancet.
Picture:
Photo: Antonio Mello/The Lancet.

Victor Sharrah was seeing distortions caused by an incredibly rare neurological disorder known as prosopometamorphopsia, or PMO.  Here is a representation of what he saw.  Photo: Antonio Mello/The Lancet.
Picture:
Photo: Antonio Mello/The Lancet.

Although PMO symptoms often disappear after a few days or weeks, they can persist for years, and Mr. Sharrah said he still sees demonic faces.

“I almost got institutionalized”

He has found ways to cope with his condition, including living with a roommate and her two children, which he says has been helpful because he is used to being around people and therefore is not as scared when he sees new faces in public.

According to NBC, he also finds that green light eases his symptoms, which is why he sometimes wears glasses with green tinted lenses when he is in crowds.

Mr Sharrah wants others to know they can manage this disease.

“I almost ended up in an institution,” he added.

According to the study’s lead author, Antonio Mello, a doctoral student who works at Dartmouth’s Social Perception Lab, many doctors are unaware of PMO and may instead misdiagnose people with mental health disorders.

As a result, some patients in the Prime Minister’s Office have been prescribed medication for schizophrenia or psychosis, which is not suitable for their condition, he added.

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