Who’s That Girl In the Mirror?

I don’t recognize my own face.   

While I do have a logical understanding that the face I see in the mirror is mine and it is what other people see when they look at me, that face in the mirror means nothing to me.  I don’t know who it is.  To find myself in a photograph, I have to look for the clothes I was wearing.   

I’ve thought a great deal about this and the best explanation I have come to is that I don’t see my face as a face.  I can see that it has all the necessary elements – eyes, nose, mouth, cheeks, forehead, chin – all in the correct places, but somehow when I look at my own face, it doesn’t seem to be arranged correctly to be a face.  In pictures, I feel like some of my features are out of proportion, though whether they’re too big or too small varies by the picture.   

I hesitated to call this actual prosopagnosia because it isn’t consistent, but it turns out that there’s more than one way to be face blind.  I can recognize lots of people, even people I haven’t seen in decades.  I’ve run into people from seventh grade and recognized them immediately.  But I haven’t seen my cousins since I was that age, and I wouldn’t know them if I passed them on the street.  There are celebrities whose faces I can bring to mind in perfect detail, but oftentimes I can’t imagine my own family members.   

For instance, I don’t recognize my mother outside of her home or my home.  If I run into her somewhere I wasn’t expecting to see her, it takes me a few moments to figure out who she is.  I couldn’t find my stepdaughter’s mom in a crowd, even though I spend the holidays with them every year and I consider her a dear friend as well as family.  My boyfriend and I live two hours apart and although we talk every day, we only see each other once or twice a month.  It took a few months for me to learn his face and not be surprised every time I saw him.  When we met for our first date, he had to find me because I had no idea what he looked like. 

Anecdotally, it seems like I don’t recognize people if I have other things to associate with them – personality, memories, jokes, etc. – but for people I know almost nothing about, it’s easier to remember their faces, maybe because that’s all I have.  That’s pure speculation, I haven’t tested it, but it sounds promising. 

Facebook has been very helpful in this regard.  I’m not a huge fan of Facebook, for reasons I may get into in another post, but I’m so thankful for it for this.  Almost everyone has pictures of themselves posted, so I can see their picture with their name next to it and all of that right next to what they said, so I can connect it to the conversation.  That is much more helpful than I ever expected.  

Although face blindness is not an integral part of autism, it is frequently associated with ASD.  There is speculation that the inability to read emotional cues could be linked to a form of prosopagnosia where the individual can’t distinguish a face from an object.  I don’t know how much I believe that, but it’s certainly possible.  And the lack of recognition is definitely a part of my social ineptitude.   

I’ve never met another person who didn’t recognize the face in the mirror.  I think I assumed everyone felt like that until I realized that every time I saw a picture of myself in a group, I had no idea which one was me.  It’s a very strange feeling, almost dissociative, when you stare into your reflection trying to make it into you, and it can easily lead down an odd sort of existential rabbit hole.  I don’t recommend it if you’re prone to obsessive thoughts and/or depersonalization.   

Does anyone else have this kind of issue?  Do you look in the mirror and wonder who the hell is looking back at you?  Have you learned any strategies to deal with face blindness? 

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