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Rare Disorder Makes People Think They’re Seeing ‘Demonic’ Faces: 'Like a Creature in a Horror Movie'

Called Prosopometamorphopsia, the disorder causes people’s faces to appear grossly stretched out in “demon-like” ways

<p>The Lancet</p> A computer illustration of what someone with prosopometamorphopsia sees.

The Lancet

A computer illustration of what someone with prosopometamorphopsia sees.
  • A rare disorder called Prosopometamorphopsia makes people’s faces appear “demon-like,” with grossly stretched-out features

  • For the first time, scientists were able to use computer software to illustrate how the disorder distorts people’s faces

  • The recently diagnosed patient says he hopes his case will help others with the disorder, who are often misdiagnosed with mental illness

A rare disorder makes people think they’re seeing ‘demon-like’ faces everywhere, with people’s eyes and mouths stretched out, ears pointed, and deep grooves carved into their faces.

Called Prosopometamorphopsia, the disorder was recently diagnosed in a 59-year-old man, according to a study published in The Lancet. The disorder is so rare that according to one 2021 report, only 81 cases have been recorded.

“It’s like staring at demons,” the patient, Victor Sharrah, told CNN. “Imagine waking up one morning and suddenly everybody in the world looks like a creature in a horror movie.”

According to the study, “The patient stated that the distortions — severely stretched features of the face, with deep grooves on the forehead, cheeks and chin — were present on every person's face he encountered, but he reported no distortions when looking at objects, such as houses or cars."

<p>The Lancet</p> Computer illustrations of what someone with prosopometamorphopsia sees.

The Lancet

Computer illustrations of what someone with prosopometamorphopsia sees.

"The patient said that even though faces were distorted, he was still able to recognize who they were,” the study continued.

Sharrah only saw the distortions when looking directly at a person — not when looking at a photo or a computer screen — so researchers were able to create photorealistic depictions of what those with Prosopometamorphopsia see.

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The study didn’t find the cause of his disorder, but researchers did note he had an arachnoid cyst in his brain.

An arachnoid cyst is a ”noncancerous fluid-filled sac that grows on the brain or spinal cord,” the Cleveland Clinic explains. While they may cause headaches or seizures, “treatment isn’t always necessary,” unless they cause problems.

“Untreated, arachnoid cysts can cause brain damage and movement problems.”

However, while the cyst was noted in the study, it wasn’t definitively linked as the cause of the Prosopometamorphopsia.

<p>The Lancet</p> Computer illustration of what someone with prosopometamorphopsia sees.

The Lancet

Computer illustration of what someone with prosopometamorphopsia sees.

“The patient had a history of bipolar affective disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, he had a significant head injury at the age of 43 years that led to hospitalization,” the study noted.

“He also had possible carbon monoxide poisoning at the age of 55 years, which occurred 4 months prior to the onset of his distortion symptoms.”

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But while the cause hasn’t been determined, Sharrah told CNN he hopes his diagnosis can help other people with the disorder.

“I almost had myself committed to a mental hospital,” he told the outlet. “How many other people are institutionalized and being put on anti-psychotics when they’re not psychotic?”

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