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Author Topic: Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?  (Read 21743 times)

s_c

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« on: 06/12/2009 18:30:03 »
s_c asked the Naked Scientists:
   
Dear Naked Scientist,
  
I am an intelligent woman in her mid fifties.   I am highly confident and don't suffer from any anxiety or stress.
  
About a year ago I met a friend and went for coffee.   I called into the 'Ladies' on the way out... went to wash my hands and freshen my make-up and when I looked into the mirror I didn't recognise myself.   I stood for quite a few minutes and was shocked.
  
I went back to join my friend and didn't say anything about my experience.... we went on to find an Indian Restaurant and have a curry.   After the meal I went to the 'Ladies' again to see if I felt any differently about my mirror image... and I still didn't recognise myself...
  
I didn't say anything to my friend and I went home... went to bed and when I got up in the morning, everything was fine.   It was me.
  
Do you have any explanation for this stage episode... have you heard of it happening to other people... I have only told my mother and we would love to know what happened.
  
Kind regards,
  
SC
  
PS Just in case you are wondering, I am tee-total and have never taken any illegal substances.

What do you think?


 

Offline Chemistry4me

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« Reply #1 on: 07/12/2009 00:23:36 »
Were you faced with a stressful situation such as giving a speech or taking an important exam?
One of the symptoms of mild depersonalization disorder is "Being unable to recognize yourself or feeling unfamiliar with the person looking back at you when you look into a mirror. Feeling that your reflection belongs to someone else, or to you at a different age than you are now"

http://www.angelfire.com/home/bphoenix1/depers.html
 

Offline Shibs

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« Reply #2 on: 07/12/2009 19:11:33 »
Dear SC,

There are two things to say first of all from your letter.

This episode happened a year ago, and it seems that it has not happened ever since?

Secondly. you say that you do not suffer from stress easily? Therefore, the depersonalisation described above might be unlikely.

Instead, one wonders whether your brain in fact temporarily lost its ability to process the visual information from faces?

It is now known that the brain treats faces as visual objects in a special way.

It is somehow able to extract complicated information from the face, including identity and expression.

What you describe sounds like what cognitive scientists desribe as 'prosopagnosia'.

Evidence from humans and other animals support the notion - quite convincingly - that a particular part of the brain may be really important for face processing. This is shown here:



This picture is taken by the way from a very good article, posted here:

http://neurophilosophy.wordpress.com/2006/08/16/face-selective-neurons-in-the-rhesus-monkey-brain/ [nofollow]

Why should this have happened to you temporarily is anyone's guess.

Certainly, my post here is only a contribution to the academic debate and not seeking to find a cause for your experience.

SC, you may be intrigued to know that your episode has happened before, but only to my knowledge a handful of times in the whole world ever.

For example, there is a reported case of this phenomenon happening due to migraine.

I note however that you are a tee-totaller, so a red wine accompanying your curry is probably not the culprit in your case!

Please keep us posted whatever transpires.  It is fascinating conundrum, but it may never happen again......

All best wishes.
 

Offline chris

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« Reply #3 on: 07/12/2009 19:23:29 »
But is it not surprising that the effect was specific for her own face, but not that of her friend or others encountered, presumably, the same day this was happening?
 

Offline Karen W.

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« Reply #4 on: 08/12/2009 07:50:48 »
oooh thats a good point.. do people with personality disorders have any similar problems when a second self is in charge of original.. or however that works?
 

Offline Shibs

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« Reply #5 on: 08/12/2009 12:26:51 »
Yes. This is a very good point. Obviously a crucial point is how SC was able to find her way back to the table after visiting the toilet. The fact shat she did implies perhaps that she could recognise the faces of others.

However, if it were the case that people were shouting "SC!" (or equivalent), this auditory signal may have been sufficient instead.

In prosopagnosia, the deficit tends to be a 'global' one of face processing in faces generally i.e. you yourself, friends and relatives. General unawareness of oneself is normally discussed as a totally different entity called "anosognosia". Having a combination of anosognosia AND prosopagnosia, if that's what it was indeed, is even rarer.

Sorry for somewhat talking over you SC. This message is for you actually.
« Last Edit: 08/12/2009 12:41:50 by Shibs »
 

Offline RD

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« Reply #6 on: 08/12/2009 14:09:54 »
General unawareness of oneself is normally discussed as a totally different entity called "anosognosia".

Anosognosia is a specific type of agnosia where a person is not aware of their disability.
« Last Edit: 08/12/2009 14:12:01 by RD »
 

Offline Shibs

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« Reply #7 on: 08/12/2009 18:13:07 »
Thanks RD.

If you were anosognostic and prosopagnostic, you would be unable to recognise your own face or other people's, but not realise that you had a problem.

Maybe, at the risk of doing a U-turn, you can't have had this, because you knew that you didn't recognise yourself.

This is all becoming a bit confusing!

Back to the main subject - I am unaware of a face processing deficit to your own face only. Nothing's impossible.

Apologies for my red herring.
« Last Edit: 08/12/2009 18:55:30 by Shibs »
 

Offline Shibs

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« Reply #8 on: 08/12/2009 19:20:57 »
Sorry: I would like to take anosognasia out of the discussion from my end.

If you have severe prosopagnosia, it turns out you may not be able to recognise yourself in the mirror

http://health.howstuffworks.com/face-blind.htm [nofollow]

And yes indeed it might seem surprising that your friends' faces were unscathed.

Cognitive psychologists might tend to think of this as an order of priority in how the brain organises information. In other words, information about your own face is of a lower priority than information about other people's faces, so gets susceptible to loss first? Does this seem intuitively sound?
« Last Edit: 08/12/2009 19:29:03 by Shibs »
 

Offline DrN

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« Reply #9 on: 08/12/2009 20:50:36 »
I wonder if this is a similar kind of brain block, albeit more profound and infinately more disturbing, to one i get relatively frequently where I can't recognise words on a page, or where I can't remember how to spell certain, very simple, words? It generally only lasts a few minutes at a time, but is quite odd! I generally put it down to being tired or a bit run down. It doesn't really help explain anything, but was just a thought!
 

Offline Shibs

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« Reply #10 on: 09/12/2009 08:54:21 »
Not recognising words on a page = word agnosia
Spelling difficulties = spelling dyslexia (tend to be for much harder words)


These are termed specific cognitive deficits. They excite 'cognitive' experts enormously because it implies that the brain is not a huge swamp, but has well defined areas where function may be localised.


As you become tired, it may be that you 'pick off' certain abiltiies in a somewhat unprediuctable manner.
However, this is different from being born with a condition where you might suffer from this all the time, or where you acquire as a result of some 'insult' to the brain (e.g. stroke, or memningitis like I once had.)
However, you will know that, in your case, they are not permanent.
 

Offline DrN

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« Reply #11 on: 09/12/2009 23:05:26 »
Thanks, had no idea there was a term for that!

Not dyslexia though - not in the normal sense of the term anyway. Most of my family have it, so I can recognise it - when I have these difficulties it's for words like 'and', 'was', 'there' etc. Having said that, by the same score, most of my family have it, so there may be a tendency to it to a certain degree when tired I suppose.

Interesting thought that the brain may pick and choose which functions to shut down temporarily when tired. I wonder if any research has been done on this? Perhaps preoccupation or strong focus on something could do the same kind of thing?

Doesn't the body do much the same thing in certain circumstances - e.g. diverting blood from the skin to digest food, secreting pain-killing hormones for 'fight or flight' response, etc? basically allowing it to divert its energies into what it 'thinks' is the most important?
 

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Why did I not recognise myself in the mirror?
« Reply #11 on: 09/12/2009 23:05:26 »

 

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