The Rare Condition That Makes Faces Appear ‘Demonic’

Imagine looking at someone’s face and seeing a distorted, terrifying image instead of their true appearance. For individuals with a rare neurological condition known as prosopometamorphopsia, this unsettling experience is a daily reality. Sometimes referred to as “demonic face perception,” this condition causes facial features to appear distorted, grotesque, or even monstrous. Let’s delve into this unusual phenomenon and explore its causes, symptoms, and impact on those affected.

Understanding Prosopometamorphopsia:

Prosopometamorphopsia is a specific subtype of metamorphopsia, a broader term used to describe visual distortions that affect perception of shapes and objects. While metamorphopsia can manifest in various forms, prosopometamorphopsia specifically pertains to distorted facial perception. Individuals with this condition may perceive faces as asymmetrical, stretched, warped, or even “demonic” in appearance.

Causes and Mechanisms:

The exact cause of prosopometamorphopsia is not fully understood, but it is often associated with underlying neurological conditions or disorders affecting visual processing. These may include:

  • Brain Injury: Traumatic brain injury or damage to specific brain regions involved in facial recognition and processing can lead to visual distortions, including prosopometamorphopsia.
  • Neurological Disorders: Conditions such as epilepsy, migraine, and stroke may disrupt normal brain function, resulting in altered visual perception, including of faces.
  • Migraine Aura: Some individuals experience prosopometamorphopsia as part of the visual aura that precedes a migraine headache, though the exact mechanisms are not well-defined.

Symptoms and Characteristics:

The primary symptom of prosopometamorphopsia is the perception of distorted facial features. These distortions can vary in intensity and may be transient or persistent. Common characteristics include:

  • Facial Warping: Faces may appear elongated, compressed, or otherwise misshapen.
  • Asymmetry: Features on one side of the face may appear disproportionately larger or smaller than those on the other side.
  • Grotesque Appearance: Some individuals describe faces as appearing monstrous, demonic, or grotesque, with exaggerated or unsettling features.

Impact on Daily Life:

Living with prosopometamorphopsia can be challenging and distressing. The condition can significantly impact social interactions, as individuals may struggle to recognize or interpret facial expressions accurately. This can lead to feelings of alienation, social anxiety, and difficulty forming relationships. Additionally, the psychological toll of perceiving familiar faces as distorted or frightening can contribute to emotional distress and diminished quality of life.

Diagnosis and Management:

Diagnosing prosopometamorphopsia typically involves a comprehensive evaluation by a neurologist or ophthalmologist, including a review of medical history, neurological examination, and specialized vision testing. Treatment approaches may vary depending on the underlying cause and severity of symptoms. Options may include:

  • Medication: Depending on the underlying condition, medications such as antiepileptic drugs, migraine prophylactics, or antidepressants may be prescribed to manage symptoms.
  • Vision Therapy: Some individuals may benefit from vision therapy techniques aimed at improving visual processing and reducing perceptual distortions.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT techniques can help individuals cope with the emotional impact of prosopometamorphopsia, addressing negative thought patterns and developing strategies for managing anxiety and distress.


Prosopometamorphopsia is a rare and often misunderstood condition that profoundly affects the way individuals perceive and interact with the world around them. By raising awareness of this condition and its impact, we can foster greater understanding, empathy, and support for those living with prosopometamorphopsia. Continued research into its causes and treatment options is essential for improving the lives of affected individuals and enhancing our understanding of the complex mechanisms underlying visual perception.

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