Who am I looking at?

Originally Published: July 15, 2005
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Dear Alice,

I look at my reflection time and time again, and I ask myself: "Is that me?" At some point during the past 3 years or so of my life (throughout which there has been no specific traumas I can name, recall, or otherwise), I have lost the ability to recognise my own reflection. Looking at recent photographs, I often have to take a few moments to recognise myself then. Older photographs are even harder to recognise, especially if I was unaware of the photo being taken. Do I suffer from some kind of neurological pattern-matching disorder? It reminds me of dissociative identity disorder, but I have no referential 'other identity(ies)' to work this from. Is this a common problem for 16-year-olds like myself, or am I going insane faster than I thought?

~Faceless

P.S.: I am almost certain I suffer from schitzotypal disorder — is this connected in any way?

Dear Faceless,

It is understandable that you are worried about your inability to recognize yourself either in photographs or through your reflection. At the age of sixteen, this may be a normal result of having recently gone through puberty. This rite of passage into adulthood can drastically alter what people look like over short periods of time. You may even look different to others a day after they have seen you.

Regarding your concern over whether or not you have schizotypal personality disorder or dissociative identity disorder is a question only a trained mental health professional can determine. While it is important that you consult with a medical provider concerning your problem, this answer can provide you with the basic differences between these two mental disorders.

Dissociative identity disorder basically shows itself through people being unable to remember past events or day-to-day moments in their lives. People with dissociative identity disorder often report "losing time," or the experience of not being sure how they got to a certain place or not remembering significant chunks in their day. This is often brought about by trauma and the result of the mind's attempt to deal with this trauma.

Schizotypal personality disorder (SPD), which is closely related to schizophrenia, exhibits itself by distorting one's perceptual and cognitive impressions of him-/herself and others, and also by causing abnormal behavior, such as responding to things that aren't really there or responding to people in a suspicious or guarded way. Research has shown that people with schizophrenia can have problems with recognizing their own faces. Knowing this, it is not outside the realm of possibility that one who has schizotypal personality disorder could have a difficult time knowing his or her own face. To be diagnosed with SPD, one must have four or more of the following examples of symptoms:

  • changes in beliefs concerning who one is and how the world works
  • illusions regarding one's body
  • eccentric thinking and speech patterns
  • paranoia and heightened suspicion of others
  • lack or loss of friends and schoolmates other than first-degree relatives

It is impossible to make a diagnosis over the Internet, so it is most important that you meet with a mental health professional to discuss what, if anything, may be affecting you. If a diagnosis is made, then the two of you can work together on the next steps, including treating the condition.

You can contact your school's medical and/or counseling services to make an appointment for an evaluation. You can also get a referral to a mental health professional through your pediatrician or family health care provider.

You can check out the following resources for any additional info:

"Where Personality Goes Awry" on the American Psychological Association website

Dissociative Identity Disorder info on the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill website
Alice