This is what it’s like to have scary ‘demon face’ syndrome, a rare condition that makes everyone look Satanic

Certain people feel like they're seeing monsters everywhere due to a frightening, ultra-rare condition that causes everyone to look like they have an evil smile, per a study published in
Certain people feel like they're seeing monsters everywhere due to a frightening, ultra-rare condition that causes everyone to look like they have an evil smile, per a study published in "The Lancet."

So much for “see no evil.”

Perceiving malevolent-looking entities might seem like a horror trope. However, Tennessee’s Victor Sharrah sees monsters everywhere due to an ultra-rare condition called “demon face” syndrome that causes everyone to look like they have an evil smile, per a groundbreaking study published in “The Lancet.”

“You can’t imagine how scary it was,” the 59-year-old Clarksville native told NBC news while describing his distorted perception disorder.

A visual representation of what Sharrah sees when he looks at people. A. Mello et al. / SWNS
A visual representation of what Sharrah sees when he looks at people. A. Mello et al. / SWNS

The truck driver reportedly first realized something was awry in 2020 after he noticed a disfigured looking man in his apartment who turned out to be his roommate. Then he ventured outside and realized that everyone looked warped.

“My first thought was I woke up in a demon world,” exclaimed Sharrah, who reportedly has perfect vision.

He added, “I was really freaking out at that point. I was going to go have myself committed.”

You can’t imagine how scary it was,” said Victor Sharrah, 59, while describing his affliction. Victor J. Sharrah/Facebook
You can’t imagine how scary it was,” said Victor Sharrah, 59, while describing his affliction. Victor J. Sharrah/Facebook

The Tennessean suffers from prosopometamorphopsia, or PMO, a bizarre affliction that visually distorts faces every time the sufferer looks at a person, making them appear satanic, SWNS reported.

Visions vary depending on the person — specifically regarding eye shape, size, color, and position of facial features — and PMO can last for days, weeks or even years.

Sharrah described his symptoms of this exceedingly rare condition — of which only 75 cases have been recorded — in the aforementioned study, which was conducted by researchers at Dartmouth College study in New Hampshire.

“Through the process, we were able to visualize the patient’s real-time perception of the face distortions,” said Dr. Antônio Mello, the study’s lead author and a researcher at Dartmouth. “In other studies of the condition, patients with PMO are unable to assess how accurately a visualization of their distortions represents what they see because the visualization itself also depicts a face, so the patients will perceive distortions on it too.” A. Mello et al. / SWNS
Certain people feel like they’re seeing monsters everywhere due to a frightening, ultra-rare condition that causes everyone to look like they have an evil smile, per a study published in “The Lancet.” A. Mello et al. / SWNS
Certain people feel like they’re seeing monsters everywhere due to a frightening, ultra-rare condition that causes everyone to look like they have an evil smile, per a study published in “The Lancet.” A. Mello et al. / SWNS

“He 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,” study authors wrote. “The patient said that even though faces were distorted, he was still able to recognize who they were.”

Interestingly, the trucker didn’t see these creepy countenances when viewing facial representations on screen or paper. And, unlike some symptoms of schizophrenia or other psychological disorders, the goblin-like distortions weren’t “accompanied by delusional beliefs about the identities of the people he encountered” such as family and friends.

Thankfully, for the first time ever, researchers were able to create photorealistic visual representations of Sharrah’s PMO-induced facial distortions, effectively allowing them to see the world through his eyes.

To accomplish this, they took a photo of a person’s face and then showed it to the patient on a screen while he looked at the real person’s actual face.

There have only been 75 recorded cases of PMO in medical literature. A. Mello et al. / SWNS
There have only been 75 recorded cases of PMO in medical literature. A. Mello et al. / SWNS

Sharrah then provided real-time feedback on how the bonafide face differed from its on-screen counterpart.

Like a cutting-edge courtroom sketch artist, scientists then used a computer software to visually recreate the distortions the Southerner described, before running them by the patient to confirm that’s what he saw. In other words, they were putting a demon face to a name.

“Through the process, we were able to visualize the patient’s real-time perception of the face distortions,” said Dr. Antônio Mello, the study’s lead author and a researcher at Dartmouth. “In other studies of the condition, patients with PMO are unable to assess how accurately a visualization of their distortions represents what they see because the visualization itself also depicts a face, so the patients will perceive distortions on it too.”

“It’s a problem that people often don’t understand,” said senior author Professor Brad Duchaine, who teaches psychology and brain sciences at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. A. Mello et al. / SWNS
“It’s a problem that people often don’t understand,” said senior author Professor Brad Duchaine, who teaches psychology and brain sciences at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. A. Mello et al. / SWNS

In doing so, researchers hope to raise awareness about the “demon face” disorder, which is commonly misdiagnosed as a psychiatric disorder.

Senior author Professor Brad Duchaine, who teaches psychology and brain sciences at Dartmouth, claims that some of his PMO subjects went to see a doctor, only to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and put on anti-psychotics — despite the fact that their affliction was visual.

“It’s not uncommon for people who have PMO to not tell others about their problem with face perception because they fear others will think the distortions are a sign of a psychiatric disorder,” he claimed. “It’s a problem that people often don’t understand.”

Unsurprisingly, the cause of this condition is also poorly understood, although it could have to do with a glitch in the neural network responsible for processing faces.

The study’s senior author Professor Brad Duchaine, who teaches psychology and brain sciences at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Dartmouth
The study’s senior author Professor Brad Duchaine, who teaches psychology and brain sciences at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Dartmouth

Researchers believe that Sharrah’s visual disturbances could’ve been caused by a head injury he sustained at 43, or carbon monoxide poisoning he suffered four months before the symptoms started.

MRI scans also revealed a legion on the left side of his brain — another possible PMO trigger.

Unfortunately, three years on, Sharrah says he’s still battling these visual demons, but has “gotten used to” the condition and hopes it will just “go away” on its own.