Leafing through family photographs should be a joy but student Lauren Nicole-Jones doesn’t even recognise herself in half of hers.
Infact, if it wasn’t for the familiar white gown she wore on her own wedding day, she would struggle to recognise herself as the bride in her own wedding album.
For Lauren suffers from a condition known as face blindness which means she struggles to recognise people.
While most people admit to forgetting a face sometimes, Lauren’s problem is so severe that she doesn’t always realise she’s looking at her own reflection, can’t recognise her best friends, famous people and struggles to spot herself in photographs.
There is no cure for her condition but she has learnt to rely on mannerisms, habits and the way people speak before she recognises people.
Lauren, 33, of Derbyshire, said: “It can make life pretty tricky sometimes.
“I can’t always see myself in photographs which can be embarrassing. If someone shows me a picture and the person had dark hair and is about my height I think ‘why am I being shown this photo, it must be me.’
“There’s been times I’ve looked at pictures and thought ‘that looks like a nice place, when did I go there?’ Then I’ve realised it’s someone else entirely.”
Lauren’s condition has led to some very red-faced situations.
She didn’t recognise a woman at her birthday lunch who came hurtling towards her with a huge grin.
Yet the mystery female had been her best friend from the age of 12 – and Lauren was bridesmaid at her wedding less than a month before.
It was only when her friend Hannah started talking that Lauren realised her pal had flown more than 10,000 miles from Australia as a birthday surprise.
Lauren said: “I try to deal with it with humour and there have been some very hilarious things happen, like spending 40 minutes talking to the wrong person on a video call or mistaking an ex boyfriend for someone else.
“On the serious side it can impact on your-self esteem and sense of competence, that general feeling of being able to negotiate the world and people.
“I spend a lot of time jumping through hoops under the surface trying to work out who I’m talking to.”
Lauren gets embarrassed as she tells how she failed to recognise Hannah – but she’s not the only close person she’s got confused over.
She said: “I think the problem was Hannah was out of context. She was meant to be in Melbourne, not Britain, and something like that can really throw me.
“We’d been together just over three weeks earlier when I flew to Australia to be her bridesmaid.
“The funniest thing was, I knew my husband Jonathan had planned some sort of surprise for my birthday and at one point I was staring out the window, looking at this blonde woman in the car park, not realising it was the woman who had been my best friend for years.”
Lauren’s condition is so bad that she sometimes thinks she is looking at someone else when she sees herself in a mirror.
She said: “I’ve been at a busy restaurant and found myself apologising to someone in front of me for getting in their way. I’ve taken a few side steps before realising it was my own reflection in a full length mirror.
“I’ve given up watching movies because it’s too confusing. If there are two blonde women who look similar in the same film I can’t tell them apart and the plot gets very mixed up. I prefer reading books.
“I can’t recognise famous faces either if they are out of context. I’d be able to tell you who Alan Sugar was if he was sitting behind a desk in The Apprentice, for instance, but I’d struggle to recognise The Queen if she was wearing a tracksuit.”
Despite not recognising her best pal, Lauren rarely has a problem recognising others and family, including husband Jonathan, because she is so close to them.
Lauren only realised she suffered from prosopagnosia aged 19 when she read a book by neurologist and famed author Oliver Sacks, who also has the condition.
Around one in 50 people are thought to suffer from face-blindness to varying degrees.
Some may fail to recognise people they’ve met a handful of times while others, like Lauren, struggle on a day-to-day basis.
Lauren said: “When I was younger I guess I must have thought everyone was the same.
“I went all through primary school thinking two boys were the same person and once thought a girl in my class was a boy until she wore a skirt one day. It was only when I read about prosopagnosia that I realised ‘that’s me’.
“If I meet someone on the street I can sometimes tell who it is because they have a distinctive beard or glasses. If I’m not sure who it is I’ll ask a few questions and try and place them.
“I don’t tend to tell people about my condition because it just leads to more questions about it.
“I generally laugh about it but it can be very frustrating, and it seems to get worse in times of stress.
“The other day I got a text message from someone I thought was my student mentor asking how I was. I suggested we had a video call and it was almost 40 minutes before I realised it wasn’t him, but someone I had met at York university years ago.”
Experts know very little about prosopagnosia, but it is believed to be congenital or caused by damage or abnormalities in a part of the brain that controls facial perception and memory.
Despite her difficulties, Lauren has managed to triumph over her condition to work as a speech and language therapist, before giving up to retrain as a psychologist, which she is now studying.
She said: “ I worked with people in hospital neuro wards and I would check and double check papers because I wanted to make sure I had the right patient because wouldn’t always recognise them from their faces.
“I didn’t tell any of my colleagues, not because I was ashamed or embarrassed but because I am so used to dealing with it.
“On the upside I would say I’ve become excellent at communicating with people I don’t know very well. Faces don’t mean much to me so I think I’m as good at having conversations with strangers as I am with people I know and can build a rapport really quickly.”