A mum of two suffers from a bizarre condition that leaves her unable to recognise her own reflection.

Natalie Whitear, 35, struggles to pick her husband and children out of a crowd - and walks past lifelong friends in the street.

The mum of two suffers from prosopagnosia, also known as face blindness, which means she is unable to recognise objects, but not faces.

The condition is so severe, that Natalie can't spot her own reflection in a mirror, or her children when picking them up from school.

Born with it

Although she was born with the condition, she only noticed it around three years ago.

"If you asked me to explain what someone looked like I wouldn't be able to do it,” explained Natalie, from Fareham, Hampshire.

"I tend to smile at everyone, just in case I bump into someone I should recognise.

"I can describe the weight, height, and hair colour of my husband and children, but not their facial features in detail - I remember when my daughter was born I'd try to memorise her features, but it was impossible.

"I love to paint, but I've never been able to draw my husband's face. I always leave it blank.

"I was once in a restaurant and for the entire meal I thought the place was twice the size - it was only when I stood up that I realised I'd been sitting in front of a mirror - I had no idea because I didn't realise that all the faces were the same.

"I recognise people by the way that they walk, what they're wearing, or their voices."

Diagnosis made sense

Natalie, a mum to daughters Mia, eight, and Eva, three, first became aware of her condition when her boss noticed she was unable to remember people she'd met before.

Natalie said: "About two or three years ago my boss took me to one side and told me I needed to be more careful with remembering people's names.

"He said that he'd seen me introduce myself to people I'd known for years, and asking who they were.

"I explained to him that I could remember their names, but not their faces - it was only because of his shocked reaction that I suddenly realised that this was not normal.

"I found a test on the internet that asked you to recognise celebrities’ faces, and I failed.

"I was then contacted by a psychologist at Bournemouth University who diagnosed me with prosopagnosia, and suddenly everything made sense."

Looking back, Natalie realises that the condition has affected her throughout her life.

Walked past friends in the street

She said: "When I look back, there have always been signs of the condition but I never even realised.

"I never had posters of famous people on my bedroom wall because I didn't know what they looked like.

"People would say that they'd stood next to me at a queue in the supermarket but I'd ignored them, or I'd walked past friends in the street.

"I've also always been a nightmare when it comes to watching TV - we watch a lot of box sets but I will get continuously lost and ask over and over who each of the characters is.

"It's even worse on a period drama where they are all wearing similar clothes."

Coping mechanisms

The mum of two uses various coping mechanisms to ensure that her face blindness does not affect her daily life.

Natalie said: "I recognise people by what they're wearing, how they style their hair, or the way they walk.

"The people closest to me all look very distinctive - it must have been a subconscious choice.

"My husband is 6ft 4in tall, one of my best friends is Chinese and the other has very long hair, so they're easy to pick out in a crowd.

"But if someone is wearing something different, or out of context, I won't be able to spot them.

"My eldest daughter almost always wears her hair in one long plait, but one morning my mother had dropped her off to school and put her in pigtails - when I came to collect her in the afternoon I didn't know which child she was.

"When Mia was younger she had a full head of brown curly hair, as did one of her friends, so when they were toddlers it was very easy to get them mixed up.

"While I can't describe what my family look like, I know the way that they make me feel.

"When I met my husband, I wasn't attracted to the way he looks, because I didn't know, but I was attracted to the way I felt when I was with him.

"If we go to the cinema together and I go off to the toilet or to get a drink halfway through the film, when I come back into the screening, I'll always count the seats back to him, rather than look for his face."

Unusual condition

In an attempt to remember faces, Natalie uses Facebook, and takes lots of pictures of family and friends.

She said: "I use my friends list as a personal database of all of the people I know, in the hope that I can recognise them when I see them in person.

"I take as many pictures as possible to try to remember my children's expressions.

"I know that the condition is unusual, but I use these various coping mechanisms and I never let it bother me - I've never known any different."

Dr Sarah Bate from the Centre for Face Processing Disorders at Bournemouth University has carried out research into prosopagnosia.

She said: "Prosopagnosia - or face blindness - is a cognitive condition characterised by a selective impairment in face recognition.
"Very rarely some people acquire the condition following neurological trauma, but we've recently become aware that many more people have a developmental form of prosopagnosia.

"These people have never suffered any neurological damage, and appear to have simply failed to develop the visual mechanisms that are required for face processing.

"Sometimes the condition appears to run in families, and often people report other first-degree relatives who also appear to be poor with faces.

"Recent estimates suggest as many as 2% of the population (that's one in 50 people) have a degree of face blindness, yet public awareness of the condition remains low."

Photo credits: Caters News