See the monster in the mirror? If so, you are not depressed.
“And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist. In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room.”
As you may have guessed, this is an excerpt from “Through the looking glass and what Alice found there” by Lewis Carrol. What would you say if I would tell you that you could be like Alice, or even like Snow White’s stepmother, and see things that are not really there in the mirror? On top of that, what would you say if I would tell you that this is normal and if you wouldn’t see them, you would be suffering from depression?
Try this experiment and you will have goosebumps all over your body: stare at your face in the mirror in a dimly lit room. Keep staring at yourself for a few minutes. Hey, wait! What was that? Did you see it? Was it a monster, an animal, your deformed face, someone else you know, or a stranger?
It was totally creepy, but you can relax: you have not evoked the Devil, what you saw is absolutely normal. Professor Caputo from Urbino in Italy first experienced this himself in 2004. Instead of running away or breaking all the reflective surfaces he encountered, he decided to face the issue and dig into it. His scientific perseverance allowed him to provide an explanation of the phenomenon in 2010.
He thinks that the illusion experienced is not due to some perception tricks, like in trompe l’oeil, but that it’s more likely to be a self-identity illusion. This means that your mental state has an impact on what you see. For example, schizophrenics frequently see many faces surrounding theirs, which express their split personalities. In addition, it has recently been discovered that people suffering from depression are less likely to experience these illusions in the mirror; the healthier you are, the airier your visions become. It is fascinating to think that maybe one day this simple test will replace the Rorschach inkblot test to diagnose mental disorders.
This may not make sense at first glance, since we mostly base our experience on vision. The point is that, although it has no physical appearance, we see our subconscious, which we would not be able to observe otherwise. Our mind is intriguing and sometimes, as Renaissance man Pascal said, has reasons that the reason cannot know. The relationship we have with it “is an ambiguous one, between beings who are both embodied and limited and an enigmatic world”, to quote French philosopher Merleau-Ponty.
This is not the only way our perception can fool us. What would you say if I would tell you that you could feel like Alice when her body was shrinking and blowing up? But this is next time’s story. Stay tuned!
Caputo, G. (2010). Strange-face-in-the-mirror illusion Perception, 39 (7), 1007-1008 DOI: 10.1068/p6466
Caputo GB (2010). Apparitional experiences of new faces and dissociation of self-identity during mirror gazing. Perceptual and motor skills, 110 (3 Pt 2), 1125-38 PMID: 20866001
Caputo GB, Bortolomasi M, Ferrucci R, Giacopuzzi M, Priori A, & Zago S (2014). Visual perception during mirror-gazing at one’s own face in patients with depression. TheScientificWorldJournal, 2014 PMID: 25506077