Charles Bonnet Syndrome
Kristy James was informed at the age of only 13 that one day she would eventually be blind. While she had trouble copying information at school, it wasn't until she walked past her own Mother in the street who she hadn't seen at the time that she realised there was something wrong with her vision. Eventually she would be diagnosed with Stargardt disease which is a degenerative eye condition. She continued her studies and went onto University. In 2011 while out dancing out a nightclub, (something which she loved to do,) she met future husband Tom. She noticed over time her eye condition was slowly becoming worse, but she wouldn't necessarily acknowledge or accept it as she was in a bit of denial. While she would often bring home the wrong thing from the supermarket, when she moved into a new house at the age of 29 that she started seeing what she thought were ghosts in her house.
"The new place was quite dark and I used to think there were people in my flat - I'd see them, I'd see figures," she says.
There would be cars outside Kirsty's flat - on a cobbled street much too narrow for any traffic to drive down, or a leg of lamb sitting where she'd put down her cardigan.
"I'd just be pacing up and down in my flat and thinking, 'Oh God, am I going mad, or are they there?' and having panic attacks."
Kirsty was living on her own, far away from her family, and although Tom and her close friends knew about her loss of sight she didn't confide in them about the strange things that she was seeing.
"I thought I was developing serious mental health issues, and I didn't want to talk about it," she says. "I was just trying to ignore it."
'I remember looking out one night and seeing loads and loads of cars. I thought it was strange, but I didn't have anyone to confirm it with.
'Then, a few weeks later, I was in my living room when I suddenly saw a figure standing there. I shouted, "Hello?" but as quick as it had appeared, it was gone.'
This all caused severe anxiety for Kristy and as her eyesight worsened, it got to the point where she was reluctant to even leave her own house. It wasn't until seeing a specialist that she found out about Charles Bonnet Syndrome.
What is Charles Bonnet Syndrome?
Charles Bonnet Syndrome in a lot of ways sounds a bit like pareidolia. In people that have some sort of vision impairment, their brain causes them to hallucinate and see things that are not really there. It is important to understand that this is nothing to do with a person's mental health. It is simply how the brain is processing information and causes them to hallucinate.
In 1760, a Swiss naturalist by the name of Charles Bonnet became concerned when he began to notice his Grandfather who was 89 years of age was seeing things that were not there. Birds, carriages and even buildings. He had limited vision and was able to see partly through his cataracts, however within this small amount of sight that he had, he would see these items that were not there. He documented this case and the term Charles Bonnet Syndrome was coined. It is also referred to in modern times as phantom or ghost vision.
It seems this condition mainly affects people that are in the earlier stages of their vision loss. This makes sense as to why they would see these foreign objects in their very real surroundings and why a person may feel that they are seeing a ghost in their living room. The cause of this condition is not exactly known but again in my understanding, it sounds like it has to do with a lack of visual stimulation for the brain. Much in the same way pareidolia works, the brain is trying to make sense of a blurry or dark image, and suddenly a person can see a room full of strangers that are not really there.
Another possibility is that the brain is using a form of photoreception to attempt to see. Vision relies on light. Sometimes however, a person does not need their eyes to be able to see. Humans actually have light detecting molecules often in the central nervous system and even in our skin. When you step outside and you feel the sun on your skin, does this cause a person to start seeing orange light? Photoreception works on this basis and while research does not have a definitive answer, there is ongoing research in this field.
Does vision impairment in some ways allow a person a glimpse into another dimension?
What if by not using our eyes, it allows us some sort of glimpse into another dimension. Often in paranormal research, people will block certain senses with the thought that it will potentially open them up for a paranormal experience. Blindfolds are commonly used during paranormal investigations as it allows a person to concentrate on their other senses including what some believe to be the 'sixth' sense. I have spoken previously about the pineal gland and it's alleged connection to paranormal phenomena. The pineal gland is a pea shaped mass of tissue which sits behind the third ventricle of the brain. It is also considered in spiritual circles to be ‘the third eye’. It’s primary function is to produce Melatonin which signals the body when it is time to sleep. This also has an effect on female reproductive hormones – as does the adjacent pituitary gland. I have written about the pineal gland in the past and it's relationship with the close by pituitary gland pondering if this relationship could have some kind of correlation to females and psychic abilities. It is long debated that it seems women are more inclined to have psychic abilities, and perhaps this plays some part in that. I have come across information on some more spiritual sites, that some people believe those with Charles Bonnet Syndrome are not hallucinating at all, and in fact the impairment is allowing them to see the World perhaps as it truely is or getting some sort of peak into a multi dimensional world. Maybe they are seeing things with this 'third eye'. While I don't personally think this is the case here, it certainly does open up the possibility to ask a lot of questions.
“Seat of the rational soul.” A sketch by Descartes.
A lot of people are unaware of this condition and perhaps like Kristy, may even be in a bit of denial. As investigators, we often are contacted by people reporting the same kind of phenomena as Kristy. Often they would be put through some sort of mental health to make sure they aren't hallucinating due to a mental health condition. In Kristy's case, she would have passed this test as the hallucinations in this syndrome are not caused by a mental disorder. It is purely a medical side effect of a vision impairment. So perhaps the next time you are trying to investigate claims of figures appearing spontaneously in a person's house, ask them about their eyes. They could be unknowningly having a hallucination. I also have to wonder, just how impaired does a person's vision have to be? Is there a marker? Myself for example, I wear glasses almost full time now. It is mainly due to be long sighted, but on occasion in getting older I notice that now things do start to become a little blurry. If I am out at night and tired and not wearing my glasses and I was to see a figure on say an investigation, is this enough of an impairment for this syndrome to come into play? It is definitely something to consider.
Have you heard of this condition? Do you think visual impairment allows you to be more open to paranormal phenomena or is it all just an hallucination?
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