Dream characters usually have faces, but sometimes they don’t. Why do we sometimes dream of faceless characters? What does it mean when we dream of faceless characters?
We see faces in everything
It is a common phenomenon to see faces in everyday objects. So the brain really is built to see faces in things. It is weird to not see faces.
Research on face processing in dreams
There is not a lot of research on seeing faceless people in dreams. No one seems to be describing it as a common dream or nightmare theme. However, there are a few sporadic papers that mention faces and dreams.
One paper talks about how it is possible that it is possible that in dreams we think unfamiliar faces are familiar. For example, I could see a face of a stranger and think it is the face of a close relative. This is further discussed in the paper “Dream experience and a revisionist account of delusions of misidentification”. However, these papers do not discuss why there may be faceless people in dreams.
Face blindness can affect dreaming
In waking life, there is a condition called prosopagnosia in which people cannot see faces. This is also called face blindness. People with this condition can see the individual elements of a face, but cannot see the face as a whole. Nir and Tononi note that, “subjects with impaired face perception also do not dream of faces.”
Face processing in dreams is shown to function
Face process was examined in the paper, “The neural correlates of dreaming”. They compared the brain activity associated with dreams that contained faces with dreams that did not contain faces. The only difference observed was in the region of the brain associated with face processing. As a result, it seems that face processing functions in dreams.
What are dreams of faceless people like?
Since face processing is such a basic process, I wonder if there’s something weird going on in the brain state if you see people without faces. This sounds scary, but it isn’t. Like people have a hard time doing math or reading in dreams. Maybe it is something like that? If this is the case, then there would be dream reports in which there were only faceless people.
So, I did a search for 200,000 dreams. About 14% of them mention faces. But only 910 dreams or 0.5% of dreams mention “no face” or “faceless”. I read through them and saw that dreamers see people with faces and without faces in the same dream.
This dreamer was in a group of people and saw someone with no face. It was a dark figure.
This dreamer looked in a mirror and everything seemed great. But later the dreamer saw a faceless person.
I only saw one or two examples where the dreamer mentioned that all of the dream characters had no faces. So, for the most part, it looks like dreams can contain both faced and faceless people. This indicates to me that facelessness isn’t related to brain state, but it is a part of the dream story.
There may be two types of dreams with faceless characters
Anyway, in reading through these, there seems to be two types. First, there are just people who are faceless.
Dreams of faceless people as simple characters
For example, this dreamer just saw a group of faceless people.
This dreamer went to a party and the people there were faceless.
This dreamer had a dinner party and the guests were faceless.
Dreams of faceless people who are part of the dream story
The second type is where the faceless has a particular drama
This dreamer is trying to get the attention of a woman. The dreamer finally reaches the woman and she turns around and has no face.
This dreamer is describing hat man, I think, seeing a man with no face.
I’m also struck by the fact that these dreams are always about unknown people. It is a faceless doctor or person or woman. I really wasn’t able to find examples of like, “my mom was faceless”
Content analysis of faceless characters
I can do an analysis of dreams with faceless people vs dreams without faceless people. Here are the results. Don’t worry about the specifics here, just know I’m looking at a lot of different things in the dream. Two things strike me.
First, the dreams of faceless people are less likely to be of family members or close people. In reading through the dreams, I always saw things like, “this faceless guy” or “a faceless woman”. I never really saw, “my dad was faceless”. Second, dreams are faceless people were scarier than dreams of faces in general.
I don’t think you’re seeing faceless people by accident. There are reports of seeing faced and faceless people in the same dream, so it isn’t a brain state thing. And I also think that seeing faces is such a basic process, it’d be easier for the dreaming brain to make a face than to make something faceless.
I don’t have a guess of what it could mean. It did look like seeing faceless people was particularly scary or dramatic. I think that’s about all I can say.