Aphantasia Caused by Trauma?

As there’s limited research out there, it seems it’s only speculated that Aphantasia can be linked to trauma. In my case, I believe this is true. I experienced childhood trauma which didn’t affect me until I was a teenager and understood what happened. I believe I was previously able to visualise before then and it slowly went away without my knowledge, which would have been around the same time my trauma started affecting me.

To those comfortable answering this question: Do you think your Aphantasia was caused by trauma? If so, was it childhood trauma? And if not, do you have any ideas what could have caused it?

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I just discovered this website AND only within the past month even discovered that Aphantasia was even a thing. I totally discovered this by accident while looking at an online article that asked me to visualize a star and pick the photo that most looked like what I saw – which was NOTHING.

Your question about trauma intrigues me. At 47, I have come to realize that I have suffered from acute social anxiety disorder and persistent depressive disorder since my earliest memories (which would be at 4 years old).

I definitely endured a LOT of childhood trauma. Home was like walking on eggshells. I never knew if my mother would be happy or angry. She screamed at me every single day at the intensity one would use if they were trying to stop someone with headphones on from walking in the path of a moving bus. She would say things to me like, "You think this food tastes like shit? Someday you’ll eat shit and then you’ll know what shit tastes like," or, "You think you’re better than other people? You’re not! You need to check yourself!"

She never beat me with her hands, but she did beat me with her words every single day.

Once I started school, I was an immediate outcast and was visciously bullied by other boys from Kindergarten clear up through graduation from high school.

I hated myself and would not look at anyone when speaking to them. When walking I would only look at my feet or the ground directly in front of my feet.

No adults ever helped me despite my intense anxiety and fear of people.

The result: as a child I had chronic canker sores. My mother believed it was because of chocolate and other acidic foods. I have since learned it was from stress and SLS containing toothpastes. As an adult, I only get canker sores if I use regular toothpaste OR have an unusually high level of stress.

The result? At 47 I quit my elementar school teaching career of 23 years and have become a hermit, and am completely dependent upon my husband lest I find myself homeless.

Can I visualize? Not at all. I can in dreams but even with dreams I only have a couple a year. People say that we all dream every single night but if that’s true, my mind prevents me from ever being aware of it.

Did trauma cause this? It’s hard to say. My mother can’t visualize either BUT she was also brought up in a home with an exceptionally unhappy and critical mother so she had her own childhood trauma.

I’ll be curious to read the thoughts of others who comment on your post in the future.

Thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry to hear all of that, I hope you’re a lot less stressed now and with someone who treats you right. Emotional abuse can really be as horrific as physical, or any other kind of abuse. I hope you also find ways of being independant, although in this current climate, I know that may be extremely challenging.

It’s interesting that your mother can’t visualise either. Perhaps it’s genetic or due to both of your pasts… Like you said, it will be interesting to see if anyone else has any ideas from their experiences.

Best wishes x

It could be genetic or it could be the result of emotional trauma. My mother suffered severe emotional trauma from her mother, and I from my mother. That said, I have found a LOT of people I know who cannot visualize. I think this condition is much more common than current research suggests.

I couldn’t really guess what the cause is, but I can report that I had a stressful and relatively traumatic childhood and I seem to have almost complete aphantasia of every sense. My daughter can’t see an apple or anything else suggested. She was also traumatized as a child when I was hospitalized from a car accident. She went into a baby depression (13 months) and refused to look at me when she was brought to the hospital for visits. I could never lift her again due to back injury, so I spent the next year at home sitting on the floor where she could come to me. I think it took about a year before she seemed to relate to me in a normal way after that. So, at least in our cases, trauma may be associated with aphantasia.

Hi Juliet. I have recently been wondering this as well. 

When I was about 5 I suffered from a traumatic experience and up until I was 25, I had absolutely no memory of it and it wasn’t until I blacked out (not due do to alcohol) and extreme flashbacks during said blackout, that I remembered what happened.

Our brains are an incredible tool and I think that it wants to block out certain memories to save yourself from other mental or physical illnesses. In doing so, perhaps it also blocks out the ability to imagine.

What’s weird is that I do consider myself an artistic person and I have incredibly visual dreams!

I have only recently heard about aphantasia and still not quite sure what people mean by “mind’s eye”. It’s difficult for me to comprehend that people can “see” things without hallucinogens.

To add to your data points, I was beaten fairly regularly if not often (3-5 times a month) from the ages of 5-14yrs old. These were generally multiple strikes with a belt to the legs and back (without shirt or pants). Welts, bruising and occasional bleeding were the results especially when the buckle side of the belt was used. Some beatings were worse and more sustained. There were also non-corporal punishments including standing and facing the wall for an hour, holding arms out for extended periods, standing in underwear, etc..

I suspect the beatings had less effect than some of the other experiences. E.g., when I informed that I had played Dungeons & Dragons with some friends from school, the reaction was anger. During D&D sessions, one person is the “Dungeon Master” (DM) whose job is to tell the story to the players and run the adveture. When I explained that the DM describes the scene to the players, it was met with incredulity. “How can you actually *see* this Dungeon Master. It must mean that this game is already affecting your mind.”

There was sustained anger when I expressed my desire to be a writer. The response was an immediate, “You *ing coward. Don’t you bring that up again.” I recall similar reaction to drawing, painting and even reading.

This may be the salient point of this post:

I was a voracious reader during my childhood, particularly of science fiction and fantasy novels. I recall having a vivid imagination and picturing myself on other worlds quite often. At one point my books were all confiscated and locked away or thrown out. This was accompanied by beatings and other punishment.  My suspicion is that I lost the ability to picture images around this time but I cannot be certain.

I hope these anecdotes are helpful in your research.


Hey Juliet,

I think that is a “safe” answer that people like to jump to because they can’t believe it is totally normal to not be able to visualize things.  I would be willing to bet that if you started asking your family members you would find others in your tree that also have aphantasia.  When I started asking it turned out that my dad, and most of his side of the family have it, and all were shocked to hear that the majority of people on this planet are in fact being literal when they say they can see/hear/taste/feel/smell things with their minds.  Personally I think it is evolution at work and that if we start digging into our DNA we will find this condition can be traced back to a branch of the human family tree going back millions of years.

Hi Juliet,

I know that my Aphantasia is caused by trauma. I used to have very rich visuals, complete with sound, physical sensation, and scent. Like standing on a movie set. I lost this when I was eleven years old, and in my 5th grade elementary school class.

I had a really nasty teacher. He was a bully, and constantly punishing me for random, often made up reasons, like sneezing at the wrong time during class.  I had just gotten done reading a particularly interesting passage in a book during a class free-time period. I was processing the images I had just read, and I can only assume he thought I was just “spacing out” and “day dreaming” and not doing anything with the time. He came up to me, grabbed and shook my desk violently while screaming in my face.

I have not been able to see the same while awake since then. I still dream in color, but that’s it.

Hi Juliet, 

i have a pretty clear (for me!) memory of “wishing away” traumatic memories. I was very young, maybe 7 or so? I wonder if I was somehow able to dim my mind’s eye, and, if so, could I regain the ability to visualize with some kind of therapy? I’m 49 now, and only recently learned about aphantasia. 

I remember visualising and also lost my ability after visualisation..

I also didn’t notice it disappearing at the time.  I subsequently used mushrooms in my adult years and was able to see behind closed eyes.  I remarked to my friend to try closing his eyes and seeing the visuals and they said they can always see visuals if they want to.  I was surprised but suddenly remembered I used o as a young child too! 

In December, last year, just once I had my first non-psychedelic closed eye visuals as I was going to sleep… They were quite muted in colour and pale, but I had a visual walk around the house of a long deceased family friend whom I used to love visiting as a child… He was like a grandad to me.  It was a safe place. 

I was so fascinated by this that I was unable to fall asleep because of it for hours, just kept visiting each room in the house memory/visualisation from around 32-35 years ago! 

I recently read in a a book called “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, https://www.besselvanderkolk.com/about/biography

He studied the effects of trauma on war veterans and found that they lost the power to visualise after repeated flashbacks… He hypothesised that it was a neurological safety mechanism to protect the victim from suffering unnecessary trauma…


this makes so much sense to me.  I wonder if doing mushrooms will at some point give me back my ability to visualise, and I plan to set intentions around this if I ever take mushrooms again

Hi Emma,

Thank you so much for sharing that. I relate to your story a lot and wish you luck on your discovery 🙂

My aphantasia was 100% trauma related.  I did LSD when I was 17 years old , (23 now) , and this certain trauma, complex feeling/fear came up that I , still till this day, cannot come to terms with, and ever since then I have felt numb, and left with a complete inability to visualize. 

When I tell you that I have researched this topic till the point of insanity, I am not kidding. 

the one conclusion that I have had, however, is that being disconnected to your body (from trauma,) being stuck in the freeze response, it only makes sense that mental capabilities would start to dwindle. As above, so below. Whatever is happening in the body (or lack thereof), will reflect in the mind. 

as far as healing trauma, trauma cannot be healed through the mind. Which means that through this, I have been able to rely on my body to shake, and puke, cry and sob out my trauma. Although I’m not there yet, I am happy with my life and aphantasia does not affect me like it used to because I’ve learned to use it to my advantage. 
who wants to be stuck in their mind anyway! 
I just want to ride and feel the breeze. 


Mine was 100% caused by trauma. When I was younger I used to be able to picture as ‘normal’ Then I sat back on a chair that had no back and fell onto concrete , cutting the back of my head open. Ended up going to a & e with my mum and having stitches. From then on, it’s been dark. Can’t imagine anything whatsoever. I can recall memories though, but to do this I have to have my eyes open. And can only recall an image for  probably half a second. This can only be a memory. I can’t conjure an image of an orange flying goat ect. Reading a book is difficult. Always found them hard to get into. But I am able to enjoy an audio book atleast 

I think that it CAN be caused by trauma but isn’t ALWAYS caused by trauma; for me, I was born with it and it was genetically passed down to me and my sister by my mother (I have no clue about my father). We have varying degrees of aphantasia as my mum has on a scale of 0 (seeing nothing) to 10 (seeing vividly) she is probably at a 2 whereas I’m fully at 0 and I believe my sister is at a 0 or 1 also (we don’t discuss it frequently). Anyway I’m getting off topic – I believe that trauma can sometimes cause aphantasia or physical trauma like a head injury can but it’s not always the case as it can also be genetic and happen at birth or develop through childhood. I don’t ever remember “seeing” things with my imagination or really having any other senses in my imagination besides sounds of things I’ve already heard but not always able to control. I thought “seeing” images in your head or a maths equation was a metaphor used in media to portray ideas of what the character was thinking visually without realising that it was also somewhat literal too – I never understood the allure of reading or getting lost in a book or fully understood daydreams as when I would “daydream” I’d only be lost in thought and not realise I’m looking at someone as I’m too deep in thought. It was an incredible awakening to realise that others could actually truly imagine anything and that made me slightly jealous. AH I keep getting off topic! Overall, I believe that what you’re saying has some truth to it but it’s not the case for everyone 🙂

So, I am 33. I have only recently discovered that aphantasia is a thing, and that I have it. I experienced an extremely traumatic event at age 16, and it was not until very recently that anyone suggested I might have ptsd. Whether or not my aphantasia was caused by my trauma (I have no way of knowing, it was so long ago now that I can’t remember whether I used to visualise or not during childhood) I am convinced that my aphantasia is the main reason why I was not diagnosed with ptsd years ago; given that not only do I not have visual flashbacks (obviously) but I also do not dream, and therefore no nightmares. But I have basically all the other symptoms of ptsd. I would not be surprised to learn that my aphantasia was a way for my brain to protect itself from harmful imagery, and am curious as to whether or not there is any research in this area?

I was bullied both in and outside of my home. Everytime i showed any type of emotion i got ridiculed i was suicidal before i was 10 and didnt smile until in my mid teens, grew up learning to shut out my emotions and thoughts.

I learned about aphantasia a year ago since i started healing and exploring my past my memories and my visual imagination is slowly returning. All the trauma comming up with it has brought up a few health issues and is tbh very overwhelming mentally.