Aphantasia and SDAM


After first hearing about aphantasia yesterday, I have begun to go deep down the rabbit hole to learn as much as possible. On reddit, I came across the related concept of Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory (SDAM) and, even moreso than aphantasia, learning about how other people suffer from this issue and also understanding the likely underlying root cause (total or near-total aphantasia) is bringing me comfort beyond belief.

SDAM has been the cause of much suffering in my life – though I have come to better terms with it as I have grown older. I am now 44. I still feel sadness though about my inability to remember my life, so to speak. And I have also felt a lot of guilt over the years for how this has impacted people that I love and care about. People have often felt hurt about how easily I can lose touch with them when we are separated and, honestly, how little I miss them. I have learned some tools to overcome these challenges, with time, which is to quite literally force myself to be much more mindful about maintaining connections even if I may not feel like it or otherwise think about it.

I don’t know what I am looking for here, or why I am posting. I think I am just quite eager to connect with other people who can relate and understand to the very complex feelings that accompany SDAM, as I have never met anyone else like me in this way.


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Courtney, your second paragraph resonates strongly with me.


i too have been down tbis rabbit hole for the last 72 hours,

lots of tears and realisations that have explained my existance in life so far….

i am seeking answers, and to understand that i am not alone in this…..

i would love to discuss aphantasia and SDAM… ♥♥♥

Hello Courtney and everyone,

I remember things but I can’t visualise them. I also don’t feel connected to them. It’s hard to explain but I just know that certain things happened. I have probably forgotten a lot though. The thing I truly relate to is in my feelings. I don’t have strong feelings for much of anything except when I am directly with someone or dong something. Even then it feels muted and later I don’t feel much or anything about the person or event. I live away from my family and have met many people. I have to force myself to remember to keep in touch with people, even my own family. If I didn’t actively tell myself to do this then I would not contact people and they would drift away.

I don’t feel truly connected to anyone and cannot form proper relationships. I do feel guilty about my lack of feeling towards people. I have never been able to say what I realy think or how I really feel as I feel so different from everyone and know that they wouldn’t understand. How could they understand as I barely understand myself. It makes me feel less human and wonder what is the point in doing things.

How can you tell someone that you wouldn’t really care if you never saw them again?

SDAM (Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory) is essentially a subset of Aphantasia.  The term SDAM was invented by Dr. Brian Levine at U. of Toronto, when he published his first research results of four people with aphantasia (I was one of his subjects). His paper was published in 2015, the same year as Adam Zeman’s study of the guy who lost his mind’s eye after a heart operation.  Since the condition (lack of mental visual imagery) had never been named before, they both came up with their own names.  Candace Pert, the neurobiologist, in her memoir Molecules of Emotion, talked about a conference where four neuroscientists were all reporting on a new topic, and all gave it a different name.  She remarked that scientists would rather use each other’s toothbrushes than use each other’s nomenclature!

Levine’s SDAM refers to the fact that he was studying memory in people with no visual imagery.  He had us doing memory tests while hooked up to EEG and in fMRI.  Zeman was studying the lack of imagination with no visual imagery.  Since his term “aphantasia” was sexier than SDAM, it got picked up by the New York Times, then went viral.  But if you have aphantasia, you have SDAM, and vice versa.  Both scientists did similar studies of brain activity and got similar results, in terms of brain activity in aphantasiacs vs. in neurotypical people.

Oh, I am so sorry you have had tears around this.  My dad and I both have total multi-sensory aphantasia and we laugh how the only memories we have of our lives are the stories that have bee told about them.  I honestly could not tell you if what I remember happening actually happened or if it’s just the story, or exaggeration, of an event and I really couldn’t care less because the stories are all that actually matter.

Ask yourself this, do you feel traumatized about not remembering things the way they actually were?  Or do you just feel bad because other people are hurt because you don’t experience life the way they do?  What really is the issue here, are you upset because you don’t feel upset or are you upset because other people are?  What would your life be like if you let go of other people’s expectation about how you should feel?

You know what has happened in your life, and you know what lessons were learned from the events and people who made lasting impressions, regardless of your ability to feel anything about their passing from your life.  You are blessed to be able to move forward with lessons learned without being chained to the memory.

I’m 32 and realised I might have multisensorial aphantasia 3 days ago… I’m still quite overwhelmed about it.

My ability to remember my past is very poor. I only remember certain things but I don’t feel connected to my memories… I also feel guilty about not missing people. I live in a different country to my family and when they ask me if I miss them, I’m always unsettled by the fact that I don’t. To maintain connections, I mark in my calendar days to contact certain people. Otherwise, I forget talking to them.

Thanks for writing this. It made me feel less alone.