Which characteristics are due to aphantasia?

I read many comments that ascribe certain characteristics to aphantasia – often contradicting comments in other posts (e.g. someone said they are able to follow a map without having a picture of it in their mind and they suggest this may be due to aphantasia; whereas I have a terrible sense of direction and cannot recall maps – and I also blame this on aphantasia). It may just be that one of us is good at this and one is terrible – and it has  nothing to do with aphantasia?

I believe I have full sense aphantasia as I cannot imagine smell, sounds or images. This has never really caused me a problem (I’m 56) but it blew my mind when I realised other people can imagine these things and that led me to this amazing site.

I have many characteristics that I had ascribed to aphantasia  until I read the comments in this discussion: as well as the terrible sense of direction, I am pretty much face blind (I couldn’t describe my wife of 33 years – but I do recognise her when I see her …. I’m hopeless recognising anyone who is not a very close friend. Even with very close friends/relatives I couldn’t tell you if they wear glasses, what type of hair they have etc). I cannot recall what colour our walls are (even though I painted them). These seem linked to the lack of visual mental imagery but maybe I’d be hopeless at these things anyway? I’ve had a very successful career and never worried about these “deficiencies”

I have a maths degree and I’m very practical in making things – but have zero creativity. I can manipulate objects in 3D in my head without visualising them … hard to explain but I’m sure you know what I mean – and yet I constantly get lost and cannot picture where I am v the map.

I find this fascinating – I just wonder what things are really due to aphantasia and what is just due to natural variation in skills?

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I believe that differences on whether or not people with aphantasia are good at tasks that most  people rely on their ability to  visualize to accomplish is whether their minds developed successful work arounds to accomplish those tasks.

Like I am very very good at finding my way, but I do so by relying on my unconscious to maneuver my body (or my car) in space.  If I try to think about where I am going, if someone ask me how to get somewhere I go to every day, I can’t tell them because I have no mechanism to translate my very good unconscious ability to find my way to my consciousness.   Yet if I do not think about how to get to where I am going I inevitably find my way there. If I have to explain this it is something like I will study at a map and and get a knowing that the part of my mind that does this now has it, then I will get in my car and it will drive me there while my conscious mind is occupied with other task, I could not  redraw the map or even describe the map that I have programmed into my unconscious, but is there and will be unconsciously remembered and integrated into all the other unconscious maps my mind has integrated so I am left with the ability to find my way between any two points in these maps  without picturing anything.

If you ask me why my mind developed the ability to find my way without a mind’s eye while other aphantasics might not have, I can only theorize that I grew up in an extremely chaotic ever changing environments where my ability to find my way was crucial to my survival.

This is a really interesting point. I can’t picture people, especially people I know very well, but I know things about them. I know what color hair my parents, boyfriend, and close friends have. I know who wears glasses. I know what type of style people have. This is also true with my surroundings, maybe even better than for others. My boyfriend will set something somewhere, I’ll notice out of my periphery, and then I’ll be able to find it for him when he inevitably forgets where he set it down. I know exactly what shirts are where from when I tossed stuff around getting dressed this morning though I’m totally unable to picture the scene. 

I do consider myself very creative, but within limitations. What I mean by this is I love learning a new skill and then making slight changes as I’m doing whatever that thing is to make a whole new thing. I had a writing minor in college and loved bending the rules of grammar. I learned macramé and created nothing but strings of  knots as I learned them until learning new variations and combinations on my own. 

However, I also have dyscalculia. I struggle with directions, spatial concerns, and comparing numbers. I’ve never been very good with math, but a car accident at 20 is what kicked this all in. I’ve assumed these issues are purely dyscalculia focused and that the aphantasia just influences how I experience it. For example, your point about being able to mentally manipulate 3D objects, even without being able to visualize them, reminds me of how I have to explain directions. Regardless of how familiar I am with a location, if I’m explaining directions to someone, I have to physically change the direction I’m facing based on the directions. I will literally turn my body as I’m saying which way to turn.

A close friend also has dyscalculia – and phantasia – and I know that there is variation between how we experience it. I’d love to pick her brain about this further and I’ll report back if I do.

There are no specific behaviors directly attributed to aphantasia, only trends in likelihood and none of them are excessively strong. That’s probably not the answer you were looking for but that’s what all the research currently shows. There is really no way to sort it out from typical variation in many cases.

The strongest correlation you’re talking about would be that of lacking the ability to remember visual details that is significantly lower among aphantaisics but it’s not a cause and effect thing because there are people such as myself who are deep multi sensory aphantaisics that don’t have serious issues with remembering at least most common details, fine details yes I’m horrible at but there’s also the suggestion there that visualizers that report more fine details may be re-creating those details rather than recalling them, IE they’re not actually part of the memory just something the brain fills in from more general experience.

How all these things are related is complicated and something they’re looking into but there really don’t seem to be any ‘smoking guns’

There are some interesting points raised in the responses and I can relate to some of the scenarios (like having to turn my body when giving directions. And I pity anyone who relies on my directions! I must say sat nav is a life saver for me when I’m driving …. But not so helpful when I’m following the map on my phone when walking; I generally head off in completely the wrong direction to start with!)

it will be fascinating to see where the research leads. I guess my point was that many people, including myself, gain comfort from having a label to hang on a condition but the danger is that we then use this to explain any sort of deficiency we have – I’m overweight and don’t do enough exercise but I can’t blame aphantasia ….. or can I?! 🤔


I’ve had aphantasia for what I recall since the beginning.

I can pick faces out from people I went to school with over 20years ago.  I’ll forget your name in 20secs

Maps, I can’t picture myself, but I can orientate and find a position on a map.

I do get your reference to 3D objects, architectural & structural drafter for a lot of years. It’s one of those, I know how it’s meant to look when I’ve completed drawing it.

Maths, I am utterly useless.

I’d hazard a guess at the variation is, how much you want that skill vs how easy it is to pick up. Map reading, I like going out hiking. Directions around cities I can usually recall shops, other landmarks to orientate myself, same city for 30+ years I don’t have to recall much

There are to the best of my knowledge (which is not complete) no coherently consistent behaviors that all aphantasics have, only tendencies and even those tendencies can still fall within the normal range of capacities for those specific behaviors within the general population so there is essentially no way to directly causally attribute it to any specific behavior.

Aphantasia is like spice, we all have our own blend and they can be quiet varied.

I have strived to try to emphasize this as one of the first things that people that find out they have aphantasia tend to do is to assign virtually every quirk or perceived abnormality to their aphantasia without any particularly grounded reason to do so. Humans love to play the blame game, and finding out you’re not ‘normal’ tends to cause people to assign these perceived deficit that they have to an external target because “That’s just the way I am” is not a satisfying answer.

I’m personally sort of opposite but also the exact same. I can’t see what my mother’s face looks like, but I can tell you about her features in a very concrete, factual way. I get pretty familar with people’s faces and voices (like cartoon characters in shows) and often think “that voice sounds very familar” when playing a video game. I’m very good with colors and I love to draw, something I’ve been doing for years. When I took an IQ test as a child one of my highest percentiles was “spatial visualization” (which is either named incorrectly or they were just wrong) so I know exactly what you mean when you say you can manipulate those 3D objects. I suppose just like everyone else aphantasics are just inherently different. 

I’ve got a lot of memory issues, which can partially be explained by my aphantasia, but also by trauma and other mental illnesses. I think they all combined to make the issues I have with remembering anything, any kind of co-ordination or navigation. I don’t have creativity and I’m terrible with faces. I’ve also been led into a room I’d spent hours in over weeks at least and not recognised it or had any idea where I was because I was led into the room from a different door that I hadn’t walked through before – even though I’d seen the room from that angle so many times I couldn’t recognise it because my recognition was tied to the routine of walking through one door each time I entered the room.
I think that the variation might be due to co-morbidities, other neurodivergences that can allow or prevent us from developing a different way to do things without imagery. I also had some weak imagery as a child and now have total multi-sensory aphantasia, so maybe the acquired nature of it has an impact.