If you cant Picture something while awake how can we be sure your dreams are vivid?

I recently discovered that I have Aphantasia and I am doing what I assume is the typical things when someone figures this out which is re-thinking my life and all the ways that this may have shaped the person who I am. I am reconciling all those weird conversations that I wrote off as hyperbole or metaphor and realizing that all along I’ve had it a little wrong in my head.. 

I am also like many of you considering dreams and trying to determine if I dream in Images or not and I feel like I am in a bit of a conundrum over the topic. The last few days I have tried to remember my dreams which is difficult in the best of times. Most nights I wake up and cant recall anything but occasionally I would wake up in a panic or a sweat and have a vivid memory that I had been dreaming something. The memories of the dream are often not super clear and the struggle I’m having is that when I have a “vivid” memory I may remember all the fine details of something that happened in the past but I don’t form a mental picture of it while thinking about it. In my life thus far my definition of a vivid memory or a picture in my mind was just to recall all the subtle details like the size and shape of the hairs on the persons chin or the fine texture of a peach. My “vivid” dreams are similar in that I recall running or talking to someone or the layout of a maze that I was lost in or the people who were in the dream and where we went but I only remember it while I’m conscious and awake so there is no picture that goes with that memory when I’m looking back at it. 


I think some aphants have decided that because memories are based on things we see or hear or do and dreams feel similar to memories when we awaken that therefore we must picture things while sleeping? I wonder though if that is the case, how could I tell if it was a picture or just a memory. I recall seeing things all the time but I don’t see them in my head after the fact. What if my dreams are just a construct of all the relationships and facts about a very detailed “scene” that my mind created without a visual component but because the details of that scene were well enough recalled I believe it was therefore a memory or picture? Does it even matter in the end?

I guess what I’m getting at is I don’t know how to answer the question “do you picture while you are sleeping” and I don’t know if that is because I don’t picture or because I’m still trying to grasp the concept that everyone else has a movie reel in their minds and I don’t. 

If you have Aphantasia and you dream vivid dreams with pictures how do you know that they are pictures? If you have Aphantasia and you dream but do not have pictures in your dream, how do you know that there are no pictures? If you are a person with Aphantasia and you don’t have pictures while you sleep do you still have dreams that you can recall? 

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Hi Steven, 

I “see” in my dreams. I remember enough when I wake up. So I would say that in my dreams, I do not have aphantasia, it is as if I am actually seeing things like in real life. I am living the experience. In real life, I see my surroundings, I just can’t see anything with my eyes closed. It gives me hope that if I dont have aphantasia in my dreams that someday I could be rid of it in my waking life. That would help me soooo much with my memory, remembering things, and not getting lost. People say this isnt a disability, but I figure my life would be so much easier if I could picture things because that would help me remember and might improve the quality of my life bu 33%! 

You could be right as this boils down to perception, I recall my dreams exceptionally rarely, only one dream this year so far and it was not visual in nature just my typical knowledge of events. I however do recall when I was much younger specifically that I had what at the time felt like visual dreams. The images did not persist after waking but the certainty that they were visual in nature in the dream at that time was tangible in a very profound way, I can still recall the events of those dreams even long after the images were gone and that knowing that there was in that time an actual visual image is something I can only express verbally now as being certain of in that moment at least.

To determine whether or not that is true would be problematic at best due to the complexity and cost of doing such a study on even a few individuals. It’s one of those things you have to take on a certain amount of faith, and as there is no current reason of scientific merit that I’m aware of which would depend on establishing for certain whether or not this was occurring so I find it highly unlikely that anything like that will be done anytime soon.

Hi Steven,

  Your pondering of Dreaming in relation to Aphantasia is interesting and something I have been working with seriously for over 30 years. I have a Mentor who has me journal my thoughts and feelings every hour to track my own Consciousness. This also includes keeping a Dream Journal along with note taking during waking states. What I discovered is this-I cannot “recall” dreams like you state when it comes to visual memory. I can “remember” the storyline as if reading a book if I record notes. In order to do this though, I have to write the dream right as I am waking-even better details if I am not quite fully awake. I keep a pen and paper next to the bed and write in the dark (took a little practice for this). Once I am “awake” and fully anchored to waking reality, the dream disappears completely. Having the notes though allows me to recall the meaning or gist of the dream though there are not visual clues or memory to guide this. This technique has “opened” access to the altered states of Consciousness found within the experience of dreaming.

  I have also found that psychedelics are useful in allowing me to “see” with my eyes closed. My experiences with purposeful usage such as with Ayahuasca Ceremonies led me to return to academia and get a Master in Transpersonal Psychology where I wrote about “Unity Consciousness”. This is where people in a group have the same vision or insight. If you have never participated in such a thing, I highly recommend it!

Have a Great Day!