visual memory in aphantasics

There is a lot of stuff on the internet about not being able to visualize at will or at all. However, I have never seen this as a major issue for me since I rarely need to visualize an apple and in my view the only real use of the ability would be to describe the culprit of a crime I had witnessed. I would not be able to do that with any detail. Maybe size, race and gender.

In  my case Aphantasia, more than anything, is a lack of visual memory. That means a lack of memory of events not just people´s faces or the places i have lived in (which are many).

I  lived for  more than 5 years in each the UK, Canada, Spain and the Dominican Republic. Now i am getting to my point. In each of these situations it seems that someone else actually lived that time and not me. This is because of the scarcity of  visual memory of my time there. I know i lived in those places but would be hard pressed to describe any specific event or person.

For me the past is sort of black and white. Then and now, but with the Then compacted into a homogeneous unit. So one year ago and 20 years ago are essentially the same since i have almost no visual memory of either.

The consequences of this disassociation with past events are interesting. An example. I was attacked in the street last year and taken to hospital with my nose destroyed (n0t just broken) and covered in blood. a stranger found me and called the ambulance to take me to hospital. Fine so far. When i woke up the next day in a hospital bed it was already like ancient history.  Over and done with.

A similar situation occurred when i was robbed at gun point in the DR (i mentioned this event in an earlier post). I was in a group of about 12 people but it was my girlfriend and I who were the actual target of the robbery. The rest of the group were traumatized to a greater or lesser extent but I was not. I had not been injured so the robbery was already in my big bag of past events. I was ready to go for another beer but had no takers.

Now some information about me. Like a lot of people who believe they have Aphantasia I am self-diagnosed. I became aware of limited visualization skills more than 40 years ago in a course that included the Memory Palace technique. I could not even visualize the Palace never mind the objects to be remembered. I figured memorizing lists was hardly an interesting skill anyway since i could just make a written list and promptly forgot about the issue.

It was only when i saw a report on Professor Zeman´s work on Aphantasia that i connected the dots.

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Total Comments (4)

Completely relate to your explanation of the past. 

Yes! I’ve always accredited it to my ability to “let go of the past” (moral inference here), but I think you’re right. I was getting to know a new friend and had said “Nothing bad has ever happened to me “. We were talking about trauma, and as I told her some about my life she said, “that sounds traumatic to me”, but it never felt that way. Now I think it’s about the lack of visual context with the memory. BTW, I just discovered all this a couple days ago, thanks to a comment on a podcast.

Like you Paul I find my memory  consists in colour only in photographs and struggle putting names to faces and clearly remembering places I have been.  I recently started writing my “history” but although I remember where I have been and certain eventful incidents I am only able to remember dates and places accurately by referring to my pilot logbooks and passport visas. 

Fortunately I have never been attacked or robbed but stressful incidents I have been involved in don’t affect me when I remember these. Although I was injured when a friend rolled her car it skidded along the road which a resulted in a stay in hospital, I could recall the events afterwards without it affecting me at all. 

Great write up! And I feel much the same.

To find more stories like this and analysis of it, the term used is Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory (SDAM) – there’s a whole subreddit to it!

Also noticed you’re in Hackney – that’s where I live too if you’d like to have a cup of tea one day and talk about aphantasia.

“ancient history. Over and done with it.” To me, this means you are living in the only reality which is NOW, the present moment. If we need to account for past events then evidence can be found in recalling abstract stuff like dates, places, times. Memory is a marvellous thing and has the capacity to store as much and more information we need to survive and thrive.