Dreams and Aphantasia

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judah iamjudah iam asked 3 months ago

Intriguingly, while aphantasics cannot summon mental imagery on demand, Zeman (the cognitive and behavioral neurologist who coined the word aphantasia) believes that: "Most aphantasics know what it’s like to visualize, as they experience imagery in their dreams or as they dose off to sleep." This was confirmed by two World of Lucid Dreaming readers with aphantasia. This suggests that hypnagogic imagery and visualization close to the dreamstate draws on a different mechanism to daydreaming and visualizing during full wakefulness. However, some scientists have begun to refute this claim. What are your dreams like? Are there visual pictures in your dreamscape? Anyone have hypnagogic/hypnopompic hallucinations like me that you chase because they are the only pictures you ever see in your mind?

16 Answers
Aimee SeaverAimee Seaver answered 3 months ago

I have very visual dreams. I get a little obsessed with them b/c they’re the only visual imagery I can get.

That’s awesome you can get the hypnagogic imagery to chase! I want to work on that, but not sure it’s possible. I sometimes have non visual versions where I’m following a storyline/scene, but it’s all non visual, and then I wake up from the half asleep state.

My dreams are usually very divorced from reality, I’m almost never myself, and sometimes I’m a cat, gargoyle, octopus, etc. Fighting is pretty common, as well as post apocalyptic settings. Dreamscapes themselves are visually crisp and detailed.

I really want to learn how to lucid dream, then I can use my dreams as nighttime visual imagination land ^_^

What are you hypnagogic hallucinations like? Do they have a mind of their own or are they similar to lucid dreaming in that you have some control?

judah iamjudah iam replied 2 months ago

I meant to comment in your answer zone but I put it in my own comment reply box by accident so:I never knew, other than people like my mother looking at me funny and saying "can't you picture it in you mind?" that aphantasia was a thing. When I heard a podcast on CBC I was blown away because I knew I couldn't visualize. For example I have had meditation teachers marvel at my ability to easily meditate and when they ask me what I see I would say nothing, but sometimes there is a point in the middle nearer to the top that looks brighter and changes in shape or contrast… They would tell me I'm a natural and that it takes years to get to that level! They asked me what it looks like and I'd say it's very abstract but sort of looks like a tunnel, sometimes the shadow of an eye, and sometimes a distant light like seeing a candle down from a thousand meters down a dark hall. But really, it is the absence of visual imagery that leaves this impression for me to "see" when I close my eyes and really try to look at the nothing. The nothing doesn't really take shape but it does have one point near the center that is a little bit brighter than the rest of the nothing and if I try to focus on it it seems to respond as though it is actually something responding to my focus. I imagine it's my mind trying to create an image but it just can't. What about you; have you tried to meditate? My dreams are very real and I tend to wake up excited or disturbed depending on the subject matter because it's hard to believe it wasn't real; it's as real or more than reality, because in reality I have a very vague sense of visual memory, for example I have trouble remembering and recognizing faces, but I never forget a voice. I can hear a voice once and know it conclusively years later, such as in films or on the radio. Face, however, I can't even picture my mother in my mind. When my first girlfriend moved away I thought it strange that I couldn't picture her face, not even the next day, and as days went on I couldn't recall what she looked like. Even though I know what she looks like I can't bring it into mind. I knew then something was "off" and throughout my life people have ridiculed me for not being able to recognize people and places I'm familiar with. I get lost easily. Once, I couldn't find my house because I didn't recognize the street and my friends said I must be crazy. It does feel a bit crazy sometimes! I just got used to it and accepted it; it's been a journey of self acceptance for sure, because I feel I don't measure up to others abilities and like I'm permanently lost – the blind mind's eye was a very reassuring concept to learn of. I used to sleep too much because dreaming felt more real than life does to me and I remember my dreams – I can't visualize them – but I know them better than I know my own mother's face! Apocalyptic dreams, hell ya! That's a big theme for me. Giant tsunamis, the ocean floating into the sky and people screaming as they float up and away as it seems gravity fails, massive fireballs roiling with fire coming toward earth seen through my bedroom window, and then dreams of witnessing a murder or multiple murders, serial killers, like I'm not present but I'm an invisible observer they can't see, those ones I wake up and feel like crying, often I am amidst fleeing criminals who police are chasing, but nobody sees me, like I'm not visible to them. Lots of the dreams are enjoyable, like dreams of flying and teaching people how to fly, and of another world where everything is beautiful and peace reigns… So cool. Funny you say you're not yourself in dreams, most often, because I can't actually see myself, and I don't know who the observer is. I should try to notice next time. I will. Because it seems like I'm somebody else, except when I have the flying dreams, I remember seeing my body then… Yes crisp and detailed, yet still I can't picture them when awake, I only know them, I remember very well most dreams and fantasize about them for weeks, months even years. Lucid dreaming me too. I'm studying fiction. You might like these articles: They mention how dreaming is thought to work and how we fantasize or fictionalize aspects of ourselves in dreamscape. Very interesting concepts to somebody like me.
My hypno-hallucinations are moments long and I try desperately to grasp them because it is so exciting to me, and sometimes paralyzingly fearful but awesome. Not often enough for my pleasure I wake up and for a split second my dream is in reality, the character beside my bed, and what is most awesome is the sense I get. I get the sense that the character has all of the sudden become aware of me, like as if they were not aware of my presence before. Last year I woke up to a light from heaven beaming down to the right of the foot of my bed and heard angels singing "Hosanna in the highest" and I sat up weeping for joy(I'm not religious so it was very strange, though I have a christian upbringing that may have projected it somehow) I felt that everything was perfect and all was well, like I understood the reason for everything. Pretty awesome experience. Another time I woke up and there was a giant human sized caterpillar standing like a human with a head that looked like a space helmet like you see on amazonian giant caterpillars. It stood there for about two seconds and as it disappeared it tried to speak to me in a totally unknown language and was gesturing to me; it seemed it was trying to tell me something. I woke up feeling sorry I couldn't understand and feeling that the bug was desperate to communicate some message to me in that brief moment. Rad. They are so fleeting; I only get one or two seconds with them, sadly. I love it when I get one, it's the best science fiction experience EVER! The only control I have is in that once I am awake sometimes, rarely, the dream overlaps and stays superimposed over waking reality, ie. the character is in my room beside my bed, and it's interactive in that the character seems to notice me and I notice it, and for the split second we try to interact but the millisecond is gone before I can do anything and the dream falls apart like some sort of 3D geometrical matrix falling away and dissapearing in an instant. During the dream, when fast asleep, I never know I'm dreaming. It seems like life on another channel without awareness. Awareness only returns upon waking. I wish I could become aware during… It seems like I am somebody else who doesn't know that I am dreaming their life, as if I'm an external narrator with an internal point of view lacking the awareness of who "I" am and who is watching the dream, whether through the central character or not… So complicated. It would be great to have control. Octopus? That's so cool. I wish I dreamed I was an octopus. I would love that.

Rachel CicconeRachel C answered 2 months ago

I don’t dream in images, and I don’t think I ever have. Usually I barely remember my dreams. I’m not sure if that’s a side effect of not having visual dreams.

I may dream in images, but if I realize I’m dreaming (through lucid dreaming, for example, or I’m just starting to wake up) I don’t see the images. I feel like the possible images just fall apart as I become aware of them. It’s really hard to explain.

judah iamjudah iam replied 2 months ago

After reading your answer I had a dream the next day and took a deeper think about it. When I wake up I have absolutely no ability to picture the dream but I have a strong idea of it and I can think of what things looked like but cannot bring them up. The idea feels so deep and not visual whatsoever in my waking mind, however I still know the idea of what the dream object or character looked like. I just can't picture it in the least. It's there but not visually. It is very hard to explain. My dreaming is in images though and I feel desperation as they fall apart when I wake. Before I understood why or what this is — not like I understand very well now — I felt like I was in a world that deconstructed the moment I opened my eyes and this dream world was just gone in milliseconds. I'd feel bereft of the ability to envision it and that feeling is totally weird. It's like there's another world that is only real when I'm in REM or something… But to clarify the images are just an idea to me when I'm awake, but I get the sense that I do experience them as seeing them while I'm dreaming and asleep. Still, it is a concept not an image to my waking mind… I can't picture any of it. I do remember sometimes though, like recently I dreamed of men in turbans and a foreign city, and I felt lost, but I was focused on one man for some reason I don't know what the reason is though. I asked a passerby "What city is this?" the man answered "Babek". I woke up and wrote down that name. I'd never heard it before. When I was writing it down I could totally conceptualize where I felt like that I just had been, but not in any visual sense. The imagery is gone, I just know details in a narrative sense. I can recall the colors of the men's turbans, and the brown buildings and dusty streets and horses and carts, but I can't think to see it. When I was writing down that name, I woke up a bit and thought to myself, was it Babel? And I thought very distinctly, no, he said it was Babek. And I thought, I don't know how to spell that. I wrote Babek. I googled Babek the next afternoon… It's in Iran. It totally looked like an Iranian city in the dream but I can't "see" it. It's just an idea and it feels totally buried in my mind but the idea is strong and present. Totally strange…

Rachel CicconeRachel C replied 2 months ago

Your response makes PERFECT sense to me and is more or less how I dream. I still think I don’t dream in images, but whatever I do dream, it goes straight to a narrative in my head. I generally have small descriptions for things, but not necessarily because I saw it; I just have a gut feeling about what the object or person looked like. For example, just this morning I had a dream that had my fourth grade teacher in it. I didn’t see him, but I knew he was there and what he looks like.

That was a really freaky dream by the way! Very strange indeed.

judah iamjudah iam replied 2 months ago

What about faces, do you process people you know or do you feel that you barely remember them, like you say about your dreams? Do you have trouble remembering faces like I do? I confuse people who look vaguely similar, and even people I have worked with for a year or more, I don't recognize them months later. People I meet at a dinner two or three times are total strangers to me six month later, until they tell me who they are. I remember narrative bits about them but not their appearance! It's very embarrassing… People I knew would say "are you crazy? That's so and so, you met them ten times!" or "Are you crazy? That's not so and so, they don't even look remotely the same!" I just got used to knowing I don't know what the hell people look like the day before by the next day. It's tough to manage relationships when people realize you don't recognize them; I get the sense from nonverbals that people feel hurt I don't seem to remember them. Once I couldn't find my house on my own street. I couldn't remember what my street looked like and I didn't recognize that I was on it. My friends said "your house is five houses up on the left, don't you know where you are?" I feel perpetually lost and I never know what people are referring to when they give examples of landmarks. Even when I've been somewhere many times, I often can't think of where it is and have to look on google maps. Off topic, sorry. I never forget a voice and have a great memory for stories, I remember obscure things people say but not their faces. I feel sort of blind, like my eyes are disconnected from my memory. That's why I appreciated your description of dreaming… Barely remembering and having them "fall apart". I'm totally with you, your description also makes perfect sense to me. I'd love to hear more about your dream.

Rachel CicconeRachel C replied 2 months ago

I don’t think I have face blindness, but my friend does who isn’t an aphant. So that’s how I got her to understand about my aphantasia.

But the idea of “feeling blind, like my eyes are disconnected from my memory” is… pretty much what I feel. Take driving for example. I’m going for my full licence next week, and I struggle to remember directions because I can’t remember what places look like, even if I’ve driven there many times in the past. I went for lessons to brush up for my test, and I never feel “present” behind the wheel, like I’m borderline dissociative. And doing “left-right-centre” checks at intersections, I feel like I’m looking on instinct, but not actually REALLY looking because it isn’t registering in my brain.

I do feel like my aphantasia has affected my thought process in how I problem solve. If I do something “wrong”, or in a different way, my mother will say “what is wrong with you?!” for maybe misinterpreting what she was asking, similar to how you maybe can’t remember your coworkers after six months. It’s…. difficult, to say the least.

judah iamjudah iam replied 2 months ago

Wow, poignant description. My mom would say that same phrase all the time. My inability to absorb or follow directions is epic and became a running joke in my family. My dad(adopted me when I was six, not my paternal parent) acted like I was crazy when I couldn’t ever explain to him where places are; he’d grill me about streets and landmarks until I got frustrated and embarrassed. There’s nothing “wrong” with people like us. We have different challenges and different strengths. Stay strong. You got this. There’s no shame in feeling lost. It’s hard enough to cope with without people adding to the difficulties. Lots of us with aphantasia totally understand. Thanks for your comments, they are really helpful for me to realize it’s not me, it’s aphantasia.

Rachel CicconeRachel C replied 2 months ago

Like… one time she told me to close some windows because it was raining, but I ended up only closing two of the three that were open. I forgot about the last one, didn’t actually see it, and couldn’t visualize it, so I forgot it was even open. It ended up with her finding out and getting mad, and asking what the hell was wrong with me. I tried to defend myself and explain my thought process, but she didn’t want to hear it. It was really, really devastating for me, even though it really wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s so, so hard trying to unlearn the notion that “something is wrong with me” when it’s been told to me over and over again by an important adult in my life. Realizing it is probably my aphantasia has been very liberating, because I have realized it isn’t my fault, that nothing is ‘wrong’ with me. However… there is still that doubt something is wrong with me anyway. I haven’t told my mom about my aphantasia; I feel like she wouldn’t believe me if I told her.

ANIKA BRKICANIKA BRKIC answered 2 months ago

My dreams are visual. I see pretty vividly in my dreams. When I try to think about the other senses, I can’t reember if I have them in my dreams. It’s wierd but I’m not sure if I have sounds and stuff in my dreams.

judah iamjudah iam replied 2 months ago

Good point, I have never recalled a sound of any sort in my dreams, but I did hear “dream” angels singing the moment I woke up once, so I must have been dreaming their vocalizations. It’s like my dreams are silent films but the picture goes direct to memory and skips my visual processing center, like direct to DVD movies skip the cinema. I will check that out next dream – is there sound? Is there any sense of touch? I know there is a sense of motion when I’m flying or falling; like the feeling of dropping on a rollercoaster. That’s quite thrilling and I always wake up feeling like I just rode a ride at the exhibition… thanks for your comments everybody! You’re helping me understand my dreams and my aphantasiac life.

Laura FlaniganLaura Flanigan answered 2 months ago

I dream very vividly and often. I am a lucid dreamer and dream in first person. I don’t have control over the dream but I always know that I am dreaming so they don’t scare me or bother me at all. When I wake up I can remember what happened but of course, can’t visualize it afterwards. The dreams feel almost as real as life since they are in the first person, much like life. I’ve always found life has a dream-like quality as a result.

judah iamjudah iam replied 2 months ago

You make a very good point that resonates with me. You say your dreams feel like real life and that real life seems dream like in some way. I completely relate to that. Apparently Australian Aborigines belief system holds that dreamtime is reality and awake life is the illusion; this way of looking at reality is such a fascinating reversal that I find it incredible to ponder. I also can't visualize dreams afterward. This makes dreaming a very alluring thing to spend time doing. When I know I've just been dreaming and wake up, I really, really want to go back and spend more time dreaming, regardless of whether it was a happy dream or more of a scary one. I find dreams are like what I would think virtual reality would be if it was perfectly indistinguishable from being awake and having full agency. When they end, it feels like a door slams shut on an incrediblely real world that seems visual, when I'm there at least, but when I wake up it's like it rolls up into a scroll and goes all black, or blank. Then being awake seems surreal and I stumble through daily life feeling half asleep, while in a dream I feel totally exhilarated, vibrant, and completely alert, with no sense of 'dreamyness' the plagues my waking life. That's very backwards seeming! Thanks for your comment it was very revealing and resonates with my experience. I don't usually have any awareness while I dream that I am dreaming, that's where I differ. I have tried to become aware, to coach myself to realize it but so far when I'm dreaming I don't think of it as a dream, and often I find myself thinking, this is so awesome! Where am I?! Not like I am lost, but rather it feels like I am certain that I want to return and so I'm trying in the dreamscape to figure out how I would get back and I'm aware that I don't have the fainist clue how I got there and I don't know where this world is… I keep thinking, how will I return? Where is this? But as to what is happening, I know exactly what is going on, there is a concrete sense of narrative. But when I wake up it evaporates leaving the sparsest of details. It's so fun!

Winter FrostWinter Frost answered 2 months ago

My dreams are a sensory overload. When I wake up I can recall sensations felt during the dream. Things like being burned alive, the wind and tears while falling, what it felt like upon impact of said fall.

judah iamjudah iam replied 2 months ago

That’s very interesting; the only sensation I can recall clearly is flying or falling. I don’t ever remember an impact, or what the more apocalyptic dreams ‘feel’ like. I wake up from those kinds of dreams(earthquakes, tsunamis) wondering why I didn’t feel scared and why I wasn’t running from danger like the other people in the dream were. But when I dream of being able to float, fly, or I dream I’m falling, I wake up with butterflies in my stomach like a rollercoaster loop leaves. Never wind, though, I’m jealous. I’d love to feel dream wind. Fire, not so much. Thanks for leaving a comment! I wish you only pleasant sensations.

Hannah LaurenHannah Lauren answered 2 weeks ago

For me, I don’t dream particularly often or atleast don’t remember them very frequently. I find dreams to feel quite real, and especially when I experience negative dreams or some kind of emotional dream, when I wake up, it felt very real and I’m left feeling odd or teary.

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