What is normal imagination??


I recently discovered I might have aphantasia. I had known about the condition for years before but disregarded the possibility that I might have it, because I used to spend a lot of time in my imagination which I considered to be at least partly visual.
That was bafore a long conversation comparing the experience with my friend who for example claimed to be able to imagine objects on top of reality in a way that she couldn't see behind them. I cannot do this in the slightest. I have always thought I'm capable of imagining something on top of reality but my experience doesn't match hers at all. I thought imagining something and actually seeing it are two completely different things but apparently the experience for her at least is not. Also the same areas in the brain are engaged in both so apparently biologically are supposed to be similar.
Does this then mean I have aphantasia? The normal questionnaire is very confusing for me, because for the longest time I thought I actually can "see" the images.

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👋 Hello Jill, I am not sure there is one definition for “normal” imagination. There is so much variability in our imaginative experiences to provide a definitive answer. Not only considering the wide variability in visual imagination but across the different senses!

Can you hear music in your mind, for example? Some people hear sounds vividly in their auditory imagination, while for others, it’s dimmer. Some only “hear” themselves humming to the rhythm rather than the sounds of different instruments or the singer’s voice. Some auditory aphantasics hear nothing at all.

Interesting you mention “on top of reality,” there also seems to be quite the variability in imaginative abilities to mentally visualize (inside our mind) and project that image in the real world like some augmented reality. This will also vary person by person.

To your latter question, do I have aphantasia, only you can answer that. It may seem like an impossible task, especially since we cannot compare our inner experience to someone else’s. However, we can compare it to how we “know” something looks or sounds in real life. How does your mental image or soundbite compare to its real-world counterpart? Do you see anything that vaguely resembles an image or not? You may know your thoughts better than you think you do!

Some aphantasics do report the absence of all mental representations of sensory experience (multisensory aphantasia), in case that fact proves helpful to your personal exploration.

There are also lots of helpful resources on our site that can help you on your journey. Here are some I would recommend.

Understanding the Nuances of My Aphantasia
Visualizing the Invisible

++ a fun visualizer tool you can try with your friend!
Visualizer Tool