Psychogenic Amnesia: A state of oblivion

Introduction: Psychogenic Amnesia

There are times when we walk into a room with a task in mind and immediately fail to recall it no sooner had we entered the room. We may recollect it when we keep thinking about it or it would be retrieved over a short period of time without us even trying.

This is a form of unintentional forgetfulness. There are times when most needed, we forget something crucial or important that has been rehearsed and prepared over a period of time, owing to stress or nervousness; such situations could occur during a theatre performance or even interviews.

At other times, there are certain instances which we long to forget but are unable to as these memories often seem to be brought back at random times. These usually seem to be actions of embarrassment and as these memories are often suddenly recollected, one hopes for it to be forgotten and never brought back.

Forgetfulness is very typical of human nature and is even prominent with age, especially in later adulthood. Forgetfulness is otherwise normal when stored information is unused over time, due to absentmindedness, or when certain stored information is misattributed, disarranged or unclear. However, this forgetfulness turns maleficent when it changes to memory loss, also referred to as amnesia, wherein the individual loses the ability to recall or retain information.

Brief information regarding Amnesia:

Amnesia, otherwise referred to as Amnesiatic Syndrome is a psychological condition where an individual faces difficulty in recollecting past events or memories. They also have trouble with learning and keeping those memories stored.

Amnesia can be of short term or long term depending on its severity, with the similarity being that the memory that is unable to be retrieved is a kind of memory that generally should not have been forgotten. Such memories could be that of important milestones, dear people in our lives and other necessary information regarding one’s past.

Amnesia is not the same as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) as the person suffering from amnesia often has clarity regarding their identity, unless in severe cases, certain information regarding one’s identity is often confused or suppressed.

The principal reasons for the occurrence of amnesia are brain damage or experiences of traumatic events. The most common types of amnesia are that of retrograde amnesia, where the individual fails to recall memories of the past; anterograde amnesia, where the person is unable to successfully store new formed memories; transient global amnesia, where the memory loss take place for a certain duration, often not more than 24 hours; dissociative or psychogenic amnesia, where the affected individual suffers memory loss after a consequential traumatic event.

Psychogenic amnesia in detail:

Psychogenic amnesia is the occurrence of significant memory loss with no signs of neurological damage or brain injury, but often prevails after consequential traumatic events or episodes. Also known as functional amnesia and dissociative amnesia (as referred in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition), it includes the presence of retrograde amnesia and the absence of anterograde amnesia.

The detection of psychogenic amnesia is rare leading to only few case studies with fewer treatments and follow ups. With the little information gathered from case studies of affected individuals, it could be inferred that there is a presence of impaired recollection of past memories and at times distorted autobiographical past information. This loss of autobiographical identity or a sense of self is only momentary as an effect of dissociative or psychogenic fugue (loss of information about self).

Objectively, psychogenic amnesia involves significant memory loss of personal identity crucial enough to disrupt one’s life. After a traumatic event, the suffering person almost completely forgets the event causing trauma and the brain suppresses those memories detrimental to the individual.

In the process of protecting the individual by suppressing the traumatic episode, this amnesia also causes suppression of identity of self and other critical memories relating to one’s past and key events of life or even forgetting loved ones.

The suffering individual may be oblivious of the disorder and may substitute it for confusion, unless its severity is introspected or indicated by another person. Once clinically diagnosed of the disorder, necessary precautions and medications are to be tended to.


Causes: Psychogenic Amnesia

As previously mentioned, the occurrence of trauma causes the suppression and loss of memory. The trauma could be that of an accident, calamity or any circumstance detrimental to the stability of mental health.

To avoid any kind of survivor’s guilt (regretting surviving a tragic or traumatic event), the brain tries to suppress the tragic memories but unfortunately causes a breakdown impairing memory functioning.

The trauma may not necessarily be undergone by the individual, but the individual may be a witness of the traumatic event, examples being, war soldiers or inhabitants of war prone areas. However, research studies have found the possibilities of the role of genetic transmission or heredity as one of the causes of psychogenic amnesia. In most cases, the duration of amnesia is temporary and rarely lasts a lifetime.


Psychogenic Amnesia


Symptoms: Psychogenic Amnesia

According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, psychogenic amnesia is manifested and diagnosed by a failure to recall crucial autobiographical information that should be easily recalled by an otherwise mentally stable individual. One’s routine is often disturbed and disrupted and this disturbance is not due to alcohol or substance abuse, or any other form of mental disorder.


Treatment: Psychogenic Amnesia

There is no specific treatment for the disorder but psychotherapy and other forms of therapy may prove beneficial. Hypnosis and other drug aided interrogation may be administered to help memory retrieval.

Conclusively, the rarity of the prevalence of psychogenic amnesia is an impediment to research, limiting the scope for diagnosis and therapy. Nevertheless, research studies have associated abnormal changes in brainwave activity in individuals suffering from psychogenic amnesia, directing towards better knowledge and possibilities of prognosis of the same.


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Written by Athya Ashraf

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Fascinating, I enjoyed reading and also understanding it. Love how you have pieced it together and compared, yours stats are on point. Thank for this enlightening article, Athya❤