The inability to "travel mentally in time" is the most recent memory disorder that intrigues researchers, and although most people who suffer it do not realize it, it can be more common than we think.
Susie McKinnon does not remember her childhood or any other stage of her life prior to the one she lives now at age 60. Nor remember special events. He knows he went to the wedding of his nephew. She knows that her husband was with her. But he does not remember being there.
In fact, He has very few memories of his life, although he has no amnesia.
For many years McKinnon had no idea that it was different, since we tend to assume that our minds work just like those of others. We do not usually discuss how it feels to have a memory. And McKinnon assumed that when people told stories of their past, they invented the details to entertain others.
It was until a friend who was doing medical practice asked him if he could make a memory test as part of his studies that both realized that McKinnon lacked autobiographical memory.
After that, McKinnon investigated amnesia, but the stories of people who lost memory as a result of a disease or brain injury did not reflect their experience. She could remember that the events had just happened I could not remember how it was to live them.
— A new syndrome —
A little over a decade ago, after fracturing a footing, he sought activities to spend time and began to read research on mental trials over time and made the decision to contact a research scientist in that field.
The day he wrote an email to Brian Levine, a scientist at the Rotman Research Institute in Baycrest, Toronto, she was nervous. For Levine, on the other hand, it was one of the most interesting days of his career. And the result of his communication was the identification of a new syndrome: Severe Autobiographic Memory Deficiency.
Human beings have the extraordinary ability to travel mentally over time, going back and forth in our minds at will. Remember when you were in elementary school, or imagine that next week you will be sitting on a towel on the beach watching the dolphins swim on the horizon. Probably not just imagine the facts of those scenarios, but also the experience of being there, and that is precisely what McKinnon can not do.
As Brian Levine told me on BBC radio show, All in the Mind, "For her, past events are experiencing almost as if they had happened in a third person, as if they had been the past experiences of another person. "
And to a certain extent we all do this, forgetting most of the things that happen to us, but for McKinnon it is much more extreme.
— What is different from amnesia? —
This syndrome is Very different from amnesia, which usually occurs after a particular event or brain injury and makes it difficult for the person to retain new information to create new memories.
People with severe autobiographical memory deficiency syndrome (or SDAM) can learn and retain new information, but that information lacks the richness of the real life experience.
If McKinnon can remember details about an event, it's because she has seen a photo or deliberately learned a story about what happened. You can not see being there, or what he was wearing, or who he was with.
"It could have been another person who attended a family wedding and not me. In my mind I have no proof of having been there. It does not feel as if it were something I did," said McKinnon in All in the Mind.
This means that McKinnon You can not feel the nostalgia to revive the best moments of life. The advantage is that Nor can he remember the pain associated with bad experiences. Difficult moments such as the death of a relative feel as intense at the moment, but over time the feeling fades away.
That can make her a better person, since she does not keep grudges because she can not evoke the emotion that made her feel bad in the first instance.
As far as the cause is concerned, so far the researchers have not found any disease or injury associated with this problem and They conclude that people simply are born like that. Although Levine and her team continue to study possible links to other disorders.
— The inability to visualize mentally —
McKinnon also has Afantasy, this means that you can not view images. It is difficult to know for sure if this prevents you from keeping vivid memories in comparison to other people. Decades of research on memory have shown that we reconstruct an event in the mind every time we remember it, but we do not know if we all do it in the same way.
Some may see an image or video in the mind, others might think more in terms of abstract ideas or facts.
Catherine Loveday, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Westminster, wonders if there are similarities in our early memories. We can remember events that happened to us before the age of three because we could have heard about them or seen photos. But It is difficult for us to remember how the experience felt.
At the moment it is unknown how prevalent is the SDAM, although Levine and his team are trying to find out with an online survey. 5,000 people have already participated And many say they believe they have that problem. Although this is a sample of self-selection, the figures suggest that pI hate to be more common than we believe.
Levine's team is investigating the idea that the autobiographical memory could be in a spectrum in which the SDAM would be at one end, while people with very good autobiographical memory, who rarely forget something as mundane as possible, would be in the other.
— So, does it matter if you have this problem? —
If the SDAM does not affect how you live your life, probably not.
In the case of McKinnon, she has always lived like this, so knowing that it is a disorder that has probably been with her all her life is just an interesting fact that gives meaning to the differences that sometimes she felt between her and other people. Now he understands, for example, that others do not invent stories.
"My experience has never been in any other way, so For me it is not a loss"he said.
"Since I have never had that ability (to remember something past in detail or to visualize events) I can not resent the lack of it".
And McKinnon sees another advantage: not thinking about the past nor dreaming about the future.
"I know that many people fight with that notion of being at the moment, but for me it's the simplest because eIt's the only way my brain works. So I'm always living the moment, all the time".
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