Is it possible to get amnesia like in the movies?

You know, somebody gets conked on the head and suddenly can’t remember who they are, who their friends and family are, etc., and yet they retain all their abilities and every other bit of knowledge not relating to their identity.

[And yes, I did just watch “The Bourne Identity” on DVD last night, thank you very much for asking.]

I guess it’s really a two part question – (1) can somebody really get amnesia by being conked on the head, and (2) if so, what are the odds that the resultant amnesia would ONLY affect that person’s sense of identity? And if so, are there any documented cases?

I can certainly imagine somebody undergoing a psychological trauma that would subconsciously cause them to choose to forget who they are, but why would a blow to the head do this?

On a side note, I suffered a concussion in a major car accident a number of years ago. As a result, I have no memory of the events immediately preceding the collision (I lost maybe 5 minutes of my life). However, as soon as I regained consciousness I had no problem with remembering who I was – I just couldn’t understand why I was flat on my back, blind, and hearing a police radio in the background…



I was watching a show on Discovery (I think) about a woman who said she was hit on the head by an attacker who killed someone else in her family. The investigators brought in a neurologist who said that her story was completely false because anyone who suffers a head injury like that loses their short term memory (pretty much exactly the way you describe). If anyone goes through that and tells you they remember getting whacked on the head, they are lying.

Can’t help you with the first part.

Re: “Anyone who suffers a head injury ‘like that’ loses their short term memory” - can you be more specific? I was involved in a car accident in which I suffered a concussion, and remember everything up to the moment of my head making contact with the glass.

It was my understanding that the neurobiologist was referring to anyone who gets knocked unconcious. The blow in question specifically was to the back of the head, but they showed this nice digital graphic of a brain sloshing around inside the skull and bouncing off the front and rear of the skull, thus suffering damage to both places. I would think that a car accident would be the same, assuming that the blow was sufficient to knock you out. Did you lose conciousness?

Barry’s car accident sounds like pretty much the same thing happened to his brain, but I’m not sure if the blow has to be in a particular place on the skull for this to happen. In the animated graphic the damage was specifically to the front and rear of the brain.

After watching the TV show, I was under the impression that what you describe (remembering everything up to the point of being knocked out) wasn’t possible.

I remember reading the story of a woman who was injured severely in a car crash. She recovered, but completely lost her memory, to the point where she did not recognize her husband or daughter. In the article she spoke of having to learn to love these “strangers,” and having to re-learn how to read and to cook, etc. Unfortunately, her memory loss was permanent.

The article went on to say that unlike in soap operas, it’s highly unlikely that another conk on the head would restore anyone’s memory once it has been lost.

Hmmmm… I thin its actually supposed to be possible, but very rare. Amnesia is almost always a psychological phenomena. I’m also not sure if its the backl of the head that’s supposed to get hit. Also, people commonly construct new identities whole-cloth, though with vague details and major holes in the story.

A guy I went to college with was out tubing one winter when he suffered a very nasty blow to the head, and suffered from temporary amnesia. I cannot accurately relate to you precisely what he did or did not remember, though as I recall he was having trouble with stuff like his name, the date, etc. He later related to me that while filling out the paperwork to be admitted to the hospital, in which task he was being assisted by another classmate, that classmate prompted him to fill in the name of his wife (he wasn’t married), at which point he freaked out thinking he was married and didn’t remember. Cruel, but funny. :smiley: By the time I heard the story two days later, though, he remembered everything up to a couple minutes before the crash.

Seems I recall that singer Lou Rawls had a months-long bout of amnesia following an accident.

Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, though…

Blows on the head cause different losses depending where they were received and what part of the brain was affected.

Short term and long term memory are quite different. Ever wonder why your grandma can tell you everything about her youth yet can’t remember where her keys are constantly.

I know some of my friends worry about their parents. Forgetting your keys is normal. Forgetting your name is not. This type of information is stored in different areas of the brain.

A facsinating article was about people who had their brain hemispheres physically split. (in the 30s apparently this was in vouge.) It told how a woman covered one of her eyes and was shown a naked person. She blushed but since the conceptal portion of her brain was blocked she was unable to express why.

There is also a phenomenon (thank god for it) called retrograde amnesia. People with trauma often DON’T lose memory and can tell their doctors a lot. But after they recover they lose the memory of their trauma. This is still debated whether this is an actual loss or a psychological suppression.

The brain is so resourceful that in many stroke cases (women more
so than men as they tend to use both sides of their brain all the time) can replace a brain function with another part of the brain taking over that function.

As a somewhat related personal story, I had an epileptic seizure when I was 11 (second one that we know of) on the way to an extended field trip. I can remember to some degree still who was in the car and what we were probably talking about and then the next thing I know I’m in my mother’s car back in town with no idea how I got there, what time it was, what the heck happened, and if I ever became responsive sometime between when I apparently became non-responsive and can remember when I came to. No real point other than the definite short-term memory loss, which of course coincides with long-term loss about anything during that event. While not quite the same as a major concussion and definitely different in actual physical effects as a blow to a skull leaves, it seems somehow similar to me.

Markxxx, I learned a slightly different description of retrograde amnesia, that being that it describes the phenomenon wherein a person who’s suffered memory loss from a concussion may well recover a lot of that memory, with the chances for such recovery diminishing as the time of injury is approached. That is to say, one may eventually remember 20 seconds before the concussion, but that person would likely come to recover the memory of 23 seconds before the concussion before that, and 27 seconds prior to injury before 23.

If I’m reading the following excerpt correctly, we’re both on to, respectively, part of the story:

Apparently not all loss-of-consciousness head traumas result in memory loss. I was knocked out by a racquetball once, and crumpled to the floor. My playing partner said I was out about 3 or 4 seconds; as soon as I was back I was able to remember the sound of the ball hitting my head.