Sometimes, as in cases of epileptic seizures, brain injury or intoxication by hallucinogenic substances, it is possible to experience memories of the past very vividly, as if they were happening in the present. This relatively little studied phenomenon is called “ecmnesia”.
In this article we will define the main characteristics of ecmnesia and explain what its causes are . We will also talk about paramnesias, other peculiar phenomena related to memory, such as flash memories or cryptoamnesia.
Ecmnesia: definition and characteristics
Eclerotherapy is a perceptive alteration that consists of the experience of situations that occurred in the past as if they were happening in the present . These experiences have a very intense vividness and while they occur the person behaves as he would if he were really in this one, with a great emotional involvement.
This is why ecmnesia can be considered a type of hallucinatory experience, although it is often referred to in the scientific literature on the psychology of memory. On the other hand, the concept “ecmesic delirium” highlights the delirious content of these experiences , because often those who have them believe that they are really living them.
Eclesia does not always have a pathological character, but its clinical consideration depends on the context in which it occurs. For example, if they appear as a result of the occasional consumption of a hallucinogenic drug, these experiences could not properly be understood as alterations in memory.
Sometimes the term ecmnesia is also used to refer to other memory disorders that are not always related to hallucinations. In particular, some medical dictionaries define ecmnesia as the loss of recent memories, while others add that memory is maintained for the remote past.
The frequency of ecmnesia is very low. Experiences of this type have been described in cases of brain injury, especially different forms of dementia , which deteriorate the tissue of the nervous system causing alterations in consciousness, cognition and memory.
Other biological alterations associated with ecmnesia are delirium or confusional syndrome, which often appears in hospitalized elderly people, and the twilight states characteristic of temporal epilepsy. These transitory phenomena are characterized by an alteration of consciousness that prevents the correct perception of the environment.
There are various types of substances with hallucinogenic effects that can cause perceptual alterations similar to those we have described. Some of the better known hallucinogenic drugs are psilocybin-containing mushrooms, mescaline (found in the peyote cactus) and lysergic acid or LSD.
Psychological literature also links ecmnesia to hysteria, although this diagnostic category has been abandoned over time. In these cases, reminiscence is more likely to be due to autosuggestion rather than biological factors, as is the case with drugs or brain injury.
Other similar phenomena: the paramnesias
Eclnesia is classified as a paramnesia , a term used to describe alterations in memory that include false memories and/or a misperception of the temporal context. Other authors include ecmnesia in the group of hypermnesias, an ambiguous concept that refers to the presence of abnormally sharp memories.
We will now briefly describe the main characteristics of 5 other types of paramnesia: the pseudorecords (confabulation and fantasy pseudology), déjà vu and its opposite, jamais vu, reduplicative paramnesia, cryptoamnesia and flash memories.
1. Fantastic conspiracy and pseudology
These two phenomena are pseudo-records: they consist of the spontaneous and involuntary creation of false memories to fill in gaps in memory. Confabulation is the basic form and is associated with the Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, while fantasy pseudology is characterized by impossible narratives and appears in the Münchausen syndrome.
2. Déjà vu and jamais vu
The famous déjà vu happens when, faced with a new experience, we have the feeling that we have already lived it. It is associated with fatigue, depersonalization and epilepsy. On the other hand, in Jamais vu something we already know does not give us a sense of familiarity.
3. Reduplicative Paramnesia
Reduplicative paramnesia consists of the feeling that one knows a place or a person that is in fact unknown to the subject; the classic example is that of a hospital. Although it is reminiscent of déjà vu, this phenomenon is more associated with pseudo-mentalities and appears in Korsakoff’s syndrome, in dementia and in confusional states.
In cryptoamnesia a memory is mistakenly perceived as a new production . It is very frequent in fields such as art or science: the semantic memory appears without also recovering the context in which this memory trace was generated, so it is believed that one has had an idea or thought that in reality comes from another person.
5. Flash memories
Flash memories are recorded very vividly because of the impact the situation had on the person. A typical example is remembering what was being done during the Twin Towers attack. Memories of traumatic events could also be conceived as flash memories, and rarely as ecmesia.