This is a fascinating Guardian article about a rare but devastating mental health problem. Below is a short extract: for the full post see link.
She was missing but police knew where she was. She could not remember her name, her family or her childhood. She knew that she was dying, but only that. Interpol released a missing persons report: 1.7m, 91kg, brown eyes, chip on front tooth, right-handed, Caucasian, appears to be in her 50s, piercing on each ear, shoe size 39. Languages: English, French.
She called herself “Sam” and spoke to the media this month, explaining that she had been found semi-conscious by police outside a church in Carlsbad, California, five months ago. She had stage three ovarian cancer, she said. A Facebook campaign earned 200,000 shares and ignited worldwide media interest. Then Sam’s scattered recollections started to emerge: “… swimming in a salt water pool in Perth, then icebergs in New South Wales and in Cairns in Queensland and Byron Bay”.
A San Diego TV station reported that her family, who had lost touch with Sam in 2013, identified her after seeing a news report. Her real name was Ashley Menatta: born in Pennsylvania, lived in Arizona and moved to southern California. Menatta described the subsequent reunion (no family members have appeared in media reports). “It was extremely emotional,” Menatta said. “We were all sobbing. They’re so sorry I had to go through what I did during this time without them.”
She is no longer missing, but the concept of her identity remains challenging. Is she who she thinks she is, or who other people say she is? Special Agent Darrell Foxworth spoke to reporters after Sam became Ashley: “The FBI is not identifying this individual as by the name of Ashley. This is something she is self-identifying herself as based on conversations she had with people that represent themselves as family members.”
In The Bourne Identity, assassin Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) loses his life history in mysterious circumstances. Italian fishermen discover his body floating in the Mediterranean. There are two bullets in his back and a bank code embedded in his hip. He does not know who he is or was, though his combat abilities and foreign language skills are retained. Bourne is eventually diagnosed with psychogenic amnesia.
Away from the big screen, psychogenic amnesia is a condition in which the showreel of personal life malfunctions. Traumatic personal events disappear and fall to the cutting-room floor. Narrative gaps infiltrate your story. White noise drowns out your past.