Cannot Visualise (Part One) (Last Edited: 2010 Sep 25)

2008 November 22

This is part one of a three part series about visualisation and memory problems. You can continue to part two from the link at the bottom of this page. Or you can jump to any part from the Visualisation FAQs page link; where you can read a list of reported problems.

Please note: This series is now very out of date. I am in the process of updating them with new research that I have found. To learn more, please click this link: https://porillion.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/visualization-forming-mental-images-and-episodic-memory-updates-to-come/

I am also thinking about setting up an online support forum for people with no/low visualization. If you would be interested in this, please leave a comment to the post: https://porillion.wordpress.com/2010/09/10/do-you-want-a-support-forum-if-you-cannot-visualise/

One other problem I have had for some years now is that I can’t visualise. By this I mean I can’t see or picture things in my “mind’s eye”. Whenever I talk of this, the other person finds it hard to understand (or believe). If I say that it also affects my memory, things get more interesting. Because I have very poor episodic memory – memory of life events. This is most true for visual memory. I’ve been asked questions like “how do you get around your home?” As if somehow I may be blind! More reasonably, I’ve been asked how I remember where something is in my home. To be honest, I’m not sure – but I usually do! I think I compensate with a kind of physical memory – a memory of how to move around to find something.

One thing I dread is if someone in a car asks me for directions. Because I can’t visualise the route, I’m worried about missing out a turn or landmark. In fact, I’m sure I have. Again, I have to try to feel my way around the directions.

As with persistent migraine aura (PMA) and visual snow (VS), medical science seems to poorly understand all this. I’ve only found one study on the variation in visualisation. I’ve found nothing at all on what I call persistent visualisation deficit (PVD). Now, I’m not suggesting PVD relates to PMA or VS. I’ve no evidence for this (or against). But I do know one other person personally who says they have the same disability in visualisation and episodic memory. But I’ve only read one post on the Internet from a stranger who clearly has the same problem.

Go on to Part 2




  1. Try this to learn to visualize:


    This is the only visualization exercise who is available for non-visualizers. See the “What If You Didn’t Get Pictures?” subtitle from that page.
    Good luck and tell your results on the blog or on the mail

    • Thank you for your suggestion.

      There might be a useful test in here for those of us who have poor or no visualisation, if it is modified from the description in the link. Here’s what I suggest:-

      1. Get a friend to take in an item with some complexity to it. A picture, for example. Take ten minutes to look at it and then get your friend to take it away. Do not look at it again. An hour or so later, switch on the dictaphone/digital voice recorder and take ten minutes to try to describe what was in the picture. Then, with your friend as an independent witness if you want, look at the picture and see how much you remembered. This would seem a good test of short term memory. Because you’re not trying to imagine something, but remember something which the visualisation exercise can be tested against, it is more objective. But it is important to be honest with yourself in the recording exercise!

      2. Now repeat this with another object or picture. But this time take a day or two before describing it into the dictaphone/voice recorder. This could be a test of long term memory(?)

      For researchers: It seems to me that this basic idea could form the basis for an objective test between “sufferers” of the inability to visualise (and those who lack episodic memory) and “normal” people. Take one group of sufferers and a control group of normals who report no problem. Then do these two tests and analyse the results.

      Take care.

  2. I tried sending a message earlier, but apparently it did not get through. I have an inability to clearly recall people’s faces, buildings, memories, etc. I cannot close my eyes and see my husband’s face. I can sketch an oval and color in a beard and mustache. That’s it. I don’t remember my children’s first steps, first tooth, etc. I can watch a television program that I’ve been into for five years and ten minutes after the program ends I can’t tell you the character’s names. I can’t recall names of ‘things’ or people. I appear ignorant or ditzy to friends. I really dispair of this. It’s been like this for as long as I can remember – which apparently doesn’t say much for me. If a name or event is really, really, really important to me I can recall is easily. Otherwise it’s gone. My doctor says I’m just stressed. Barb

    • Hi, Barb,

      Thank you for your comments. I was equally surprised to find that I was not the only one with this problem with visualisation. From contact here and from talking to people “in the real world”, I suspect this is more common than we realise. There is some uncertainty as to whether the “amnesia” part is a genuine medical problem, or whether it is an extension of normal variation in people’s ability to visualise. My partner has the same inability to visualise that I do, and she feels her experience does not hamper her. I feel it does hamper me. It is this perception that may prove the difference – my personal feeling and that of most people who have commented seems to agree there is a separate problem of memory/recall.

      So, although an inability to visualise may be normal but possibly quite rare, I do believe there is a core of us out there that can’t visualise and have problems beyond what is normal. I’m not convinced it’s a normal inability to visualise, nor do I believe it is just stress. But that’s the debate: whether it is, and if it is, what the defining symptoms of the condition are.

      Meanwhile, we feel frustrated.

      Take care.

  3. I also do not have the ability to visualize but have no migraines I can’t create a picture in my “minds eye” of anything and if I concentrate really hard on doing this I feel a very strange discomfort (not pain) on the left side of my head/brain. At 63 I have become rather adept at compensating for this with lots of photographs, drawn maps (yeah for MapQuest), and an understanding family which doesn’t pressure me (like people who don’t understand do and who don’t believe a person can’t visualize.) I must admit that sometimes my husband will want to describe a fabulous golf game he just completed. He goes off on this detailed account of each hole, stroke and perfectly executed swing. Sometimes I just tune him out and let him babble on with a few “good, uhuh, great” but other time it makes me so stressed and anxious I have to remind him he’s wasting his words on me/
    The first time I became aware that this wasn’t the way most people go through life is, when getting my masters in education, my professor (as an example of how children’s learning styles differ) asked everyone to close their eyes. He said now I want everyone to close their eyes and picture your self eating and ice cone. Now, touch your head where you “see” this vision. After a few seconds he informed the class (everyone’s eyes still closed) that some of you are not touching your head anywhere so I want those of you who are not to touch your head where you have any reaction to eating an ice cone. Then he had us all open our eyes and most of the class was touching the center of the forehead. The few of us who were not sitting with finger to forehead— were touching the left side our head right above our left ear. Scientific—NO! But I told me there was very different going on in my head.

    Recently my husband spent a month in Europe visiting Germany, London and Paris, When viewing our photo upon arriving home we sickening realized that the Paris pictures were gone from the disk. I pour over the Germany and London ones reliving our wonderful experience but I swear it feels like I never set foot in France. I do remember things like the great heat I FELT in the painfully hot train station or the fear I FELT at the top of the Eiffel Tower but I ABSOLUTELY can’t “in my mind’s eye” see myself in those places.

    My sympathy goes out to one and all who suffer from this disability because without a “memory bank” of experiences I feel it changes the person we might have been.
    Warm regards,

    • Hi, Sue,

      Thank you very much for sharing this. Thank you also for saying whether you have been diagnosed with migraine and for sharing the experience you had in your university lecture. Please re-visit from time to time, because if I find any more information about this I will be posting it and updating the FAQ page.

      Kind regards.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: