Posts Tagged ‘can’t visualize’


Updating the Site – Progress Report (Amended)

2011 February 8

Some time ago I announced that I was starting the process of updating this site. I also announced that I would like to start a support forum, specifically for those like me who were unable to visualize.

Here is a progress report.

I estimate I am about two-thirds of the way through reading what studies I have been able to find into visualization (the “mind’s eye” or “mental imagery”) online, including related items such as:-

  • Episodic memory (memory of life events),
  • VVIQ (“The Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire”),
  • Dreams,
  • Theory of Mind.

Unfortunately, my efforts are being hampered by numerous time consuming problems with the benefits people at the moment, as my partner has also fallen ill following an accident. But we are both soldiering on and I hope to begin pulling the research together by June, all being well.

Take care.


Do you want a support forum if you “cannot visualise”?

2010 September 10

(please read the FAQ page about what I mean:

(This post is “sticky”, meaning it always appears at the top. Please scroll down for the latest post.)

I have not yet found an online forum for support for this problem, which I now feel given my complete lack of medical or other support I now need and so others may to. If you would like me to look into forming one then please comment on this post (you will have to give your e-mail address, but only I can see that). If enough people ask for it, then I will look into setting one up.

(Please state clearly that you are interested!)

Please note that although I ask you to leave your e-mail address when making your comment, it is not displayed and no-one but me can see it.


Visualization, Forming Mental Images and Episodic Memory: Updates to Come.

2010 September 10

If you are unable to visualize or form mental images (including recall of past events), I hope you will be interested in the upcoming changes to this site:

  • I am considering setting up an online support forum. If you are interested, please read the following post and leave a comment there (not here, please about this):
  • In the two years since I first wrote about my own experience with a loss of the ability to visualize and an inability to recall visual past events, many people have commented and I have now found quite a lot of new research into episodic memory, visualization, projection into the future, and so on. I am now in the process of putting that together to update this information. You will be able to start, as now, from the Visualization FAQs page, from which I will link to a new series of posts. The evidence is consistent with the set of problems that people have reported, and it may now be possible to begin suggesting medical and non-medical causes; though there does not yet appear to be any one such. It may also help anyone wishing to raise the problems with their family doctor or a specialist, as I will then be able to give links to that research.
  • I will create a dedicated post from which you can comment, if you wish, with your own experiences. This seems a better approach than the old one where people commented all over the place. More on that later.

Take care.


The Memory Clinic: Outcome

2010 September 8

My partner and I went to the memory clinic yesterday. (If you’re unfamiliar with why, you can read this here:

Unfortunately, the results were pretty much what I had expected. Readers about visualisation and episodic memory problems may not know about the experience of others like myself who also have visual snow. Essentially, many co-sufferers have reported ignorance from medical practitioners – even being told that they are “imagining it”. I was fortunate to have found medical evidence to back up my concerns when I saw my GP and my pain consultant. This is why I have a diagnosis of “persistent aura” with my “complicated migraine”. But I had no such evidence to back up my concerns when I visited the clinic yesterday regarding my visualisation deficit and episodic memory recall problems; and the learning problems I have that appear to relate.

Before attending the clinic, my partner and I had been asked to complete a questionnaire and hand it to reception when we arrived, which we did. I then had a ten minute structured question and answer session, asking for things like: As many animals beginning with “p” that I could think of (timed); to write a sentence, any sentence; to identify pictures of items by name and by association with ideas like “nautical” (e.g., for an anchor) or “royal” (e.g., for a crown). The only one I struggled with was a made up name and address. This I was read, and had to repeat back, three times at the beginning, and then recall specific pieces of information from at the end. None of these tests were for visual recall either short-term or long-term.

I was then seen by a registrar, whose bedside manner was similar to House. From the offset, he was dismissive and, it seemed to my partner and I, negative towards our being there. He took a general medical history (which I recall from factual narrative, and note is not a test of detail or of visual recall), and then a general chat which was obviously testing factual recall of everday things like: What do you like to do to relax, or what films do you like? My partner is a staff nurse of fourteen years’ experience, and she said that I make extensive use of a notebook and a computer-organized list to cope with daily living. She also told him that she regularly shows me how to do new things (such as various things to do with cooking), and that I later not only forget what she has shown me, but that she has shown me. I said that I used to support Microsoft Office (before becoming too ill to work with migraine), but that I have had to abandon trying to learn the new version, because its interface is so different. And I said that we recently passed a ruined tower that interersted me, but that I genuinely thought (and still believe) I have not passed before – even though my partner tells me that we had and that I commented on it enthusiastically previously. Despite all of this, his conclusion was that for the most part I was simply choosing to ignore things that didn’t interest me, because I was “eccentric”, and that at my age (just past 40) I wouldn’t change. We were so gobsmacked that we left without pressing him further.

My impression was that he thought I was computer- and filmed-obsessed, that I was uninterested in anything else (such as cooking), that because of this I would never focus on these tasks and never learn them; and most of all, that I was rigid in using my computer to guide my chores and so on because I liked it that way, and not because that was what I had to do to remember to do things (like bathe if I cannot do so on the day I’d normally wash; otherwise forgetting that I hadn’t done so).

This, to my mind, echoes the treatment, as I said, that sufferers of visual snow often get. So my suggestion to anyone thinking of trying this route themselves is the same as to those with visual snow: Go prepared. For this specific situation, expect there to be no communication that your problems are with visualisation, visual recall and detailed episodic memory. You’ll need to prepare well in advance if, like me, you are affected badly with thinking on your feet and projecting yourself into the future. Don’t expect to be tested for visual related items at all: I’m not sure how you can stress that you should be.

On the plus side, he did at least suggest some medical or medically-related factors that affect memory: Such as any former incidents of depression, and in my case my persistent aura and migraine attacks and even the Epilim that I take as a preventative. But I cannot confidently take his conclusion that there was no medical problem on faith, given our overall negative impression.

I have however, done a quick bit of online research from the usual reliable sources, and note that there have been some updates since I wrote in 2008. So I plan to update the FAQs and series on visualisation as soon as possible, and in light of the many comments you have made since then.

The whole episode makes the joke of the statement that my learning difficulties are an invisible problem.

Take care.


I am going to a “Memory Clinic” next week

2010 September 2

Readers of this site will know that along with “complicated migraine”, I am unable to visualize at all (I cannot “see” anything in my “mind’s eye”) and that this severely affects my episodic memory (memory of life events), especially where there is a visual component or such as learning in a visual environment. After the two years that the site has been up, it is apparent that there are others like me – though it may be that the percentage of the general population is quite small (or that it is larger, but people who have this issue are unaware that it is not normal). I myself used to have an excellent memory with excellent visual recall and visualization; others report they never had this.

You can read more about this in the FAQ page on visualization, which includes links to a series giving more information:

Next week, I am attending a memory clinic at a local hospital to look into my memory deficit. As far as I am aware, without carefully re-reading the comments (and given that I, um, have a bad memory!), I am the only person to have been medically examined for this. I will update you with any result (or lack thereof) when I have the outcome.


Insight into “Cannot Visualise” during Migraine Dream?

2009 November 27

I may have had an insight into my own “persistent episodic visual amnesia” (PEVA). This is what I call the problem talked about in the Visualisation FAQs page. “PEVA” is my own name for the problem, which others have shared here too. None of us have found any facts about a known medical condition.

One of the things that I notice is that I have vivid, full-colour dreams. But these dreams are almost always set in the distant past. They almost never take place in the period after my early twenties when PEVA first started. But in the early hours I awoke with a migraine. The dreams I had after I fell asleep were in the present. The setting was not the usual stereotype of a past family home. The characters in my dream were my current partner and one of her boys.

I am diagnosed with persistent migraine aura, and frequent and severe migraine. About half those who have commented on this site have a migraine diagnosis. This is a high number, but it is a statistically small sample. One of the ideas my family doctor has is that PEVA is due to my persistent aura. This is a constant electrical disturbance in the brain. In me, one way it shows up is through visual snow. For more information, please see the PMA & Visual Snow FAQs page.

So, it is interesting that I should have rare dreams of the present during a migraine. The attack was still there when I awoke after the dreams. I don’t know how that may work, as the theory is it is permanent aura that disrupt my memory. Also, it is not scientific. One example is not statistically significant. And one person’s anecdotal report is also suspect. But without facts we can find, it could be a start.

If anyone else reading this has PEVA, please could you let me know:

  • If you have been diagnosed with migraine or not,
  • If you have persistent aura such as visual snow or not,
  • If you have vivid, full-colour dreams or not, and
  • If your dreams are usually set in the past?

Take care.


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

2008 December 6

Go back to Part 2

This is the final part of a three part series about migraine. You can use the links above or at the end of this page to go back. Or you can jump to any part from the Visualisation FAQs page link; where you can read my 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:

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:

In this final part of the series, I talk about my memory problems. There are two clear aspects about them. The first is that I can’t be sure how much relates to my inability to visualise. The second is that medical science doesn’t seem to recognise persistent episodic amnesia as a condition.

The only people I’ve met who say they have as bad an inability to visualise also say they have very poor episodic memory. So I suspect the two are related. This is why I have taken to calling the condition persistent visualisation deficit, or PVD.

One phrase one of the two people used sums up the condition as it can refer to any event not just parting from a loved one. Writing in a thread (which unfortunately I have lost the link to), he said that when he left someone he loved it was like they no longer existed. At first he found this very distressing. In some ways, there was a sense of loss. After all, if it was someone he cared about he couldn’t picture their face at all. After a while, he slowly came to adapt to the ‘loss’ and the emotion lessened. For him, this became another source of discomfort, because now he felt that somehow this meant he didn’t really care. Which, he said, is clearly not how he felt when he was with the loved one. You can substitute the particular event – leaving a loved one – with any change during a day.

I have described it to the few I’ve talked to about it like this. Imagine you have a collection of many photographic albums. In them you have all the pictures you have taken during your life to date. You have lots of fond memories, and some not so fond. You have important reminders, including things your friends and family have said in conversations. They are special albums, as touching a photo also repeats what was said in those conversations. Below each picture you have a few words like, “Paul and I in Spain in April 2000”.

Now, imagine someone has stolen all the talking photographs from your albums. You no longer have access to any of the vivid images from your past. Worse, you can no longer recall the conversations even from earlier in the week; never mind further back. All you have left are the short summaries. These are all that now hold the thread of your life together. So you know that you and Paul went to Spain in April 2000 (factual); but you can recall nothing without at least a lot of time and effort (episodic).

This is what it is like to live with PVD. Now imagine work and social environments. In a work environment, you can compensate by fixating on certain really vivid and unique features, say, like the clothes a customer wore when he visited. So if he visits again later, you may recall him. If your work has a visit log, then you can adapt and ‘cheat’ by working the conversation round to a way you can look up the visit. Carrying around and using a notebook is usually acceptable in work. In fact, with time and effort you can find any number of ways to adapt…

…except to social situations. Here you don’t have software to help you. And carrying around and using a notebook isn’t usually acceptable in social situations!! So now you find it very hard to adapt. You forget conversations. So you struggle to keep up with chit chat. By the time you recall, if you recall, what was said a day or more ago, the conversation has moved on. Worse, you forget important things – not just people’s names and faces, but that they said their brother was diagnosed with kidney failure.

To others, you may come across as forgetful (true) or worse, selfish and uncaring; socially awkward. In the end, this becomes isolating. And when you turn to medical science for help and answers, there is blank non-acceptance that there’s any problem.

At this time, I have no answer. Are we three the only people on the planet who cannot visualise and have persistent episodic amnesia? Are the two related as PVD? Is migraine in any way involved – one of the other two also has migraine; though this is a common condition. To date, I have no evidence that migraine plays a part, except that my migraine and PVD started sometime around the same point in my life.

  • Do you have persistent episodic amnesia? If so, do you have problems visualising too? Do you have migraine?
  • Or, if you have migraine or problems visualising, do you have what you see as normal episodic memory (memory and recall of life events, casual conversation and so on)?
  • Finally, are you a medical practitioner or researcher who has heard of something like PVD? Can you put a medical name to it?

If you can provide any answers, or if what I have written rings a bell with you and you have no answer, I’d like to hear from you.

Thank you for reading.

Go back to Part 2


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

2008 November 29

Go back to Part 1 | Go on to Part 3

This is part two of a three part series about migraine. You can use the links above or at the end of this page to go back or forward. Or you can jump to any part from the Visualisation FAQs page link; where you can read my 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:

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:

A quick search on Google will show three things about visualisation:

  • There’s an awful lot of opinion that those who say they can’t visualise actually can,
  • There are a very few people who admit openly that they can’t or have a great deal of difficulty doing so,
  • That there’s practically no obvious research being done looking at the variability of people’s ability to visualise.

So it may be surprising if you can see things in your mind’s eye if someone tells you they can’t, or can only do so in a limited way. It may be more surprising if I told you that in my own case I once could do so, but now can’t. In other words – your ability to visualise can change.

But there is a study on the variability in the “vividness of mental imagery” published openly. It was carried out in 2006 and published in Science Direct in 2007. Link:

The study looked at a small group of 8 subjects, 2 females and 6 males, aged 25-31. It looked at three tasks:

  • Subjective vividness rating, in which the subjects described how well they could visualise.
  • A colour naming task, which excluded two additional subjects who scored too low.
  • A visualisation (mental imaging) task while being scanned by an fMRI scanner.

The first task used the vividness of visual imagery questionnaire developed by Marks in 1973. You can find out more on this from this link:

The colour naming task is explained in the link to the study.

The main part of the study itself looked at whether the subjects’ reported vividness in the VVIQ could be correlated by the fMRI scan. To do this, they were blindfolded and asked to visualise a preset task while scanned. Again, the full details are in the linked document.

The study found a statistically significant correlation between:

  • The objective data from each subject’s visual cortex from the fMRI scan, and
  • The subjective rating of that subject in the VVIQ.

In other words, the person’s own assessment of how well or badly they can visualise is shown in the scan. This confirms that there can indeed be variability in how people can visualise.

Go back to Part 1 | Go on to Part 3


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:

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:

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