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Visualisation FAQs

Please note: This page, and the series it links to, are now very out of date.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/

This is a quick guide to visualisation and problems with visualisation and/or memory. It may be helpful for sufferers and their friends, family and work colleagues. It is a project of this blog to uncover the extent to which visualisation and memory problems relate. For ease of writing I have called this “PVD”; Persistent Visualisation Deficit. This is descriptive of the problems I and others have, but is not a medical diagnosis or current medical term. On this page you will find links to:

  • Information about how visualisation varies,
  • Information about PVD,
  • Information about how to help or get help,
  • Online support groups for sufferers,
  • Other help websites that may be of interest.

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 page (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.

How does Visualisation Vary? What is PVD?

Visualisation is the ability to “picture” something, a memory or an abstract image, in your “mind’s eye”. There is a lot of ignorance generally about how this can vary in the population. I have been unable to find much in the way of scientific study available to the general public. One study I did find that looks at how visualisation varies, but which does not deal with it relationship to memory, I write about in Part Two of a three part series: Cannot Visualise Part Two

This study proves objectively that there is variation among the population in their ability to visualise. This runs contrary to what seems to be a generally held view that everyone is capable of visualisation. Though it does not investigate whether visualisation changes in a person’s lifetime, whether it can change, or whether a person can improve his or her ability to visualise. My own experience is that it can change dramatically.

I, along with a number of readers of this blog now, have reported a problem with visualisation that seems to be linked to episodic memory. Episodic memory is a class of memory that deals with life events. (Another, separate class, is memory of facts for example.) I have used the term “persistent visualisation deficit” to describe the problem we have reported. For convenience I have shortened this to “PVD”. I have attempted to draw up a set of problems commenters have reported here:

1. The primary symptom of PVD is an inability to picture even simple scenes, objects or shapes by waking imagination, “in the mind’s eye”,

2. From discussions here, a second possible primary symptoms include is persistent amnesia in episodic memory (recall of life events), that seem related to long-term memory,

3. Anecdotal reposts suggest possible secondary symptoms or compensatory mechanisms that may not be present in all sufferers, including:

  • Increased recall of long-term factual memory,
  • Increased recall or imagination of auditory memory or imagination, such as music,
  • Unusual dreaming, such as vivid, full-colour dreams, or dreams entirely lacking in visual content, and possibly missing places or people from recent life,
  • Difficulty separating out individual speech from background chatter or noise.

4. Consequential difficulties arise for sufferers, including:

  • Tasks that involve visual episodic recall,
  • Learning new tasks from primarily visual training,
  • Joining in conversations that rely on episodic memory – usually of a casual nature,
  • Projecting forward in time to imagine oneself in a future situation, restricting planning or establishing remoter consequences of choices,
  • Reduced empathy, because of an inability to “picture oneself in another’s situation” or recall another’s face when absent. However, the reduced empathy is not associated with other symptoms normal to other disorders. One example where PVD lifted for a brief period suggests that empathy can return if PVD were reduced or removed.

5. Possible comorbidity or causal morbidity suggested but by no means concluded:

  • Migraine, especially persistent aura without infarction; though not all sufferers reported migraine diagnosis, an unusually high number report diagnosis (though it is noted this is to-date a small sample),
  • Head trauma,
  • Psychological trauma in childhood,
  • Sarcoidosis (sarcoid) – though not thought connected by a specialist in the field,
  • Food intolerance (the one example in which PVD temporarily lifted with a change of diet suggested carbohydrates or gluten; though PVD returned without the low-carbohydrate, gluten-free diet being removed).

6. It is noteworthy that PVD can onset in childhood (or be present from birth) with the sufferer having no recollection of better past memory; or that the sufferer can report onset usually in late teens or early adulthood (again, from a small sample), being aware of a gradual decline in visualisation and episodic memory ability.

Given the possible connection with migraine and PVD, and the role that glutamate (or glutamic acid) plays both in migraine with aura in learning and memory, that this neurotransmitter may play a role in PVD. Though, I have to acknowledge this is speculation on my part.

There is a threaded discussion on this, which you can find in the comments at the end of Part Three: Cannot Visualise Part Three

Please contribute to the discussion if you:

  • Have or have had PVD,
  • Have or have had a problem with visualisation but not with memory recall,
  • If you are a qualified researcher investigating these phenomena.

Please note that I moderate all comments.

The science of visualisation and PVD is covered more fully in these Saturday Series posts:

The links to the scientific sources are at the end of Part One.

Help with Visualisation & PVD

At present I know of no help for these problems.

Online Support Groups

At present I know of no online support groups for these problems. But I do have a threaded discussion on the comments of Part Three: Cannot Visualise Part Three

If you know of other online forums, please contact me at nospamporillion@hotmail.co.uk Remove ‘nospam’ first!

Other Websites

At present I know of no websites looking specifically at these problems.


I am unable for the moment to continue with this website or my planned project to move it to a dedicated site.

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10 comments

  1. It’s 2:00am and I’m on the computer trying to locate info about my inability to recall. I’m thrilled to know there is someone, and others, who also have this problem. It’s frustrating. I feel that I come across as ignorant to people. I cannot close my eyes and visualize my husband’s face. I can’t remember my children’s first steps or the first time they said “mama”. I’ll watch a television program that I’ve kept up with for years and can’t tell you any of the character’s names ten minutes after the show is done. I hate feeling inept. My husband can tell you in which order each state in the union was purchased. He can also tell you not only TV character’s names but their real life names and what TV shows they were on prior to the one we’re watching. I can’t be asked a random quiz question and come up with the answer – even though I KNOW IT. Give me a multiple question test and I’ll whiz through it. Thanks for this site. I appreciate the information and the feeling of not being alone. Barb


    • Hi, Barb,

      My apologies for the delay in approving your messages. I’ve been away from my computer. I’ll reply to both your comments from your later one.

      Take care.


  2. Re: Inability to visualise
    Hi
    I had a minor (so they call it!) brain injury 5 years ago. On of the many symptoms I suffered was that I lost the ability to visualise. I had not really known what the problem was at first: tho’ some difficulties were: I could not follow road signs (having forgotten what they said by the time I reached the roundabout), I could no longer navigate (using a map) when walking, I couldn’t follow verbal instructions to get to places. Also, I didn’t dream at all.

    Then, one night when I couldn’t get to sleep, I decided to count sheep – and was amazed to discover that I could not picture a sheep in my mind. I tried to picture other things and realised that I had lost the ability to visualise.

    The aforementioned symptoms all ‘dropped into place’ when I realised this was the problem. I worked at improving this by my own devised exercises: i’d look at children’s picture books and, picture by picture, look away and try to visualise it, and draw it. I’d move on to more complicated pictures, or when out I’d try to picture the view I had just seen. i did all this again and again over many weeks.

    Things gradually improved and, about 2 years after the injury, for the first time, I had a dream! I have also gradually found that I can visualise again. It’s not always easy, but I can do it.

    Just in case this is of any interest to anyone. I have no idea which part of the brain this is, and how it works. Just interested , at last , to find someone is interested in a similar difficulty.
    Cheers Helen


    • Hi, Helen,

      I am sorry to hear of the problems you have had, but thank you very much for sharing your experience. I am very interested to learn that you found a method that gradually improved your ability to visualise. I’d also be very interested to know whether you think your “episodic memory” (memory of life events) has been affected. As one commenter some time ago pointed out, if we normally visualise memories then you would expect it to be affected. However, one problem I have with this kind of memory is that details are missing unless I can make them into facts. I have little problem recalling facts – and little problem learning new facts, provided the pathway to learning doesn’t only involve visual observation. For example, I can read a new fact and seem to retain it (I presume because I hear it by my “mind’s voice”); but if shown something like a new cooking skill, I almsot always not only forget the skill – but forget having been taught it too! The problem is quite subtly different from visualisation, and I’m still trying to put it in words that clearly distinguish them!

      Take care.


  3. Thank YOU for taking the time and effort to create this formum. I the more information that you can provide on PVD and its treatment the better.

    Fair memory skills, 100% PVD, 100% PAD (auditory deficit), 100% PKD (kenistetic) as far back as I can remember.


    • Hi, Robert,

      My apologies for the delay in approving your comment, but I’ve been away from my PC until now.

      Thank you for your kind comment. I’m beginning to pick up from commenters and correspondence that there may be other forms of “persistent deficit” as you’ve described, such as auditory and kinesthetic. If anyone else has experience of these, I would welcome further comments.

      I’m in the process of researching further into PVD and visual memory. I’ll update this site (or possibly create a new one) when ready; but this may be some time away yet.

      Take care.


  4. Although my memory in fine, the impossibility of consciously picturing anything with open or closed eyes has hounded me all my life. Life would become much richer if I could visualize
    I have been a strong chess player for the past 45 years even though I lacked the even the most basic ability to visualize. I simply imagine moving the pieces and remembering their new location but without visualizing. Only once in my life did I have a total visualization while playing chess, it was immediately after receiving a “spiritual” treatment. I looked at the board and began calculating a combination, i.e., a series of moves, leading to the win of the opponent’s queen. It was like viewing a magical movie of the pieces moving on their own. It was at that moment that I realized why Masters and Grandmasters were able to play with such accuracy: they could visualize dynamically all the time! And since I experienced it, I feel that it is possible to cultivate it.
    Also, when I meditate static and moving images (“thought forms”) sometimes appear spontaneously but they have a life of their own. Here, also, I need to be able to consciously visualize and to control the imagery.
    Frank
    PS: If you need help with your work, I have some time on my hands.


    • Hi, Frank,

      Thank you for your insightful comments and the offer of help. At the moment I am having to suspend my work to care for my partner, who is very ill. But I hope to resume work in the near future if all goes well and will be in touch then. Thank you for your offer of help, which I hope to talk with you about if and when I can resume work on the site.

      Take care,
      Ian


  5. Ian,

    This is another website addressing these problems specifically:
    http://dfan.org/visual.html

    Frank


    • Thanks, Frank.



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