Ecmnesia: When the Past Becomes the Present

People with ecmnesia relive events from yesterday as if they were happening in the here and now. It's an alteration mediated by brain problems, such as dementias, but can also be an effect of drug use.
Ecmnesia: When the Past Becomes the Present

Last update: 17 March, 2022

Ecmnesia is a curious memory disorder in which the present is blurred, but, in its place, memories of the past appear. It’s a type of perceptual hallucination of great intensity, mediated by multiple factors. Dementia, brain injuries, and even drug use may explain this unique phenomenon.

Making what happened months or years ago live intensely in the human mind is a strategy that hypnosis has traditionally pursued. Indeed, this therapeutic tool (questioned by many) aims to facilitate this type of ‘reliving’.

In this disorder, certain alterations blur what’s most important: the present. Let’s take a closer look.

Among the distortions that memory can suffer is the type of amnesia in which a person can confuse present events with events that occurred many years ago.

Tree in the shape of a human head symbolizing ecmnesia

Ecmnesia: Definition, symptoms, and causes

Ecmnesia isn’t a pleasant disorder. Nor does it tend to have a good prognosis. A study conducted by the University of Tyumen, in Russia, highlights that this type of recognition paramnesia is common in patients in extremely advanced stages of schizophrenia. It’s a disturbance that involves a great regression in the sufferer’s psychic state.

This form of hallucination, in which the memories of yesterday are intermingled with the present, generates great wear and tear on those who suffer from it. Interestingly, it doesn’t appear in isolation, but alongside other disorders. Ecmnesia hasn’t been studied a great deal but is an extremely fascinating condition.

What kind of psychological alteration is ecmnesia?

According to Portellano, (2005), ecmnesia is a type of paramnesia (memory disturbance) that affects recognition. Memories of the past come to the person’s mind and they’re processed as if they were real and happening in the here and now. It’s a disorder in which hallucinations appear. These are false perceptions in which things are heard, seen, and felt that don’t exist.

With this disorder, it’s also common for delusions to be experienced. These are mental states of great confusion and disorientation in which alterations in consciousness and thinking appear.

The manifestation of ecmnesia

Ecmnesia doesn’t constitute a diagnostic category as such. In fact, it’s an effect associated with a specific mental or cerebral problem. This means that it can be accompanied by multiple characteristics. For example, those related to Alzheimer’s or those linked to schizophrenia or brain trauma.

As a rule, the following alterations occur:

  • The sufferer isn’t connected to their immediate reality.
  • They can’t remember what they just did. However, they have really vivid memories of the past.
  • Those memories from yesterday become vivid, to the point that they can feel them intensely.
  • There’s a disturbance in consciousness. In other words, they don’t respond to contact or communication. They feel disoriented and trapped in a series of hallucinations and delusions.
  • It can appear together with epileptic crises.

Ecmnesia can be due to conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or schizophrenia. However, people with post-traumatic stress can experience these phenomena as flashes. This means they feel that the traumatic past becomes present for a moment.

Causes

Ecmnesia is a type of memory disorder that, to date, hasn’t been studied to any great degree. It’s extremely common to see it in the elderly, as an obvious symptom of neurological degeneration. It has different causes:

  • Neurological disorders associated with dementia.
  • Alterations associated with epilepsy. There’s a phenomenon called the twilight state that consists of an alteration of consciousness. This alters perception and is especially frequent in epileptic seizures.
  • Ecmnesia is also a feature of schizophrenia.
  • Another associated factor is post-traumatic stress disorder. As we mentioned earlier, the patient evokes their traumatic moments as brief alterations in memory. Furthermore, these memories become present and are experienced with the same intensity as the here and now.
  • Last but not least, it should be noted that this disorder is common among many addicted to substances such as LSD, and mescaline or psilocybin-containing mushrooms.
Older people concerned about Ecmnesia

Treatments

The therapeutic approach in ecmnesia will depend on its origin or cause. For this reason, a correct neurological, medical, and psychological evaluation must be carried out. In general, multidisciplinary interventions are the most appropriate. They tend to be a combination of cognitive stimulation, neurological and/or social rehabilitation, and pharmacological treatments.

The incidence of this phenomenon is extremely low and tends to manifest itself more frequently among the senile and elderly population. Therefore, they should always be provided with a safe, calm environment and the best clinical support.

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