The popular notion of amnesia comes from media reports or soap operas. People are found wandering about, with no idea what their names are, where they come from, or about any other details of their past. This does indeed happen – generally as a reaction to stressful conflicts in everyday life. The memory is usually restored to normal within a couple of days. Exactly what has happened to impair their sense of recall is debatable, and seems to differ from case to case. What is most intriguing is that the precise form the memory defect takes seems to depend on their own preconceived views[*] on how memory itself functions.
Subjects seldom lose the use of their native language,
or the more-or-less subconscious details of everyday life:
dressing, eating, interacting socially – even reading & writing:
Perhaps the closest analogy is with “glove anaesthesia,” a phenomenon often observable in sufferers from hysteria. This is a form of numbness which extends up to the wrist, incapacitating the subject’s hand, but not corresponding with the actual nerve patterns which dictate feeling in this part of the human anatomy. In other words, it is the mind which has decided that the hand is paralysed, rather than any impairment in the actual somatic structure of the body. It is because we think of the hand as a hand (the foot as a foot, the arm as an arm, and so on), rather than seeing it – correctly – as part of a complex gestalt of somatic processes, that it is possible to conceptualise such paralysis. In the case of amnesiacs, how much is genuine failure of the memory system itself, as opposed to a simple refusal to remember,[+] is extremely hard to tell.
[The Home Encyclopaedia of Psychology, ed. G. O’Bannon, p. 20]