Have you ever been driving and realized that you were so deep in thought that time had passed and you barely remember the last few miles? It’s as though while your mind was elsewhere your body was operating on autopilot. While you likely weren’t suffering from amnesia, consider this a simple example of how the sufferers of temporary amnesia feel, functioning with no memory of what they did. Amnesia is defined as the partial or complete loss of memory. Further complicating this is the potential for sudden loss of memory with no explanation. Medically, this is known as a dissociative fugue state. It can last for days, weeks, months and beyond.
Basic skills such as speaking and driving remain intact and those who suffer from it can’t remember details of their past personal lives. Some sufferers assume a new identity and start a new life in the hopes of regaining some form of normalcy. What makes these cases bizarre is the fact that some eventually regain their old memories and have no recollection of the new life they’ve created. The onset of a dissociative fugue state might be due to a person's physical environment (for example, they're finding it difficult to juggle the challenges of home life versus work life) or a traumatic experience that forced them to subconsciously black out the experience.
Examples of dissociative fugue states have been played out in film over the years. You’re probably familiar with the Jason Bourne movie franchise. The main character, Jason Bourne, is a great example of someone suffering from temporary amnesia.
For examples of this unexplained phenomenon, check out the cases below of people who suddenly lost their memories as a result of a dissociative fugue state.
15 Agatha Christie
One of the most well known cases of dissociative fugue is that of the mystery writer, Agatha Christie. On December 3, 1926 she disappeared from her home in Berkshire, England. She may have been experiencing stress related to the recent death of her mother, with whom she was very close, and her husband’s affair.
Prior to her disappearance, she left a series of disturbing letters addressed to family members and friends. Shortly after this discovery, her abandoned car was found close to a lake she’d written about in one of her novels. All of her personal belongings were still inside (her packed suitcase, ID and coat). Everyone feared the worst but an extensive search of the lake didn’t turn up a body.
It was eventually discovered that she’d checked into a health spa (probably similar to a rehab facility) using the name Teresa Neele (coincidentally, her husband’s mistress’s name was Nancy Neele). She was there for 11 days before her true identity was discovered. She never talked about this time in her life so no one knows for sure what happened to her.
14 Hannah Emily Upp
Hannah Emily Upp was a 23-year-old teacher in New York when she disappeared during a jog on August 28, 2008. She didn’t have her wallet, cell phone or any form of ID with her. It would be three weeks before she was found. She was eventually discovered floating face down, in the harbor off of Manhattan island. She was only wearing a pair of red running shorts and a black sports bra at the time.
Hannah had no recollection of where she’d been or what she’d done during the three weeks she was missing. To her it felt like 10 minutes had passed from when she went jogging to when she woke up in the hospital. She’d apparently walked a lot because she’d developed a large blister on her foot, the only sign of “trauma” during her absence.
There were a few clues that turned up during the investigation. She was spotted at an Apple store checking her email, at a Starbucks and a few sports clubs. There weren’t any other clues as to how she survived for so long without money for food. As a recent college graduate teaching Spanish and studying for a master’s degree, she may have been overwhelmed by the pressures in her life. With the help of police and doctors, she’s been able to piece together bits of where she was during those three weeks.
13 Jeffrey Alan Ingram
Prior to 2006, Jeffrey Ingram had suffered from short bouts of temporary amnesia. At one point, he disappeared for nine months. These episodes were brought on by extreme levels of stress.
In 2006 he was dealing with stress related to a friend’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment. His friend was dying from the disease. Ingram was on his way to visit when he disappeared. He was last seen heading to his future mother-in-law’s house on September 6 but the next thing he was aware of was the fact that it was Sept 10 and he had no idea of where he was (he was still in Denver).
Ingram wandered for hours not sure of who he was or what he was supposed to be doing. It wasn’t until he appeared on the evening news that his fiancee was able to identify him. At that point, he still hadn’t regained his full memory. They eventually got married but Ingram had another relapse and is now unable to remember their wedding.
12 Ansel Bourne
In 1887, Ansel Bourne was a preacher living in Rhode Island. He’s thought to be the earliest known sufferer of this rare disorder. He’s also thought to have had multiple personalities. Things took a turn for the worse while he was travelling to Providence, Rhode Island. He suddenly lost his memory. To cope with the confusion he was experiencing, he created a new identity (he called himself AJ Brown) by opening up a store in Pennsylvania and moved in with a family. Then one day, two months after arriving in Norristown, Pennsylvania, he mysteriously “woke up” from his fugue state. He remembered his original identity and had no memory of how he’d ended up in a different state.
Doctors were quick to try to find out what happened. Under hypnosis they were able to talk to both Bourne and Brown. Curiously enough, neither personality was aware of the existence of the other one. Some speculate that his name, Bourne, was used as inspiration for the Jason Bourne character in the Jason Bourne novels and movies.
11 Naomi Jacobs
Naomi Jacobs had a very traumatic childhood. She’d been abused and turned to drugs at an early age. By the time she was 29 she’d lost her home, car, business and life savings. She was also diagnosed (incorrectly) with bipolar disorder. Then in 2008 she awoke one morning fully believing it was 1992. It’s likely this episode was brought on by her stressful life circumstances. As a result, she couldn’t remember any part of her current life. She’d lost memories of the last 17 years of her life. She didn’t even remember her 11-year-old son but found comfort spending time with him, her younger sister and a close friend.
In total, her dissociative fugue lasted for eight weeks. During this time, she reconnected with her childhood passion of writing. She eventually wrote a book about her experience. She even went on to write screenplays. She’s enjoyed celebrity status since the book was published due to reader interest and curiosity about her story. A movie about her experience is also in development.
10 Michael Boatwright
In 2013, Michael Boatwright was found unconscious in a motel room in Palm Springs. When he awoke in hospital, he had no idea who he was. Hospital staff were able to determine his identity with the help of his American passport which was found with his belongings. He was a Vietnam veteran who had supposedly left Florida to start over in Palm Springs. Boatwright was there for only a few days when he lapsed into a fugue state.
What makes his case bizarre is the fact that he was only able to speak Swedish when he woke up. At the time Boatwright said his name was Johan Ek. He was later diagnosed as suffering from two types of amnesia. One where patients don’t know who they are and another where they don’t know where they are. Together they’re called “transient global amnesia in a fugue state.” Further research found that he’d lived in Sweden as a child which would explain his fluency in the language. He eventually relocated to Sweden but passed away a year after the ordeal started. He never regained his memory.
9 Benjamin Kyle
In August 2004, Benjamin Kyle was found naked and beaten in a Burger King parking lot. He’d suffered blunt force trauma to the head. He was taken to hospital but was unable to identify who he was, and he didn’t have any identification with him. The only thing he remembered was that his first name was Benjamin. He even remembered how to perform general tasks such as driving but not much else. He was eventually diagnosed with dissociative amnesia three years after he was found.
His case is even rarer than others in that he’s listed as a missing person despite his physical whereabouts being known. He’s appeared on various news outlets and TV shows over the years. Because he doesn’t remember his social security number, he’s been unable to work. He’s survived thanks to the generosity of helpful strangers. In 2015 a genealogist was able to help him find his real identity. However, he chose to keep this information private out of respect for his family.
8 Anonymous American Woman
In 2009, a 33-year-old Texas woman told her story to 48 Hours. However, she chose to remain anonymous due to the circumstances. Her story starts in 2001 when she was driving on a local highway. The next thing she knew it was 3:30 in the morning and she’d driven 10 hours from Texas to Santa Fe, New Mexico. She had no recollection of making the journey. Rather than panic, she checked into a hotel for the night. Her story took a bizarre turn when she awoke the next morning not knowing where she was and worse yet, who she was.
When the woman was eventually reunited with her family, she was unable to recognize them (including her three young children). Her fugue state was likely brought on by highly stressful life situations. She had a newborn baby which was the result of an unplanned pregnancy, her husband was addicted to drugs and suicidal and to add to that, she had a stressful job. With help, she regained her memory a year later.
7 David Thorpe
In 2014 a homeless British man was found sleeping in the street. When asked by police he said his name was either David or Tony Thorpe and believed that he was in his 50s. He was aware of the fact that he generally suffered from dissociative fugue (he likely experienced similar episodes to this one in the past). The police appealed to the public for leads that would link him to his family members and confirm where he was from. Until his family was located, he was supported by various charities. Fortunately for him, within days of news outlets circulating his picture and details of his story, family members came forward and were able to confirm his identity and where he was from. Much like Benjamin Kyle, he chose to keep this information private and didn’t reveal details to the public.
6 Amber Geweck
In 2011, Amber Geweck, a mother of four, disappeared from her apartment in Tunnel Hill, Georgia. At the time, a police search located her abandoned car near her parents' house but her whereabouts were unknown for three weeks. She flagged down police officers explaining that she didn’t know who or where she was. She was in fact in Illinois which is 650 miles away from her home. A police investigation was able to uncover surveillance footage of her at an ATM and dollar store after she disappeared. After that, there’s no evidence of where she was. She was eventually reunited with her family who tried to help her regain her memory.
Like Michael Boatwright, she was diagnosed with two forms of amnesia. Her memory slowly began to return but some of the public have questioned the authenticity of her story. Her oldest child and ex-husband question whether she’s telling the truth. Her story spread across social media where users posted questions pointing out what they consider to be inconsistencies in her story. Whatever the case may be, she’s rebuilding her life and reconnecting with her children.
5 Renee LaManna
Renee LaManna’s family reported her missing on January 8, 1994. They explained that she suffered from occasional states of dissociative fugue. Originally from New Jersey, she was spotted there in 1995 and again in New York that same year. She wasn’t spotted again until 2014, in Virginia. 20 years after she first disappeared. There have been a handful of sighting of her since then. People who supposedly interact with her say that she said she was from Florida and was in search of her family on the East Coast. Perhaps this is evidence of her search for her home and family. She supposedly pulls around a small suitcase which contains maps of the East Coast. She’s believed to have adopted different names over the years such as Renee Leman, Jean Smith and Darlene Hanson. Her older sister, Margaret LaManna, is hopeful she’ll be reunited with her sister one day.
4 Jody Roberts
In 1985, Jody Roberts was a reporter at the Tacoma New Tribune in Washington. After weeks of uncharacteristic behavior (for example, she began drinking heavily), she disappeared. Fortunately, she was found a few days later in Colorado but it was unclear how she got there. She was taken to a hospital but since she didn’t have any ID, no one was able to identify her. Doctors determined she was suffering from dissociative fugue since she was unable to remember anything about herself.
Roberts settled down in Sitka, Alaska and started a new life there. She called herself Jane Dee Williams and even got married and had four children (two sets of twin girls). 12 years later, in 1997, her true identity was discovered when friends saw old news coverage of her story. She was eventually reunited with her family in Washington. She was unable to recognize any of them but was happy to be reunited with them. They’ve been trying to help her regain her memory and reconnect with her siblings.
3 David Fitzpatrick
In December of 2005, David Fitzpatrick disappeared from his life in London, England. Admittedly he had been having a hard time before his disappearance. He’d had a bad break-up with a long-time girlfriend and he lost custody of his daughter. He was unable to hold onto a job for a long time. He was eventually kicked out of his parents' house. It’s thought this combination of events triggered his fugue state.
Fitzpatrick supposedly left his personal belongings (including his wallet, cell phone and keys ) behind, wandered off and eventually boarded a train. He rode it around while in a fugue state before arriving at a local hospital. When he arrived, four hours after he initially disappeared, he had no memory of anything before that time. All of his memories were gone. He’s been unable to determine what he did during the four hours he was wandering. His story was profiled on a local TV documentary in England.
2 Doug Bruce
In 2005, Bruce was the subject of a documentary that detailed his fugue experience. One day in 2003 he found himself on Coney Island and made his way towards a police station. While there he explained that he didn’t know who he was or how he came to find himself there. A friend was able to confirm his identity. Although faced with this information, Bruce didn’t recognize details he was given and was unable to recall any part of his personal life. He found out he lived in Paris and was a successful banker there. He also discovered that he was currently studying in New York. Many who’ve seen the documentary have claimed it’s likely fake but people who know Bruce attest to the fact that there’s no doubt that he’s lost his memory. When approached by people he knew from his past, he’s shown no signs of recognition of them.
1 Anonymous Medical Student
A 2013 research study detailed the experience of a 28-year-old Nigerian medical student. The student was in his final year of medical school when he disappeared. He was found two days later almost 400 miles away from where he lived. Doctors were able to determine that he suffered hallucinations prior to his disappearance. Shortly after the hallucinations started and he wandered off, he found himself at his brother’s home. He had no recollection of the eight hour trip there.
It’s thought that his fugue state was due to academic stress. He was under pressure to pass exams and he was at risk of losing funding and therefore unable to finish paying for school. Physically, he hadn’t been sleeping or eating regularly leading up to his disappearance. He’d also lost the desire to take part in activities that he once enjoyed.
Unlike some of the other examples on this list, his memory was intact. Months after the ordeal he was still unable to determine what happened to him during the two days he can’t account for before arriving at his brother’s house.
Sources: Abcnews.go.com, nbcnews.com, nytimes.com, cnn.com
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