Living with Aphantasia

One of the most common reactions I often witness with someone either i) discovering that they have aphantasia or ii) discovering that they have a close friend with aphantasia, is the incredulity of what it means to either have or not have the condition.

Those with aphantasia are amazed that someone without the condition is able to conjure images, videos or animation on demand in their head, creating imaginary worlds that are able to meld with the visible reality, or not.  And one without aphantasia, is often left staggered at how an aphantasmic mind cannot use visual imagery to do what comes so instinctively to them, perhaps even amazed that they are able to cope and function just as well as any normal person, when they should have been immensely disadvantaged from this deficit. The content on this site attempts to help phantasmic and non-aphantasmic minds understand each other better, giving an insight into the condition and how it fundamentally affects the way each mind thinks.

If you are reading this article, it is likely you have a normal imagining mind, where you are able to summon memories visually and view images or objects in your mind, holding it either in your long term or working memory. After all, aphantasia only affects approximately 9% of the population. Having a visual imagination is something we take for granted, and is one an instinct for many of us : If we read a paragraph in a book about, for example, a ginger-haired, fluffy, slinking cat, that phrase instantly conjures up an image of orange furry cat moving stealthily among some shrubs. You can play a video almost of this cat in your mind, and what it might be doing. You can even reverse that video and run it backwards, or even suddenly turn it into a golden eagle and have it fly away into the brightness of a crescent moon.

For aphantasmic minds to understand this is possible – especially if they are hearing this for the first time, this takes  a great leap of imagination. When they understand this it becomes apparent why they struggle all to read works of fiction, especially when that particular piece of fiction involves imaginary descriptives. Aphantasmic minds do not see images or videos in their mind. Instead, often a word is committed to memory and at best a snapshot of that item is retained in the mind, which is often difficult to recall or difficult to hold in their working memory.