Are my memories real? Does it matter if they aren't?
October 23, 2007 1:59 AM   Subscribe

How can I be sure that my childhood actually happened?

Before I begin, let me say:

1) No, this is not a joke


2) No, despite my wishes to the contrary, I'm not stoned out of my mind.

Basically, I have a number of memories from my childhood that are completely surreal and more or less physically impossible -- which would rationally suggest that I'm remembering dreams -- yet these "memories" are just as real and perfectly vivid as any other memory of my childhood. I'm disturbed by the implications of this.

Example 1: I have a vivid, utterly real "memory", from when I was 6 or 7 I guess, of my dad and I standing together, naked, in a toilet bowl. We weren't shrunk or anything, just sort of standing there, full sized. I know, it's classic Freudian dream material. Yet, it's just as "real" to me as one of my birthday parties from those years.

Example 2: I remember, very distinctly and strongly, of visiting my grandmother's house for a family reunion when I was about 9 or 10. Part of the "ritual" of the family reunion involved everyone (except myself, because I chickened out) walking over a bed of hot, smoldering coals.

Yes, I know it's all completely insane. I asked my grandma about it last year and she agreed that it's insane as well, yet I remember it as well as I remember Christmas from around that time. Perfect clarity.

Example 3: Some kids have "imaginary friends". I had an "imaginary enemy". It was the telephone pole who lived out back. The nodes on top were his eyes, the "V" shape crossbars was his perpetually grinning mouth. The strange part is that I remember him speaking. Like, really remember him speaking. He spoke a terrible monster-language (sounded like "Gonk-gonk-gonk") but I could understand what he was saying. He always wanted to eat me and my family. I remember him threatening my family, as much as I remember my dad talking to me as a child. Its that real to me.

The rational part of my mind (which I like to think is very strong) realizes that these and other "memories" are obviously products of my own mind -- yet I'm unable to distinguish them in any way from "reality", except, perhaps, by their seemingly ludicrous nature.

So, some questions:

Is this normal? Does anyone else have these experiences? Or am I completely insane?

Is there any truth to the idea of "false memories" that could have been implanted by someone else? Or even by myself, unknowingly?

And finally, (on a more philosophical note) If I can't reliably tell the difference between dreams and reality from such a young age, how can I be sure that anything from back then is real? Obviously I can ask others who were supposedly there (like grandma) but if they don't remember, what does it say about my personal integrity that many of my earliest, most formative memories could be fake? Or even mostly fake? Obviously I've given some extreme and very surreal examples, but what can I trust if I can't trust my own memory?
posted by Avenger to Human Relations (41 answers total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about normal, but it's not that unusual. I have a false memory of my childhood, although it's considerably more mundane than any of yours. I'm only able to tell mine is because I'm told it didn't happen by people in the memory.

Memories can no doubt be implanted - mine stems I'm fairly sure from talk of the same event which did happen to someone else, but not me. I don't think you should assume that's done in any way deliberately though, if that's what you're thinking.

I think you'd find most of your memories are real, and that maybe lots of people have them but are never aware they're false, so to your last point I wouldn't worry too much about it. We're all in that situation, and if you don't trust your own memory more than you should then you're in fact probably better off than most people.
posted by edd at 2:09 AM on October 23, 2007

I've had similar (non-)experiences. I think it's a little weird that you've had them as late as 9 or 10 (mine are from before age 6), but you recognize them as being irrational so it doesn't seem to be a problem.

Is there any truth to the idea of "false memories" that could have been implanted by someone else? Or even by myself, unknowingly?

I'm no psychologist/doctor/whatever, but my guess would be that these were just especially vivid dreams. I've had a couple dreams that, after waking, took me as long as a whole hour to figure out whether or not they had really happened. It's not hard for me to imagine never having been able to figure it out on my own.
posted by hjo3 at 2:21 AM on October 23, 2007

I think that, yes, the rational answer is that you're remembering particularly vivid dreams. I still have difficulty working out if some of my childhood memories were real or dreams, and it doesn't help that my mother constantly tells me that things I "remember" never really happened, although in some of these cases the evidence suggests that it did, which means I now can't trust her to sort it out for me either.

I don't think you can be sure that anything from back then is real, unless you have photos or diary entries (and this doesn't work for me either because I fictionalised my diary entries to a scary extent). I was very aware of first discovering that memories are not permanent, and for months I would occasionally stop what I was doing and think "this is happening, and I might not remember it" and it freaked me out no end.

But no, I don't think it matters. I think you constantly reassemble your perceptions of the world to account for new experiences and information, so that false childhood memories, especially of the kind that you can rationally recognise as false, aren't necessarily a substantial part of who you are any longer.
posted by narrativium at 2:22 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: On the philosophical point, to what extent can any of us prove that any of our memories are real? It doesn't matter if you have realistic irrational memories as well, even the 'normal' ones are close to impossible to prove definitively (in the same way that it takes serious philosophy to prove there's not an elephant in the room).

But, that being said, I don't see how it matters. Unless it concerns something very specific that affects the present (a memory of being exposed to a virus, or a memory that affects your opinion of someone else), whether your memories are real or not doesn't really change anything. If they're all fiction- oh well, it doesn't mean you can't take pleasure in them or have them be a meaningful part of your life.
posted by twirlypen at 2:26 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have the same kind of thing. I remember being out on a deck of the house I grew up in. There was a cloud hanging right above the door, within reach. I reached up and scooped a little bit in a cap of a Crayola marker. (Yellow I think) and when I would take my finger off of it, the little bit would kinda, pop, back out. My messing with the cloud caused it to disperse significantly.

Physics would say that the whole thing can't be, but my memory says otherwise.

I think I was around 6 or so. Not my earliest memories, but pretty far back.

I don't really know if it is abnormal though. I have talked to other people who have similar things in their memories.
posted by Chickenjack at 3:02 AM on October 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh, I also have a collection of false memories from an early age, which I've always attributed to dreams. I don't generally think of them much, because I guess I've already just accepted that they're old dream nonsense, but I too remember these events as vividly as if they had actually happened. I think there are a few reasons why: 1) All memories from that age range (in my case, up to about five) have been tainted by repeated recollection, stories I've heard, scenes in movies and books that have been similar but didn't occur to me; 2) At that age, we're not necessarily very good at determining the difference between real and imagined events anyway - most adults wake up from nightmares and feel relieved, for instance, while kids will often just be freaked out. The line between "I just dreamed that" and "that just happened" is a lot blurrier when you're little. I was convinced all sorts of imaginary things were true when I was five, and I don't think that's unusual.
posted by you're a kitty! at 3:07 AM on October 23, 2007

They do seem very much like dreams (such as drawing from people close to you) but they probably seem so real if they were a form of lucid dreaming where at the time you were somewhat aware that you were in this dream. I can personally remember such dreams from my childhood quite vividly, where I was aware that I was dreaming but still continued to do so for some time (one particular dream I recall in which despite being completely aware of the context, I was unable to force my way out of it, being a rather unpleasant dream).

For the record, I have never personally tried to train myself to dream lucidly, though some have, so it is certainly possible to do it without trying.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 3:30 AM on October 23, 2007

You're lucky that your 'fake' memories are so very surreal to be obviously false. I have this problem but my dreams are much more banal - like replying to emails or paying bills - I have vivid memories of doing things in my daily life that I haven't done.
But generally, once I recognise these things as memories mistaken from dreams, the memory fades - maybe that's because of the mundaneness of my dreams, but even when the memory is a little more elaborate, there's something nagging in my head that says - 'that didn't really happen' - no matter how vivid the memory.

Something very similar in a 'glitch in the matrix' kind of way, happened to me twice in my lifetime (that I remember)
These are vivid memories that I have no doubt actually happened and yet are completely impossible and unexplainable. There are a few holes in the memory because I've only remember the important parts but I'm still 100% certain that these things happened.

The first was when I was about 6 years old, I was on holiday in devon with my family. We were going out somewhere, I was currying my little kiddy purse but I had to put it down on the mat so I could put my shoes on. I don't remember where we went or what we were doing, I just remember that in the car on the way there I was playing with the beads on my purse, and it was definitely my purse because my sister's purse had different beads. The next thing I remember is not having my purse on the way home, I remember being worried that I'd lost my purse but when we got home (to our holiday home anyway) my purse was on the mat, next to the door, where I put it down to put my shoes on.
Now logically, this means I never had it in the car with me, but I vividly remember that I did and I remember being confused and a bit freaked out about the whole thing.
The second one that I remember was when I was 12, I remember doing my homework, at home, with a specific fountain pen (in fact I remember switching pens part way through my homework and remarking that it looked different, where I switched). The next day when I get to school - my pen is on the windowsill next to my desk - therefore there is no way I could possibly have done my homework with that pen. When I looked at my work, you could no longer see the join where I changed pens.

Obviously, logically neither of these events can have happened as I remember them, but I cannot reconcile that with the fact that I 'know' they happened. Is this how you feel about your surreal memories - in the memory do you realise that what is happening is weird ie. are you standing in the toilet bowl thinking this isn't right?
posted by missmagenta at 3:30 AM on October 23, 2007 [3 favorites]

Stephen Jay Gould wrote a regular column for Nature Magazine which were collected together in a series of books. One article he wrote was about a vivid memory he had of his grandfather, where the two of them would go to a certain place in Manhattan and eat together.

He later went and visited the place, and found that it wasn't the way he remembered. What he remembered couldn't have happened.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:41 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: MY wife (an early childhood expert, preschool consultant, etc.) says it's within the realm of normal, except that you were probably delayed in this area of development (and it doesn't matter now).

Separating fantasy and dreams from reality is a cognitive milestone related to brain development. As you age, your brain is better able to discern what's actually happening. Assuming you can do this now (and it didn't have a terrible effect on your social development as a child) there's no reason to be concerned about it. It just took you longer to hit that milestone.

Personally, I have a memory of seeing a mechanical bald eagle (kind of like an RC plane with wings that flapped) flying across my backyard. I even remember that I was alerted to it by the dog barking at it. And I remember it clearly. I only grudgingly tell myself that it didn't exist.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:04 AM on October 23, 2007 [4 favorites]

Is this normal? Does anyone else have these experiences? Or am I completely insane?

Yes, it is normal. The range of mundane <> vivid/dramatic varies from people to people. There's a very good This American Life episode where the adult narrator tells the story of meeting Mr. Rogers, and describes in vivid detail how Mr. Rogers had a full-sized Neighborhood of Make-Believe at his house, which turns out to be a false memory.

Is there any truth to the idea of "false memories" that could have been implanted by someone else? Or even by myself, unknowingly?

Yes. It is actually not so hard to create a false memory. In a given group of about 30 people, I can create one in about a third, but that depends on the type of memory you're talking about. For me, it's a teaching demo, so it's absolutely innocuous. For more information, read up on work by Elizabeth Loftus, a psychologist at UC Irvine.
posted by jujube at 6:09 AM on October 23, 2007

FWIW, in my experience of life, any time you get people together and try to make them remember something that happened twenty years ago there will be disagreements and confusion about what actually happened. This happens with my brother and our friends with noticable frequency. At a certain point I just have to let it go and value my own experience of how things happened, no matter how weirdly skewed or incorrect it might be.

Your memories are way more important than photos from that time, so I think you should be glad you can still remember the gonking telephone pole your brain made up.
posted by zebra3 at 6:18 AM on October 23, 2007

My friend and I were just discussing this morning that there is a point that a child learns how to lie. In order for this to happen, the child has to understand individual realities, or alternate realities. What could have happened as opposed to what has happened. Perhaps your brain storing a dream as a real memory happens before you get to the point where you really grasp this abstract concept, and that is why it is common among younger children.
posted by letahl at 6:19 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think that, yes, the rational answer is that you're remembering particularly vivid dreams

I'd second (or third or whatever we're up to) that. Christmas night, maybe age 6-7, trying to get to sleep, I was lying in my bed, looked out my 3rd floor window, and saw Santa out there, looking in to see if I was asleep yet. Clear as could be. Was sure it was real then, that morning, and still remember it vividly now. If I didn't learn intellectually later that it MUST not have been true, I'd insist on it to this day.

Almost certainly a dream.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 7:33 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Many, many people remember watching the Challenger explosion on live TV. Most of them are wrong.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:34 AM on October 23, 2007

Mayor Curley, are you thinking of Bubo the owl from Clash of the Titans?
posted by battlecj at 7:45 AM on October 23, 2007

Best answer: I have a very vivid memory from my childhood of standing with my parents outside the chain link fence of a small airport, watching planes land. As we were standing there, a very, very small airplane flew by us, through one of the openings of the fence, and landed. Obviously, it never happened, but over twenty years later, I can still remember what I was wearing during this.
posted by Ruki at 7:50 AM on October 23, 2007

Best answer: Yup, I've had this as well. I have a distinct memory or sitting in a chair at around age 6 or so, and watching a floating cow-ghost-beastie float through the living room and into the kitchen. I remember jumping up to follow it and then couldn't find where it had gone. But no matter what anyone told me, I swore up and down it was REAL. I can still remember all the details of how it looked, over 20 years later.
posted by Windigo at 7:51 AM on October 23, 2007

I run into this as an adult. I have temporal lobe epilepsy and a couple of times a year I begin feeling like I am experiencing, moment-by-moment, a dream that I had the night before. It is completely tied in with the epilepsy. But I never had the dream.

sprose's comment seems like it could be related to seizure activity in the temporal lobe.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:07 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Me too. One of my most vivid memories is squinting across the room at something indistinct on the couch (I was 7 and didn't have my glasses yet.) I walked over to it and found it was a giant bee about the size of a liter bottle of water. I could see the individual yellow and black hairs on its thorax.

I figured it was a stuffed animal of some sort, but then it turned its head and looked at me through its golden compound eyes. (I don't think bees can turn their heads, and bee eyes are brown/black.) I ran upstairs as quickly as I could yelling for my mom, who came downstairs, killed it and flushed it.

She of course, remembers none of this. But to this day I can see those golden eyes turn and focus on my hand as I reach out...
posted by infinitewindow at 8:09 AM on October 23, 2007

Memory is unreliable. MrMoonPie's mention of the Challenger explosion reminds me of the phenomenon of flashbulb memory, a vivid memory made more vivid because it happened at the time of some strongly emotional event like JFK getting shot or the space shuttle blowing up. It's been shown time and again that while flashbulb memories are strongly held to be true and palpable, in fact they're no more reliable than any other memory. Lots of fun psychology studies here.

That's a different phenomenon than the original poster's surreal memories, though.
posted by Nelson at 8:41 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I grew up having really vivid dreams of being able to fly -- taking off from the ground and pointing myself to go up past the trees and float closer to the ground. They were so real that I believed them, and walked around all day thinking I had this secret power no one else had and that it was really special. Only as I got older did I realize that I must have been dreaming and wasn't really flying. If I had been dreaming something less obviously impossible, I probably would never have realized that my dreams weren't real.
posted by onlyconnect at 8:57 AM on October 23, 2007

I remember flying. It was awesome. I definitely wasn't asleep or dreaming. I would jump off the couch and fly across the TV room - father than anyone could have ever possibly jumped. I wish I could figure out how to fly again, now that I'm big.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:04 AM on October 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Somewhat related articles in the NY Times today about brain function, memory, and sleep:

An Active, Purposeful Machine That Comes Out at Night to Play.

The Dreamscape of Nightmares, Clues to Why We Dream at All.

posted by desuetude at 9:05 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I like you're a kitty!'s phrase: "tainted by repeated recollection". This seems like kind of neural feedback -- recall a dream enough and it concretizes as a memory. I have vivid recall of my "first memory" -- sitting in the front seat of a blue 1960s sedan with a blue and white interior and watching the sun glint like lightning down a crack in the windshield. Only problem is that my parents never owned a blue car, and I know that during the time this "memory" must have formed we were a one-car family and my dad drove a red pick-up truck. With a black interior. But because I've repeatedly returned to that "memory" over the years, it's forever in my head as blue and white.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:08 AM on October 23, 2007

Best answer: I'll try to tackle your last question. Can you be sure that anything back then is real?

Setting aside "brain in a vat" scenarios for the purposes of this question (because at a certain point it's probably fair to say that none of us are ultimately sure that it all isn't a dream), I'd say this:

Using the standard meaning of certainty, there some things you can be sure of. You have a grandmother, and saw her at holidays. You still know that grandmother, and where her memories and yours overlap, you can be fairly sure that something close to what you remember really happened. Ditto for all other friends/family members. The outline of your life is going to be pretty close to reality.

And yet--as someone mentioned above, when you sit down with a family member to discuss the details, you often find out that they remember a certain event in ways that conflict your memory. And if there's not objective record (a video recording, a trustworthy journal) then there is no way to arbitrate between the two accounts. One or the other is wrong, or both. Sometimes this happens with impressions of people. "Grandpa was a spiteful jerk!" "Well, he was always nice to me." The truth about Grandpa is probably in between.

So, there's no way to be sure what part of an old memories is "real" and what isn't.

The other thing about memory is this: Of all the days that you've lived, how many do you really remember? Or remember with enough clarity to reconstruct (even inaccurately). If it's 5%, you're way ahead of me. Our lives are constructed out of a small percentage of our memories, and those are sometimes/often inaccurate.

You don't really know your own story. You know parts of it.

I assume that this is a feature, not a bug. Maybe humans just work best if we are shaped by fuzzy half-memories. If it's a problem, then it's one we all have. As an adult, I realize that some things I know about my childhood are false. But part of who I am depends on that memory. And whether it is history or fantasy really doesn't matter in the end. It's what I remember, and it's the memory, not the objective fact, that is now in my head. As long as I have some humility about my memories and can accept that my biography is clouded and mysterious in many places then there's probably not a problem.

(The exception, of course, is if my memory of Grandpa isn't just that he was a jerk, but that he did something criminal to me. Then we have to try to figure out what really went on, and that can be damnably difficult to do.)
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:26 AM on October 23, 2007 [7 favorites]

Your philosophical question is a kind of Skepticism. How do you know that any of your memories are genuine? (The movie Dark City and the Buffy Episode "Normal Again" (season 6 ep. 17) give some nice examples of this) For that matter, how can you be sure of what you're experiencing right now? Maybe it's a dream (see Descartes or, for a modern example, Barry Stroud), maybe you're a brain in a vat hooked up to electrodes (see Putnam who tries to argue against this possibility).

You may be interested in The Epistemological Problems of Memory at the SEP. It las out the problem and presents some of the more common solutions. You might want to check the related articles at the bottom of the page as well (mostly on epistemic justification).
posted by chndrcks at 10:15 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Elizabeth Loftus (mentioned above) has an article on Imagining the Past. Ease of imagining an event and imagery ability both contribute to "imagination inflation."
posted by parudox at 10:25 AM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

Your telephone pole is pretty much scaring the crap out of me, Avenger.

I was listening to a radio program awhile back about sleep disorders when a listener called and said he regularly saw angels and demons flying around and even walking on the sidewalks casually mixing with the people-- until he got treatment for his narcolepsy.

So I would guess you had a series of REM events while you were awake and they got laid down in your memory as if they had been real experiences. I also suspect William Blake suffered from narcolepsy (fortunately), but perhaps it's possible for this kind of thing to occur apart from anything we'd describe as an illness, as well.
posted by jamjam at 11:10 AM on October 23, 2007

I was talking to someone the other day who was upset because he says he barely remembers any of his real childhood from before about the age of 13. He says it's because it was mostly an unhappy childhood, but he thinks this is a terrible loss, that he just tiny occasional scraps from that time, and no real sense of the whole thing. But when I think back to my own childhood, it's certainly a thin and piecemeal collection of memories, and they are generally just based on those few incidents or places / people that for one reason or another I have thought about or talked about over the years.

So I think my own "childhood memories" are mosty created by my retreading of certain stories or images, and those which I never ran through the grooves of again, have faded away, while surely some of those that I have run the grooves of have been altered - or even completely invented or patched together out of something I saw on TV, or something someone else told me, or whatever.

Basically, any thoughts which are not direct perception are the work of imagination. As Kant said, there's productive and reproductive imagination, so one hopes memories are reproduction of past perception, rather than the work of the creative imagination, but it's the same part of the mind doing the essential work, so it's not at all surprising that things get entangled from time to time. One thing that's interesting is that it does seem as if people who tend to have better reproductive memories are often not as good at using their creative imaginations and vice versa - it's hard to keep the two separate, so if one dominates it will often impede the use of the other (eg, for an extreme example, Luria's Mind of a Mnemonist)
posted by mdn at 11:25 AM on October 23, 2007

First memory is not a record of what happened in you life. Memory is not hard data. It's changeable mutable stuff.

Second I could fly when I was a kid.

Seriously fly. I remember it as clearly as any other event in my early childhood. I still know how to fly but I can’t seem to do it anymore.

Now I realize as an adult that my powers of flight were probably just a serious of dreams. But memory is funny like that. I remember people I’ve never met because I’ve been shown lots of pictures of them and told stories but it’s all fictional, I’ve never been in the same room as them but I remember it.

I think what’s best is take it all with a grain of salt. Those birthdays you remember might be just as fabricated. You’ve been told about them and seen pictures, but those memories might be just as implanted as the toilet bowl thing.

I have a ton of fake “normal” memories because my older bother and his best friend told me all kinds of crazy crap when I was like 5 and I believed it all.
posted by French Fry at 12:43 PM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

On the other hand, how cool would it be if kids could actually see tiny planes and giant bees and talk with animals and could fly when adults aren't around? And we just talk ourselves out of it as we get older - how cool would that be?
Not actually proposing that, but that is what this thread would make a little kid believe.
posted by you're a kitty! at 1:02 PM on October 23, 2007 [4 favorites]

He who mocks the infant's faith Shall be mocked in age and death; He who shall teach the child to doubt The rotting grave shall ne'er get out;... ---William Blake.
posted by jamjam at 2:41 PM on October 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

Well, for what it's worth, I have similar false memories of childhood. I vividly remember my mother telling my 3-year-old self that a) if one eats a diet solely consisting of cantaloupe, one will live to be 139 years old, and b) those little specks in the fluorescent light in the kitchen are pieces of chicken.

After years of insisting to my mom that she told me these things, I have finally concluded that, in fact, she did not. But, then again, the small chance does exist that she actually enjoyed messing with my gullible childhood mind. Which, knowing my mom, would be hilarious.
posted by notswedish at 3:35 PM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had a couple of these. In one, a poster of Captain Kirk talked to me. That one I'm almost positive was fake. Another one involved me getting hit in the hand with a dart and my parents refusing to take me to the hospital. I think I was about fifteen or sixteen before I realized that that never happened.

The final one: I got a dog who loved me very much and was my best friend and then disappeared when we went on vacation one day.

My parents swear it never happened. I think I believe them.
posted by Bookhouse at 7:39 PM on October 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

" I would jump off the couch and fly across the TV room - father than anyone could have ever possibly jumped."

Freudian slipping?
posted by papafrita at 10:20 PM on October 23, 2007

Hey, you all could have walked over coals at the reunion and it's your grandmother who doesn't remember correctly, lol. I remember in the 80's there were these firewalking events. Video on the power of belief, which includes the coal walking thing).

One of the reasons the mind remembers things is because the memory is charged with emotion. So much of what is experienced in life is edited out as less meaningful because it lacks emotional meaning and what is most meaningful is usually remembered because of its emotional significance.

I can remember a couple of childhood nightmares so vividly it's as if I were re-experiencing them. Memory has a fluidity and it's a complex topic.

The "I used to believe" site about childhood memories. You're in good company with others who used to believe things that were not true, in the adult sense.

Adults routinely teach children to believe in untruths, like in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, children's books are typically about about fairy tales, Harry Potter, about ghosts, fantastic tales, unlikely realities, the Boogey Man and folk tales. There are all kinds of movies for kids and adults about untrue things, from flying elephants, Spider Man, miracles to horror movies. Some would say that the God belief is a delusion. So separating out what is reality based, through adult eyes, is especially hard for a child, who is just forming their logical thinking abilities.

It does not sound, from the very little you posted, like you suffer from a dissociative disorder, delusions or paranoia but, like almost any child I've known, including myself, have had some fantasies and imagined experiences that are so emotionally charged they may be recalled in the present as they were experienced as a child.
posted by nickyskye at 10:47 AM on October 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I remember Santa's sleigh flying through the sky, complete with sleighbells, and a solar eclipse where the sky flashed from day to night rapidly. These are both so, so real in my mind.

I even get my early childhood memories mixed up with stuff I saw on TV around that time. I once told my mother about a vivid dream that I had as a child and she said, "Nope, that was on Sesame Street once. I saw that episode with you."

If you're not disturbed by them, might as well enjoy them, I think. Cool stuff like that is never going to happen to me as an adult.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:38 PM on October 25, 2007

There's one surreal event that has multiple confirmation - I was in two places at once.

My sister is the one that is so adamant about it, but she tells me about when I climbed a tall tree in our backyard, and was upset for some reason. Her and the neighbor kids were yelling at me to come down as I hid up among the branches. They eventually tired of this and went inside at which point they found me in my room, lying on my bed, crying.

I've done quite a few hallucinogens but nothing I've ever touched can compare to the memories, the lucid dreams, the typical brain games that occur on a regular basis.
posted by iamck at 6:36 AM on November 27, 2007

wow, I've been experiencing some really similar things. Not just in my childhood, but right up until recently!
Here's the most shocking, from my point of view:

When i was Seven, I lived in a small terrace house with my mum and stepdad, as well as my brother and sister. We didn't have much money in those days so on weekends we'd stay in and draw or be read to, or go for walks down the local woods. Sometimes we'd just sit around and have really long conversations.
I distinctly remember a moment from one of these occasions. I was stood up and my mum and little brother were on the sofa. My brother Mike was only about 4, and he was asking about his birthday. My mum told him that he shared his birthday with a former president of the United states- the first Black president!! She then got a silver dollar out of a box in a cabinet and showed it to us. It showed the typical head and shoulders profile of a heavyset, smiling black man with short cropped hair in a suit. I remember it was in 3/4 profile. I distinctly remember this as i remember wondering to myself at the time whether or not there were palms trees at the white house.
This memory was only "invalidated" for me quite recently in the last year or so, when i asked my mum who it was mike shared his birthday with as i'd forgotten the president's name. She said Bill Clinton! I reminded her that it was the first Black president. She then got really suprised and told me there had never been a black president.
I was really shocked by this as i had (still have) this really distinctive memory!

I really can't believe that i made this up and then thought it was real. I can't accept that.

Is there a parallel universe where america did have a black president? Have i somehow 'crossed' between worlds as i grew up?
Very unlikely, I know, but it's my favourite theory in terms of sheer weirdness. Does anyone else feel this way?

posted by Johnny Kayoss at 11:27 AM on December 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Maya Angelou did call Clinton 'the first black president,' Johnny-- but I think it'll be awhile before he shows up on an American coin, anyway.
posted by jamjam at 11:46 AM on December 1, 2007

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