What is it Like to Lose Your Identity?
Sun Lee

17 May 2018

Hannah Upp has dissociative fugue, an extremely rare form of amnesia, in which people lose access to their autobiographical memory and personal identity. Because of her condition, Upp occassionally goes missing for a few days or even weeks without warning.

During an episode of fugue, she is at loss of a sense of self. Without a coherent self-identity and collection of memories from the past, she becomes a different person from the Hannah Upp that her friends, family, and herself know her as.

She was once found laying face down in the waters of New York Harbor after going missing for three weeks. After being found and taken care of, she was able to restore her idenity as Hannah Upp, a 23 year old Spanish teacher, but could not recall her spontaneous travels. The three weeks felt like mere minutes for her. 

The case of Hannah Upp brings up profound questions about self-identity or the lack thereof. If we associate autobiographical memory with personhood, is the Hannah Upp during an episode of fugue a different person from the Hanna Upp who is conscious of herself? If she were to commit a crime during one of her episodes, could we hold her accountable after the episode, even though she does not recall any of it? 

You can read more about the curious and tragic case of Hannah Upp in a recent article in the New Yorkerwww.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/02/how-a-young-woman-lost-her-identity



Comments (3)

Laura Maguire's picture

Laura Maguire

Friday, May 18, 2018 -- 11:08 AM

Fascinating story!

Fascinating story!

Harold G. Neuman's picture

Harold G. Neuman

Friday, May 18, 2018 -- 1:02 PM

The mind is a wonderfully

The mind is a wonderfully horrible thing---especially when it goes haywire in some manner or other. I have read much about the fugue, as well as other dissociative disorders---inability to recognize faces; lack of recognition of close relatives; phantom limbs and other maladies, too numerous to mention. Understanding human consciousness remains, in my estimation, a primary challenge for the study of neuroscience, linguistics and cognition. Sam Harris said it as briefly and as well as anyone has: Your mind is all you've got.