I am so thankful that some memories can be lost over time, but this woman remembers everything, so there’s no escaping the past.
Though maybe that’s a particularly negative way to think about it. Rebecca Sharrock can remember everything, including the ‘itchy satin dress’ she wore on her first birthday.
The 27-year-old from Brisbane has Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), a condition which only affects about 80 people in the whole world.
In a recent blog post, Rebecca wrote:
On my first birthday I had no idea what the day was about, all I knew was that mum was putting me in an itchy satin dress, and I was crying. Though I was told that this was my own special day and that lots of people were coming to see me. I still didn’t understand but stopped crying eventually.
That day my parents also gave me a Minnie Mouse plush toy, whose face terrified me, though I could not word this. All I could do was cry and push it away whenever I saw it.
It is true that I’m one of about 60 people in the world identified as having a very unusual memory which is called HSAM (or Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory). This makes me unable to forget any day of my life, and I’m also constantly reliving my past (emotionally) in clear-cut detail.
However those of us with HSAM are not alone with having memories from the time when we were under four years old.
In fact the vast majority of the people I’ve come across also have distinct memories of them welcoming a sibling to their family as a toddler, as well as early birthday and Christmas celebrations.
The Harry Potter obsessive recited numerous memories from before the age of two, as well as when her little sister was born.
Rebecca can recite what she did on a specific day, exactly what she was wearing, and even the weather forecast.
The Queensland woman, who can recite the entire collection of Harry Potter books, explained that it is only autobiographical memories that people with HSAM can recall in detail.
Conditions like HSAM serve as a reminder of how little we know about the human brain, and how much left there is to discover about memory function.
She is involved in a couple of memory research studies in order to advance our understanding of the mind.