Memories Lost… and Found

Image of an empty boat stranded on a rock

How does it feel to wake up injured and needing help, but you can’t remember who you are or how you got there?

It happens more often than you might think, though the stories don’t usually make international headlines.

A recent case intrigued me.  A woman was found, bloodied and injured on an island in Croatia.  She couldn’t remember who she was or how she got there, but she was frightened.  Rather like my fictional heroine in Black Velvet.

Thanks to international media and the fact the woman was a well known jeweller, she was identified.  It took time, but eventually she recovered most of her memory.  To this day she still doesn’t know exactly how and when she ended up in that predicament..

One of the true situations that provided inspiration for my novel Black Velvet came from an old news story that took place in Montreal.  A man woke up beside a dumpster.  He had no clothes, no ID and no memory.  He thought he was British and gay, and the gay community took him in until his American family saw the headlines and identified him.  His story was made into a movie called Amnesia:  The James Brighton Enigma.

These cases illustrate a condition called dissociative amnesia.  It seems to be caused by overwhelming stress and is more common during times of war or during natural disasters.  The patient may seem normal, but is upset by questions about personal history.  The person may assume another identity, and end up living and even working in another city until memory returns. Most cases are short-lived but in others, memory never returns.

What a frightening journey that would be.