Generalized dissociative amnesia: episodic, semantic and procedural memories lost and found

Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 35:589-600 (2001)
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Abstract

Objective: This review tests Ribot’s classic twofold categorization of generalized amnesia (GA) into Type I, total loss of episodic memory, and Type II, additional more or less extensive loss of semantic and/or procedural memory. It also explores his law of regression, according to which, cast in modern terms, recovery of lost procedural and semantic memories precedes recovery of episodic memory, as well as reported aetiological factors. Method: Clinically and formally assessed cases of GA, published since 1845, were surveyed and further analysed. Results: Over and above authentic episodic memory loss, cases differed widely in the extent of impairment of semantic and procedural memory. Recovery of semantic and procedural memory often preceded recovery of episodic memory. This particularly applied to authenticated trauma memories. To an extent, lost memories affected current functioning, and in some cases were associated with alternating dissociative personalities. Severe memory distortions upon memory recovery were not reported. Most cases were trauma or stress related, while in some cases the aetiology remained unknown. Conclusions: Contrary to the view expressed in DSM-IV, which states that dissociative amnesia pertains to an inability to recall personal information, GA may also involve loss and recovery of semantic and procedural memories. Since the loss of various memory types in GA is dimensional rather than categorical, Ribot’s typological distinction does not hold. Some of the reviewed cases suggest a trauma-related aetiology. Generalized amnesia of varying degrees of severity can involve delayed retrieval of trauma memories, as well as the loss and delayed retrieval of the premorbid personality

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