Curious Cases of Total Memory Loss

Amnesia has been romanticized in films like The Bourne Identity, Memento, and 50 First Dates, but the medical conditions in all of these films are based in reality. Sometimes, the cause of memory loss is obvious, like head trauma. But other times, there are people who woke up and lost their memory with no clear explanation of how it happened. Sometimes the case is so curious that you wonder if it's all a big hoax.

This list has some of the strangest and most notable cases of amnesia. As you read these cases of bizarre memory loss, remember - any of these strange things could happen to you one day, too.

  • Found Naked Behind a Dumpster
    Photo: Héctor de Pereda / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Found Naked Behind a Dumpster

    Benjamin Kyle was found naked and unconscious behind a dumpster outside of a Burger King in Georgia in 2004. His physical condition indicated he probably suffered head trauma. He had no identification on him (it was probably in the pants that he lost) and couldn't remember who he was, so he created the name Benjamin Kyle from the initials BK, for Burger King.

    Kyle has vague memories of growing up in Indianapolis and of living in Denver at some point, and he remembers that he was born exactly 10 years before Michael Jackson, but his identity has never been uncovered. Genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick said in 2015 that she was on the verge of finding someone who was a DNA match to Kyle, but he inexplicably cut ties with her right after she made that announcement. It appears he's happier not knowing where he came from.
  • A Rare Brain Infection
    Photo: {Giraffe} / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    A Rare Brain Infection

    Clive Wearing was a British musician and conductor before his brain was infected with herpes encephalitis in 1985. The infection caused him to forget most events from his past and reduced his short term memory span to about 20 seconds. To have both retrograde (the loss of past memories) and anterograde (the inability to create new memories) amnesia is extremely rare.

    Wearing can still play the piano beautifully, and though he does not remember being married to his wife, whom he married a year before his memory loss, he is still adamantly in love with her and always greets her ecstatically. The couple renewed their wedding vows in 2002.
  • The Real-Life Jason Bourne
    Photo: Universal Pictures

    The Real-Life Jason Bourne

    This is the real person on whom the character Jason Bourne was based. Ansel Bourne was a preacher from Rhode Island who was supposed to visit his sister in Providence in January of 1887, but instead withdrew his entire savings and went to Norristown, Pennsylvania. There he opened a general store and started a new life as a confectioner named Albert J. Brown.

    Two months later, in March, he woke up with no idea how he ended up in Pennsylvania and no memory of his time spent there. He returned home as Ansel Bourne and never became Albert J. Brown again, although the psychologists who studied him when he returned home did evoke the Albert J. Brown persona when they put Bourne under hypnosis.
  • Spontaneously Swedish

    In 2013, Michael Boatwright was found unconscious at a Motel 6 in Florida. He was easily identified because he had several forms of ID on him, but when he woke up in the hospital, he had no memory of being Michael Boatwright, and despite the fact that he'd lived in America his entire life, he spoke only Swedish. He answered to the name Johan Ek.

    Doctors believe Ek's amnesia was induced by stress. A friend of his said that he was at the motel looking for work and he was found with amnesia after the motel turned him down.

    Ek decided to move to Sweden and start a new life there. Unfortunately, he died in 2014.
  • Time Travel with Amnesia
    Photo: Dreams / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Time Travel with Amnesia

    Naomi Jacobs woke up one morning in 2008, thinking that she was 15 when she was actually 32. She also did not recognize her son who lived in the house with her. Her last memory was falling asleep in her bunk bed which she shared with her sister when she was a teenager.

    Doctors attributed Jacobs' amnesia to stress. The amnesia only lasted for about two months, after which her life returned to normal.
  • A Mysterious Novelist

    Yup, the same Agatha Christie who wrote all of those great mystery novels. In December of 1926, Christie disappeared for 11 days. The morning after she was last seen in her own home, her car was found about an hour away. A massive manhunt ensued and she was ultimately found at a hotel. She was staying under the name Teresa Neele and claimed she couldn't remember how she had gotten there.

    Some people think Christie faked this whole episode as a publicity stunt. Teresa Neele was not a random name; it was the name of the woman her husband was having an affair with. It is possible, however, that the stress of her mother's death, which had occurred recently, and her failing marriage, caused her to temporarily lose her memory.