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Can we see personal identity loss? A functional imaging study of typical ‘hysterical amnesia’
  1. Catherine Thomas-Antérion1,
  2. Eric Guedj2,
  3. Marielle Decousus3,
  4. Bernard Laurent1
  1. 1Unit of Neuropsychology, Department of Neurology, CHU NORD, Saint Etienne, France
  2. 2Service Central de Biophysique et Médecine Nucléaire, CHU Timone, APHM & Université de la Méditerranée, France
  3. 3Service de Médecine Nucléaire, CHU NORD, Saint Etienne, France
  1. Correspondence to Dr C Thomas-Antérion, Unité de Neuropsychologie, CHU NORD, St Etienne cx 02, Saint Etienne 420055, France; catherine.thomas{at}

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Severe retrograde amnesia in the absence of significant anterograde memory impairment and any known brain injury or disease is considered to be a rare, non-organic syndrome. In a description of this condition, typical patients have a sudden onset of focal retrograde amnesia in which the main symptom is considered to be the loss of personal identity. The term ‘functional amnesia’ has been proposed by de Renzi et al.1 Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether focal retrograde amnesia is mainly or solely caused by neurological dysfunction rather than partially or totally through the occurrence of psychological factors. The same term was subsequently proposed by Markowitsch et al.2 These authors reported the case of a patient who, after a single brief exposure to an event reminding him of a similar stressful event in his childhood, developed persistent amnesia without structural brain damage. In contrast, functional brain abnormalities were found using positron emission tomography (PET). An area of metabolism three standard deviations below normal was found in the patient's right temporo-basal, left insular and dorsal parietal lobes, and metabolism two standard deviations below normal was observed in the left temporo-basal, the right and left fronto-mesial, the right insular, the left temporo-basal lobes, the left cerebellum and the left putamen.

Patients with ‘functional amnesia’ differ with respect to the severity of …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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