I've seen it many times in movies; people not only forget something that happened, but they forget who they are entirely- including their name.
A much-used plot device, retrograde amnesia occurs when a person forgets part or all of his or her past.
Here is a list of movies (sorted by year) where people forget their own identity:
- I Love You Again (1940)
- Sullivan's Travels (1941)
- Random Harvest (1942), in which Ronald Colman's character suffers from the condition not once but twice.
- Crime Doctor (1943)
- Anastasia (1956)
- RoboCop (1987)
- Overboard (1987)
- Regarding Henry (1991)
- The Majestic (2001)
- The Addams Family (1991)
- The English Patient (1996)
- Dark City (1998)
- Mulholland Drive (2001)
- The Bourne Identity (2002)
- Finding Nemo (2003)
- The Number 23 (2007)
- Spider-Man 3 (2007)
- Unknown (2011)
A list of more of these movies can be found here
The reason I am so skeptical about this, is that a person's name is one of the first things they learn. Often even before an infant learns to talk, it will still respond to it's name. So it would seem like, if you were unable to remember your name, you would also be unable to remember how to talk and do other very basic human functions. (This is just my speculation)
In addition, the term
Retrograde Amnesia means the inability to remember something from the past (as apposed to
Anterograde amnesia which is the inability to form new memories.) Retrograde Amnesia is a well known medical condition, however, I have yet to hear of a real, documented case, of retrograde amnesia that was so extreme, that the person couldn't even remember his or her own name / identity.
Retrograde Amnesia is often temporally graded, consistent with Ribot's Law: more recent memories closer to the traumatic incident are more likely to be forgotten than more remote memories.
In fact - the only time I have actually heard of this happening (a person forgetting who they were), was with regards to Stage III Alzheimer's Disease. However, in Stage III Alzheimer's, the other symptoms include "Loss of communication, relying instead on grunts or moans", and "Loss of control over bodily functions, such as trouble swallowing or lack of bowel and bladder control".
Is there any scientific evidence or backing to this being possible (forgetting one's own name / identity, but still being able to function as a normal human being)? Has there ever been a documented case of this actually happening?
Edit: for those of you wondering, the link on Wikipedia on retrograde amnesia doesn't cover forgetting your name