Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory: Rare disease causes woman to remember every detail of her life

Rebecca Sharrock's earliest memory is from when she was 12 days old 

Kashmira Gander
Tuesday 25 April 2017 09:18 BST
Rebecca Sharrock can remember the 'itchy satin' dress she wore at her first birthday party
Rebecca Sharrock can remember the 'itchy satin' dress she wore at her first birthday party (KQconcepts/iStock)

An Australian woman has spoken of how she can recall every memory she has experienced since she was a newborn baby.

Rebecca Sharrock, 27, from Brisbane, is one of 80 people in the world who has Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM). The rare condition gives her a highly powerful memory which can recall details from her life including the gifts she received on her first birthday. HSAM also gives Sharrock the ability to retain information, meaning she can recite the Harry Potter books in their entirety.

However, HSAM also enables sufferers to remember painful memories – including break-ups and bereavements – in great depth.

In a post entitled “I can remember back to when I was a newborn child” Sharrock recently wrote on the Omni blogging site that her earliest memory is from when she was 12 days old.

Describing how her parents carried her to the driver’s seat of their car and put her down for a photo.

"As a newborn child I was curious as to what the seat cover and steering wheel above me were. Though at that age I hadn't yet developed the ability to want to get up and explore what such curious objects could be,” she wrote.

Sharrock went on to reveal how she would look at her toys in her crib and the fan next to her bed; the “itchy satin dress” her parents dressed her in on her first birthday; and a Minnie Mouse stuffed toy that “terrified” her. At 18 months, Sharrock says she remembers starting dreaming.

To help build a better understanding of the human memory, Sharrock is currently taking part in two memory studies with scientists in the US and Australia. She hopes the research will help people with memory problems, including dementia.

Sharrock isn’t the only person with HSAM to share her story. Alexandra Wolff, a 25-year-old from Maryland in the US, told NPR in an interview that HSAM feels like “time travel”.

She told the broadcaster she can remember everything she has heard and felt in a day, “right down to getting sick to my stomach or getting a headache.”

This means Wolff can relive the happiest moments in her life in minute detail, and does so often alone in her room.

"It's a huge temptation. I could, if I didn't have stuff to do all day, I could probably live in the past 24/7," she said.

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