Amnesia, a Trance Phenomena


Amnesia…just, the suggestion of that word, sparks all kinds of meaning and conditions that people refer to as memory loss and/or amnesia. My first experience of hypnotic amnesia came from reading textbooks on hypnosis during my studies. The type of “amnesia” I’m going to be discussing has to do with hypnotic phenomena and not necessarily head injury or medical surgery, although it’s part of the list; it isn’t the focal point of this writing. As part of my 100 days of Trance writing, I am doing detailed explanations of the different types of hypnotic phenomena.

Amnesia Phenomena or Suggestion

Believe it or not, just by suggesting amnesia, you can compel people to forget things, not only in a trance but is normal waking states. The video above is funny but let’s get to the real types of Amnesia from a hypnotic phenomena standpoint.

Types of Amnesia in Hypnosis:


This is probably one of my favorite phenomena, and one everyone knows. Amnesia is the functional loss of the ability to recall or identify information, you know forgetting things. The amazing thing about this in a hypnotic context is the ability to create the amnesia of things that would seem impossible to forget, such as the subject’s name, or age. Common examples for installing amnesia for someone’s name, not able to recall numbers or even amnesia for the hypnotic experience itself. In the 40′ and 50’s, it was typical for the hypnotist to induce amnesia so the patient would have little or no memory of the hypnotic session. One possible reason for this, suggested by Stephen Gilligan, Ph.D., was that the society at large wasn’t prepared for the mind-warping effects of hypnosis as it compared to their normal lives.

Amnesia is also a common “convincer” for people who have doubts about whether or not they were in a trance. Sometimes people expectations are that they will be completely gone during their session and have no recall as to the events, which is roughly the opposite of what a real hypnotic trance is like rather than what you see in the movies.


Timing is an interesting way to induce amnesia. If you were busy thinking about something while hanging a picture and you accidentally hit your thumb with a hammer; whatever it was that you were thinking about… is now gone.
Another example could be. Everyone has had the experience of walking into a room to get something and when you get there… you are wondering what you went into the room for.

This example (by John Grinder, co-founder of NLP) is one that you can try yourself; while introducing yourself to a stranger or friend. When they ask your name; say your first name and wait about 3 seconds and say your last name. This will cause instant amnesia for one or both of your names. Try it out and email me your results might

State-Dependent Contexts

All learning is state-dependent. This means that whatever emotional state that you were in when the information or learning was coded is within that emotional state. This is how you can get two completely different childhood stories for two people in the same family about a similar event. Whatever state they were in is what was remembered.

I knew people in high school who got high every single day. I would be surprised if they remembered much about their high school experience or they may just have to get high to remember. Alcohol works the same way. Blackout drinking events can actually be retrieved during hypnosis but they usually are pretty sad to re-live unless absolutely necessary.

People can also code information into a “forget it”file. Some things aren’t worth remembering and the person can choose to forget part or all of a certain experience. The downside is this is very effective and can make retrieving the “forget it” file difficult, not impossible, but difficult.


Whether it be an accident, surgery, chemical or violence. All of these make an excellent environment for partial or full amnesiac states. Generally, the information can be retrieved but you have to question what information that they want to be retrieved without any additional trauma. This is the reason that some people cannot remember their childhood. Perhaps it was too angry, sad or terrifying and since they aren’t currently in that emotional state the information about their childhood is unavailable.

Chemo-brain falls into this category. I have had several friends and acquaintances that have suffered short and long-term memory loss from these treatments. Perhaps one day we will begin to catalog people’s memories in advance of cancer treatment.  I did know someone who had a brain surgery scheduled and her friends and family videoed all of the memories that they could before her surgery. luckily, she had the full recall when she woke up but preparation in advance may have been what caused the videos to be not needed… worth thinking about

If a mugging or sexual assault victim cannot remember the details of their assailant, hypnosis can be a useful tool to retrieve that information. A wise therapist will make sure that the memories have no feeling attached to the memory so the person will not be traumatized twice.

In conclusion, I believe that our minds are organized to remember things that were good or pleasant and to forget or file away things that were not-so-pleasant. Even the unpleasant events can teach us things if we dare to look at them and specifically acknowledge the learning and then let go of the details of how we got that learning.

Additional reading for classic non-hypnotic amnesia:

email me if you have any questions