Severe Amnesia 'Wipes Slate Clean'

Imagine opening your eyes to see a sea of strangers.

You're unable to remember your own name, how you got to where you are, or even the taste of your favorite food.

For six weeks, this was Jeff Ingram's world.

Though Ingram, previously known as "Al" and "Amnesia Man," still cannot recall any details about his former life, he no longer faces the fog of memory alone.

"I want my past. I want who I was. Or who I am," Ingram said.

On Monday, the unemployed machinist reunited with his fiancee in Olympia, Wash., to the relief of his friends and family.

"I thought I lost him forever," said Doreen Tompkins, Ingram's mother.

More Disorienting Than Traditional Amnesia

Ingram's case isn't just run-of-the-mill amnesia.

It's what doctors call a "dissociative fugue state," a condition in which the brain literally wipes the slate clean.

"It often occurs suddenly. They end up in another town, rather confused, and when people ask them about their past or their identity, they don't know who they are. They can't give a name," said Dr. Daniel Brown, associate clinical professor at Harvard Medical School.

Unlike amnesia, with dissociative fugue state, all sense of self is completely forgotten.

"With amnesia, a person will say, 'I don't remember these six years of my life,' but they still know who they are. With dissociative fugue, the person would say, 'I don't remember anything about my life, and I don't remember who I am anymore,'" Brown said.

Experts say two out of every 1,000 Americans experience this profound type of memory loss.

That small group includes Sean McNulty, who vanished into a fugue state on his wedding day.

He showed up three days later at a motel, disoriented and bug-bitten.

"I said, 'Do you know your name?' And he said, 'No.' And I said, 'Do you remember who I am? ' And he just shook his head," said his wife, Amy McNulty.

Everything in Sean's world -- including his wife, Amy -- was completely unfamiliar.

Almost a year after he disappeared, suddenly, without warning, his life snapped back into place.

"Everything just started to come back to me," he said.

According to Brown, this isn't unusual, though the process may take some time.

"The good news is that although these cases may be unusual, over time they tend to resolve themselves," he said. "It may take months. It may take a couple years."

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