Why Can’t I Remember Things From My Past? (A guide)

In this brief guide, we will discuss the question “Why can’t I remember things from my past?”, as well as some other things.

Why Can’t I Remember Things From My Past?

You might not be able to remember things from your past because either you didn’t pay enough attention when you were making the memories, or you might have a memory problem, or maybe you just have poor memory.

In some cases people also become unable to remember things from their past because they  have vitamin or mineral deficiencies which are affecting their cognitive abilities.

People may also find themselves unable to remember things from their past if they did not devote enough attentional resources when they were making the memories, because making memories is a complicated process that involves a number of smaller processes like attention, concentration and moving the memory from a short term to long term store.

Even though it may seem like a big deal to not be able to remember things, for most people it is a very normal part of their lives, and if you are not able to remember every little detail of your life, you should not worry about that.

There is also something known as Severely Deficient Autobiographical Memory (SDAM), which is an actual problem in which people can’t remember things from their past, and this problem may occur with or without trauma.

This problem has been studied by cognitive scientists at the University of Toronto, and Brian Levine who was the lead author on the study, studied three individuals with this condition. 

Levin says “Even though they can learn and recall information normally and hold down professional careers, they cannot re-experience the past with a vivid sense of personal reliving. It’s as if their past was experienced in the third person.”

Signs That You Have Memory Problems

While most instances of not being able to remember things can be attributed to simply not being able to remember things in a totally normal manner, sometimes not being able to remember things can be a sign of problems, especially if you are older or have had some kind of severe illness or trauma lately.

If you are not able to remember things, or others keep commenting on how much you are forgetting or how odd your recollection of memories has gotten, you may have neurological deficits that are affecting your memory, and here are some signs that you have memory problems that require treatment or intervention:

People say you are asking the same questions over and over, and not in a way that means you are repeating yourself, but in a way that you can’t retain the answer or remember that you’ve asked before.

If you have trouble remembering recent events, like even things that happen yesterday or what you had for dinner last night or breakfast in the morning, you may have some kind of impairment, because for most people usually you tend to forget the remote past first, and then your recent, and then immediate.

If you have trouble remembering important past events like anniversaries of significant instances that happen to you, it may be an issue. However, this does not mean that you need to be able to remember things in a very detailed manner, or remember a play by play of any event, but you should be able to remember the board strokes of what happened to you long ago.

If you find yourself losing things constantly, and this is something new, then you may have something to worry about. This does not mean that you are merely forgetting because you have moved to a new place or if the situations have changed in any way, if you are forgetting things in the same environment you have been living in, you should get checked out.

Forgetting what day it is or having trouble with questions of time and place, like the current date, or the order in which things happen, this persistent confusion is a problem.

Having trouble planning how to do a task or finishing the task is another pointer of memory problems that need to be looked at, especially if you have not always been this way, so if you have far too many projects sitting around incomplete, you should look into getting some treatment.

Having difficulty concentrating or sustaining attention to things you are doing, and being reminded of them by others constantly may also be a sign of memory issues. Unfortunately this sign only becomes apparent when it starts to interfere with your ability to function normally and therefore it is important to pay attention to all the other signs.

If you have recently been withdrawing from your usual social activities, or from pastimes that you used to enjoy it can also mean that you are probably struggling with memory disorder because it can often involve a step away from usual routines. However, social withdrawal can be a sign of many other things, like depression, so you should also look at your other symptoms.

Problems with your vision or spatial perception, like trouble reading or telling the difference between colors, or judging distances between yourself and other objects can also imply memory problems, and the problem may be quite severe if you have trouble with other basic tasks like driving or getting around as well.

Experiencing moments of poor judgment like making a bad financial decision or paying less attention to personal hygiene than you used to can also be signs of memory disorders, or even an illness that includes a memory disorder as a symptom, like psychosis.

Lastly, marked changes in your mood, behavior, or personality  can also be signs of memory disorders and it has been seen that people suffering from severe memory disorders can also be quite prone to frustration or anger when things don’t go their way. Bouts of suspicion, fear, anxiety, or depression are also common in memory disorders, and vice versa, so if there is an emotional component to your forgetting things, you should get treatment.

When is it normal to not remember things?

While it may be scary to imagine that you have a problem that is making you forget things, most times we may suffer from normal lapses in memory that happen to everyone, and here are some of the common memory faults most of us have:

Being absentminded, like forgetting where you left your keys or why you walked into the living  can be very very common lapses which are caused when you don’t pay attention or focus on what you are doing.

Sometimes when your procedural memory takes over you may stop paying active attention to what you are doing, and it may lead to you forgetting what you were doing because you weren’t paying attention. However, Debra Babock, who works at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, says, “if you’ve lived on a block for 10 years, and you walk out the door and get lost, that’s much more serious.”

Everyone experiences tip of the tongue moments, when you know that you are forgetting something, but you can’t retrieve it from memory and some research has found that this happens most when memories interfere with each other. Such a study was published in the journal Brain Research, about which the study’s author Babock, says, “We’re all accessing the same brain networks to remember things, but we have to call in the troops to do the work when we get older, while we only have to call in a few soldiers when we’re younger.”

Scrambling for things is another common memory lapse that may happen to a lot of people, and this happened when you accurately remember most of an event or other chunk of information, but confuse certain key details, for instance when a good friend tells you in person that she is thinking about taking out a second mortgage on her home but you late feel certain she did it over a phone conversation. Some research has suggested that this kind of analysis of information happens in the hippocampus which is the main structure involved in the creation of memories about events, especially what time and place they occurred. 

Another normal memory lapse is Fading away, which involves the brain discarding old memories for new ones, and which is a fairly common reason why people start forgetting old things first, compared to new things. Usually, when a lot of time has passed after an incident, it can mean that remembering it might be that much more difficult, and usually it is fairly easy to remember what you did over the past several hours, 

Lastly, normal lapses in memory can also happen when you are Struggling for retrieval, like when you forget the name of someone you just met or forget the movie you just watched the other day, and this process usually takes place because you weren’t paying attention or when there were two things vying for your attention and one of them wins out and you remember that instead of the other thing that happened at the same time.


In this brief guide, we discussed the question “Why can’t I remember things from my past?”, as well as some other things.

Memory Lapses are quite common, and they can lead to some issues in the day to day functioning, not to mention, they can be very scary because we have seen such terrifying portrayals of what bad memory can do.

If you are not able to remember things, it can mean various things depending on who you are, where you live, how your overall health is, if you have any other problems, or even how old you are, because all these factors can signify different things.

If you are having problems with memory, or you have asked yourself “Why can’t I remember things from my past, or if you just have more questions and comments, please feel free to reach out to us at any time.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Why Can’t I Remember Things From My Past?

Why can’t I remember details of my past?

You might not be able to remember details of your past because it is totally normal to not have near perfect memory of when you were younger, and most people only remember broad strokes, while the finer details are buried deeper into the subconscious.

Much of what we do during our childhood and teenage years is meant to be procedural, which means that most of us don’t care enough about those memories enough to make them stick, so they tend to fade away.

Is it normal to not remember your past?

Yes, it is normal to not remember your past in most cases, and most people experience a general memory about random events and details over time, while their memory for facts and skills is completely normal. 

When someone is impaired in their memory in any way, they may usually have trouble remembering even the procedural things, or in forming new memories, or on the contrary they may not remember anything at all from the past. Some memory impaired people may also experience lapses in memory in the form of recounting memories in a manner that is completely lacking a first-person perspective or involving any sense of “re-experiencing”.

How far back can people remember?

People can usually remember some memories from when they were 3 to 3-½ years old, but they may not remember everything from that age either, and their memory may consist  of fragments here and there, and the memories are generally hazy.

Some research suggests that people may be able to remember things from even further back, but there isn’t enough evidence about that yet.

Why can’t I remember my childhood at all?

You might not be able to remember your childhood because you may have childhood amnesia, which is also known as infantile amnesia. Some people are not able to remember things from their childhood because they may have had attentional problems when they were younger, which means that they may not have made the memories properly in the first place.




Divya is currently a Clinical Psychology Trainee in a Master of Philosophy program and holds a Master’s in clinical psychology. She has a special interest in Personality studies and disorders, having researched the subject before, and Neuropsychology; with an additional interest being Mood disorders. She likes to write about Psychiatric issues, having worked in multiple specialty setups during her time as a clinical psychology student, and in her free time she likes to cook and read.

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