Hyperphantasia! The Joys of an overactive imagination

I only discovered this recently, that some people can not see images when they read. They call this Aphantasia. I was so upset to learn that so many people miss out on the magic of mental images.
I think I fall at the opposite end of the spectrum. Hyperphantasia.
I see so much when I read that it distracts me. It’s not just images though. I hear, I smell, I taste. I get so wound up in exploring another world inside my head that sometimes it takes me months to finish a book. The more I love the book, sometimes, the harder it is to read.
No wonder everyone called me a daydreamer!
I was teased as a child for living too much in an imaginary world, but that never stopped me. I never stopped being creative. Now that I’m an adult, I have a career in the film industry, Im an author, a musician and a painter. I can never get enough of the fantastical realms within my own mind. There’s nothing better than getting out those ideas and expressing them through image and sound.
I love being a daydreamer.
The main character in my upcoming book, James, is also a chronic daydreamer. Though his dreams are more nightmarish. And of course, his nightmares also have the unfortunate tendency to come true.
It’s been a while since I gave an update on my plans to publish, but I swear there will be more news very soon!
In the meantime, I’m going to just grab a book and have myself a little daydream.
Is there anyone else out there who has Hyperphantasia?

27 thoughts on “Hyperphantasia! The Joys of an overactive imagination

    1. Thanks for your reply, Mattie! It’s amazing how many views this post has had over all my others. I think there are more people with hyperphantasia than you’d think. The world is full of daydreamers who spend most of their energy fighting to to avoid daydreaming. You should try asking people you know about it, you might be surprised to find you’re not so alone.

  1. I came across this post while looking up hyperphantaia. I’m a computer scientist, but spent seven years at college / Uni studying illustration (I actually have no computer related qualifications). I too have issues with daydreaming, but I don’t just visualise images in my head; I problem solve in four dimensions. In my work, I see things from multiple angles at once and begin to dissect them into small pieces until I find the problem. I even dream solutions to issues.
    Everything has smell, texture and colour, including letters, words and numbers. I think my particular version of hyperphantasia would make me a good toy maker or 3D artist, rather than a story teller etc.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Lee! You certainly have a fascinating approach to problem solving. Yes, I know what you mean about everything having a smell, texture and colour. It can get very distracting at times just exploring the complexity and wonder in the world around us that on the surface might seem mundane or obvious. Great to hear from you, Cheers!

  2. I believe that I have hyperphantasia. One example I can give is that a few months ago, I was shopping and to occupy my mind while looking for my mother in another aisle, I daydreamed about some story I started a day or so ago. I briefly forgot about being in the store until I came to and realized how deeply disconnected I was for that short time. It felt like I was really in that alternative reality.

    I regularly make up stories to occupy my mind day and night, or even just interesting scenarios, and I sometimes physically and verbally react to someone fictitious in these stories because the imagery is so strong. Sometimes when I am not even thinking about a character I made up and my mind is quieter, I will get a sudden mental flash of a person whom I have never seen nor imagined before. The ages, clothes, hair, faces, and skin color vary, and these flashes are always quite interesting. I have joked to myself that I am seeing a glimpse of my future children and descendants.

    1. Hi Valerie,
      Thanks for this wonderful response. Sorry for my delay in getting back to you, I recently got married and it seemed to swallow my life for a while.
      This is so fantastic to hear. I always knew there were other people out there like me!
      I get so distracted by this kind of momentary mind-stories that I regularly miss what happens around me in ‘reality’. It certainly was hardest at school when I’d miss information that the teacher had explained to the class, etc. Though, I do firmly believe that it is a gift and I would never want to live without my wonderful day-dreams. Keep on dreaming I say!

  3. Very cool concept! I actually stumbled upon this article because I am the very opposite – aphantasiac. I spent my entire life not realizing that it was unusual. I always assumed when people spoke of “picturing” things they were doing the same thing I was doing, i.e. running through a clinical checklist of visual features which they had committed to memory. When I found out what aphantasia was, that I am one of them, and that most people literally can picture things, I thought, “Wow, that must be a really efficient way to think and remember!”

    One thing most people take for granted is how much of your memory is stored visually. I am very forgetful of things unless they stand out enough when I’m looking at them to make me basically say, “Remember that this house has blue shutters.” If I also want to remember that the house has white windowsills, I have to commit that to memory as another list item, separately and consciously. Most people, apparently, just remember an image of the house and can recall those and many other features with considerably less effort. NEVER take that for granted! I would LOVE to be able to store information that way!

    At any rate, I recently had this fun brainstorm for a fiction story about someone on the opposite end: they can picture things so vividly that they seem real. “I suppose that would be called ‘hyperphantasia’,” I thought, so I Googled it and found this blog post. It’s pretty awesome that there really are people who have such vivid imaginations! You’re a lucky bunch!

    If you (author) or any of your readers are willing/interested, I think it would be awesome to discuss both aphantasia and hyperphantasia with people who have experienced them, in order to help me (and maybe others!) form a better notion of what kind of fun fiction story is lurking between the two subjects. We could start an email chain, Facebook Group, or whatever people prefer.

    1. Hi Robert,
      Thanks for your reply and for sharing your story. Truly fascinating.

      It’s amazing to me that this vast difference in how people recall visual memories has been overlooked for so long, and like you say, that we all take for granted our minds processes and assume that everyone is the same.

      I think there is definitely a few great story ideas in this subject matter. This blog post gets more hits than any other, so we know for certain that there is a big interest in this out there!

  4. Hi, I believe I also have hyperphantasia, i currently am an author, designer, artist, photographer and run two businesses and am always thinking about cooking, writing, reading and anything else my brain latches onto while already working on something – i thought i was just neurotic for years. It has only been recently highlighted to me because my husband has Aphantasia, so although told as a child i was a daydreamer (i started writing books at 6), i seem to him like i am stuck in fantasy land. Literally and permanently. And he doesn’t get it. We only discovered his Aphantasia because i was trying to get him to ‘see’ what i was saying and i was trying to justify why i love reading and writing fiction. And he just couldn’t get it – and he is extremely bright and perceptive so i couldn’t work out why. My love of psychology and neurology started my brain working (and imagining) and i began to question him as if he was my test subject! I started to understand he literally doesn’t have images in his mind. He cannot visualize at all. I realised he will never get from books what i do and it doesn’t matter how i try and explain what i see in my mind, if someone doesn’t see it, they don’t see it. I can’t believe it has sat un-researched from 1880 to 2015!! It’s such a difference in ability that i want to know more…

    1. Hi Katrina, thanks for your comment. Yes it is truly a fascinating subject and I am constantly shocked how this has gone undiscovered for so long, especially since people talk so readily about other aspects of how different people perceive things. I think we’re only just scratching the surface too. There is so much to explore and unlock in the depths of the human imagination. It’s up to the ‘dreamers’ to bring their visions to life. Keep up the great creative work! 😉

  5. Hello,
    I believe that I have a bit of an extreme form, that some have tried to qualify as «maladaptive daydreaming». It takes up a lot of space in my life, and sometimes I’ve hurt myself and stuff (if my character is active in my imagination, I have actual discharge of adrenaline and starts to unwillingly move, walk or even run blindly – thought I only/mostly do that at home) but I would not trade it for the world.

    I just discovered aphantasia and I am fascinated.

  6. Yep, I think I do fall into that category, although my rational mind stops me from jumping to that conclusion without proper testing. My girlfriend has a mild form of aphantasia: she has mental images, but they seem to be really hazy at best, and more akin to a list of abstract bullet points. I was kind of devastated to hear about that, and we discovered it one day when I was trying to explain to her the mental palace technique to memorize tons of stuff easily.
    I asked her to vividly picture absurd things in a familiar place. She seemed to have lots of trouble doing so and I kind of lost my patience, thinking she was just lacking focus or motivation. But she also discovered that the best she could do was nowhere near the best I could: I told her I was able to *feel* the touch of an imaginary dress or (kind of) conjure smells, and basically have a consistent big picture of a scene (although I can channel all details at the same time: I still have to switch my focus, just like in real life).

    She’s now kind of relieve to be able to put a name on that “condition” of sorts. It’s not a big handicap, and she’s a talented artist in spite of that. She explained to me that she wasn’t really “picturing” the things she wants to model. Instead, she “aggregates” bits and details of things she has seen before. For some reason, she can easily remember shapes and colors, but not really picture them. I can’t even conceive how that works, but it does apparently.

    I have a funny anecdote to share about “hyperphantasia”, if that’s what I have. One day I was driving on a road which went through two fields of crops. The journey was pretty boring, there were no cars around, the road was pretty straightforward, so I wasn’t paying much attention. I smelled the crops and completely phazed out, picturing me where I used to spent summer holidays at the mountain (hence the smells). I can swear, I couldn’t “see” the actual road any longer, it was much stronger than your random daydream, but I wasn’t sleeping either (I wasn’t tired in the slightest). So much so that I “woke up” when I realized I was slowly missing a turn, and I got off the road and ended up in the gap between the road and a field. Luckily, it happened without any hard obstacle around, so I managed to slow down and stop.

    I’ve always been pretty prone to daydreaming, but that one time, it just scared me. Usually, my imagination is more of a perk than a handicap, though. My fantasies (sexual or not) are super vivid, and I can navigate imaginary spaces with great detail.

    1. Hi, sorry for the late reply, I have been super busy and can’t believe it’s been so long since I looked at my site! Crazy. Thanks for your comment and I am constantly inspired by how many people have the same response to this phenomenon.

  7. I’m definitely sure I have hyperphantasia in some degree… some big degree. Cause for a time I was manipulated by internal and external means to think that my dreams could be reality. I couldn’t just feel them, I could hear, feel, and taste things. Luckily with self discovery and stuff like that I was able to cope with it and separate my dreams and my reality; and good news I still use my imagination to create stories. Someday I want to write and/or draw my stories. I love this trait of mine.

    On the side note, ironically, the person I’m dating has aphantasia. Couldn’t be happier with them though.

    1. Hi, I’m so sorry for my terribly late reply, It’s been so long since I engaged with this page. Thanks for your comment. That is really interesting about your dreams!

  8. Hi: I used to think that everyone could visualize anything until I took a Spatial Reasoning test 32 years ago. Really didn’t think much of it for years although I was always testing people on their abilities. Then in 2015 there was an article on Aphantasia in the New York Times which referenced the work by Dr. Adam Zeman. That got me thinking more about it and then learned that it was the Hyperphantasia end of the spectrum that I was on. Since then just this last April of 2019 I was privileged to attend the First ever conference on Extreme Imagination (#aphantasiaconf on twitter). It was at that conference that finally there was my equivalent of a Hyper. One highlight that got a “high five”. There was so much to learn. Especially from the Aphantasics. I really recommend “Aphantasia” written by Alan Kendel @alan_ken to read. Currently I’m writing a book on Hyperphantasia. If you are wondering where on the spectrum between Aphantasia and Hyperphantasia a want to contribute to the research there are 2 test connected to the Extreme Imagination Conference 2019 at http://sites.exeter.ac.uk/eyesmind/get-in-touch/

    Living with Hyperphantasia is like being: “Untethered by the laws of physics where imagination has no bounds”.

    Richard alderman@hyperphantasiaR

    1. Hi Richard,
      So sorry for my terribly late response. Yes, I did read that article too and have been in contact with the people at Exeter. I’d be interested in hearing about your book!

  9. Hello,

    I believe I also have hyperphantasia. It’s slightly better now than when I was still a child, when I accidentally spend MOST of my time in my head that I cannot immediately tell when somebody is speaking to me. But yes, for as long as I can remember, I can easily play a whole movie inside my head and live there as a side character, for HOURS. I have lived with fictional characters in my head, had relationships with them, been with them in adventures.

    It’s not even restrictive to things I can see. I can easily conjure the feel of a soft feather through my fingers, the smell of old books and ink, the sound of a violin playing Bach’s Partita, or the taste of dark chocolate ice cream and almonds.

    Until about an hour ago, I thought everybody can do it, too. Then, I discovered aphantasia, and learned how there are people who can’t apparently do it like I easily can. It’s a bit bizarre, to be honest.

    1. Hi Carla,
      I’m so sorry for my late reply. Yes, it’s truly unbelievable that the ability to conjure any image, sound, smell and sensation isn’t available to everyone. Thanks for your comment!

  10. Yes! I have hyperphantasia, too. I am the world’s biggest pain in the ass, to watch movies with. I keep seeing continuity errors and have to rewind the movie, to check on things 🙂

  11. I have hyperphantasia. I vividly see, hear, taste, smell and feel touch in my mind.

    I can imagine or recall images with photographic clarity and manipulate them at will. I can picture and build plans and objects in my head, exploring them in 3D. I can replay memories and invent scenes, seeing them like a movie in my mind’s eye.

    I avoid disturbing content like horror or graphic violence because I prefer to not have that type of imagery in my mind. If I read or hear about a tragic or horrific event, I can construct a full representation of it in my mind. I often choose not to, but sometimes I find doing so helpful in processing and rationalising difficult information.

    I find visualising helpful with colour, too. I can see a shade, picture it in my mind, and match it with remarkable accuracy thereafter. I love colour.

    Growing up, I was constantly daydreaming, but I am able to focus on the task at hand while playing something unrelated in my head, so it didn’t get me into trouble much.

    Smell and taste are particularly strong for me. I can imagine a taste so well the experience is like having eaten that food. I generally only eat when my blood sugar gets low because I can simply imagine the taste instead. I can build flavour profiles in my mind from a recipe or menu, combining the ingredients or dishes to imagine what they taste like together.

    I can clearly distinguish between my imagination and reality. Not because the former appears less real. My brain seems to differentiate the source of what I experience: whether it originates in my mind or comes from external stimuli.

    I think my son has hyperphantasia as well. I used to think everyone’s mind worked this way but, as it turns out, my sister has aphantasia. The brain is a fascinating thing.

    1. Sorry to hear that, Leo. Though I hope it isn’t all that bad. I don’t think aphantasia prevents people from enjoying art and experiencing the world of imagination. Don’t let it stop you from creating!

    2. Many people with aphantasia are incredibly brilliant. They figure out ways to compensate, without even realizing it. While others can see and hold images in their heads, aphantasics(?) have to learn other ways to remember things. I’m willing to bet you’re one of the incredibly brilliant ones. I’ve read about artists, authors, and many other creative people with aphantasia. Sometimes, having hyperphantasia feels unfortunate. Just ask my boyfriend, when I’m rewinding part of a movie for the third time, because I discovered yet another, continuity error. What’s unique and wonderful about you, doesn’t need a cure. Aphantasia may not be what you would have chosen for yourself. It comes with its own challenges and gifts, just like everything else. But, it doesn’t have to stop you, or even slow you down, from grabbing the world by the balls ((can I say that, here?), and living fully, largely, and creatively. Sending you love!

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