How does a young, 23-year-old girl, go out for a jog and end up, three weeks later, being pulled from the water by a Staten Island ferry Captain? And she just remembers going out for the jog. What in the world could have happened to make her mind decide to dump her identity, and go for a little walkabout?
Dissociative Fugue, not to be confused with amnesia, is a rare, usually short-lived, complex neurological process whereby a person loses all personal identity, memories, and any other personal identifying characteristics of individuality. They often just take off, taking on whole new identities and jobs. They have been known to travel over many miles, countries, even continents. This condition is usually precipitated by something stressful, that is forgotten while in the fugue state, and often never remembered. It is felt the mind creates a defensive personality.
So what happened to that young girl?
People in this state often show significant distress or impairment, yet she is seen on a security camera logging onto a computer, checking her e-mail, speaking with a male student of Pace University, where she was studying for her masters degree. She'd been all over the news, yet was standing there in shorts and sports bra, just as she was reported to have been wearing when she disappeared. This was weeks later. She said, when asked by the fellow student, that she was not the missing girl...
This type of fugue was made famous by Jason Bourne, of the Bourne Trilogy, written by Robert Ludlum. But is is most often found in war veterans that have experienced trauma. It is considered psychogenic because it involves psychological factors that impinge on the neurological bases of memory retrieval, formed in the hippocampus. The memory loss is reversible, as viewed by her complete surprise in the hospital when her friends and family seemed so excited to see her. It was unclear when, exactly, she retrieved her memory, but she recognized friends and family while there. This type of amnesia is usually undiagnosed until the person recalls their real identity. Until then they just wander about, completely capable of remembering how to do routine tasks, just nothing to do with who they are. What remains a mystery is how she was able to maneuver in a city, (New York), that is not easy when one is in total control. She had no money, wallet, cell-phone, ID, nothing. Yet she ate, slept, walked until the giant blister she had either pushed her to take off her shoes, or, even stranger, to enter the water from a pier, in the night, and swim for hours to a small reef with a lighthouse. It is then believed she spent the day on the rocks around the lighthouse, then entered the water again around 11:00 a.m. the following day. Can you imagine? Entering the water at night? Black, inky, dirty, freezing water, all alone?
When they found her she was face-down in the water, and only showed any sign of life when they lifted her out. She was a mile southwest from the southern tip of Manhattan. A mile from shore, three weeks after disappearing, wearing the shorts and sports bra she wore to go out for a jog!