When Naomi Jacobs awoke at her home in 2008, the last thing she could remember was falling asleep the night before in the bunk beds she shared with her sister and worrying about her French GCSE like countless other 15-year-olds.
But that was 17 years ago. Ms Jacobs thought she was still dreaming when she glanced around an unfamiliar bedroom until she caught sight of her face in the mirror and saw a 32-year-old woman staring back and recoiled in horror.
Overnight Ms Jacobs, from Manchester, had been struck with Transient Global Amnesia (TGA), a form of memory loss brought on by stress that had wiped the “episodic” part of her memory.
Ms Jacobs was convinced it was 1992, that she was a 15-year-old schoolgirl and John Major was Prime Minister.
When a 10-year-old boy she didn’t know bounded up to her shouting “Mum”, she said her reaction was one of “total shock”.
She told the BBC she felt “everything from fear to joy from seeing this child that I didn’t have any memory of giving birth to, but knew undoubtedly that he was mine because he looked so much like me, to terror of having the responsibility of this small child”.
I was convinced that I was going to fall asleep again that night and wake up in 1992. It wasn’t real to me what was happening.
Intriguingly Ms Jacobs’ semantic memory – the practical part of the brain that remembers information such as phone numbers – remained intact, meaning she could still recall her PIN and even how to drive.
However, 21st-century technology, such as smartphones, confounded Ms Jacobs, who said the last mobile phone she had seen was the size of a brick.
TGA involves the sudden, temporary disturbance in an otherwise healthy person’s memory. Attacks are associated with some form of precipitating event in at least one third of cases, according to experts. Episodes are usually short-lived, and unlikely to be repeated. Ms Jacobs said she began to recover after about eight weeks.
Source: Forgotten Girl by Naomi Jacobs (Pan), out 23rd April