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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Fugue describes a sudden and unplanned fleeing form one’s identity, most often their home, or place of common activity. It is a condition where one does not understand or recall the reasons for fleeing, which is usually associated with a severe stress or trauma. A fugue state is a dissociative reaction to shock or emotional stress, during which all awareness of one’s personal identity is lost through their outward behaviours, though they may appear completely rational [1].
Fugue states are strange excursions of amnesia and physical fright in which the individual may be consciously, but unknowingly, escaping their own fears [2]. The traumatic events related to a fugue state are so painful that the mind shuts down―comparable to a computer, though unlike completely lost memories, individuals suffering from dissociative identity are eventually able to recollect past memories [3]. In order to recover a patient’s past experience, psychologists and neurologists have used hypnosis as a means to experiment in doing so.
When looking closer at the word fugue it is taken from the Latin word for flight: fugere [1]. In Italian, fugere defines the act of fleeing or flying, while fugare is the word used for chasing. Fleeing is the act of running away from danger; in terms of flight, fleeing is the attempt to escape to safety using flight [4].
The mystery of fugue states not only lies in why a person has lost their personal identity, but also lies in discovering the unknown danger and concern which has led them to unknowingly do so. As Brody writes, a 57-year-old husband, father of two and lawyer, left his garage and disappeared for six months [3]. It was not until he was found at a Chicago homeless shelter, through an anonymous tip on America’s Most Wanted, that his dissociative fugue was realized. Dissociative amnesia, or dissociative fugue, is still not understood completely, but as Elkhonon Goldberg, clinical professor of neurology at NYU has discovered, most if not all his fugue patients had no obvious physical cause or history of amnesia.

[1]   “fugue, n.” Oxford University Press, OED Online, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/75270?rskey=XjNHrw&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid (accessed November 20, 2012).
[2]   E. Rosen & I. Gregory, Abnormal Psychol (Philadelphia: Saunders, 1965). 241.
[3]   Brody, Jane. “When a Brain Forgets Where Memory is.” New York Times, April 17, 2007.
[4]   “flee, v.” Oxford University Press, OED Online, http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/71387?rskey=EetxKN&result=2&isAdvanced=false#eid (accessed November 20, 2012). 

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