Infantile Amnesia: Is It Possible To Lose Your Childhood Memories?

Updated February 28, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention topics that include physical abuse, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. If you or someone you love is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline 1.800.799.SAFE (7233). Free, personal support is available 24/7.

Many of us may be familiar with amnesia, but most of our ideas about it come from fiction. In soap operas, for example, a character might lose memories due to some trauma or brain injury, only to regain them suddenly when triggered by another person or event. 

It turns out that this scenario is simply TV magic, and is unrealistic and unlikely to occur, especially as it relates to childhood memories.

Are You Curious About Your Infantile Amnesia?

Infantile amnesia is a type of memory loss that occurs naturally over time. If you've forgotten some or most of your childhood, you're not alone. This happens to most people to varying degrees. Some worry that their infantile amnesia could be indicative of severe trauma, but that's usually not the case. 

In fact, repressed childhood memories is a topic that is highly debated since one can only prove a memory has been repressed with evidence that it happened in the first place.

What Is Infantile Amnesia?

Think about your earliest memories. Go as far back as possible and try to paint a picture of each year. How far back can you go? If you're like most people, your memories likely start to get fuzzy when you try to recall anything before preschool. 

Infantile amnesia is a version of amnesia that involves not being able to remember early childhood. It's very common, and not necessarily a sign of any brain injury or external trauma. Experts believe that the amnesia is a side effect of the brain’s normal developmental process.

Infantile Amnesia And Aging

Memories of being a young child generally fade over time. A child may be able to recall their early memories much better, but an adult may have more difficulty remembering what happened before a certain age. Why is that? Do our memories fade as we age? Or do we just tend to remember parts of our lives that are more eventful?

Children start losing early memories around their preteen years. By the age of 11 or so, they are less likely to recall early memories, and as their brain matures, they seem to lose those memories completely. Some children can even forget early memories by the age of seven.

Why Do We Forget?

You may wonder why we can't remember anything before a certain age. The brain is a complex organ, and we're still learning how it functions, so there are many theories about infantile amnesia.

One of the most popular theory is synaptic pruning. To understand this concept, imagine a flower bush. When the bush becomes too big, it needs to be pruned to stay healthy and continue producing flowers. Synaptic pruning suggests that the brain has the same need to get rid of memories that are no longer necessary and make space for new ones.

The brain may remove memories if they're not needed in the present. In theory, this keeps your brain running efficiently. However, emotions also play a major part in recalling memories.

You're more likely to remember something if it had an emotional impact, whether positive or negative. Some people believe that young children attach fewer emotions to events, making it harder to recall certain memories. After all, there is a difference between a child crying out of instinct and a child crying because of emotional trauma.

Are You Curious About Your Infantile Amnesia?

Finally, infantile amnesia could be related to brain development. When a child is very young, their brain is undeveloped, which may affect how their memories are stored and retrieved. 

The science of how memory recall works is very complex and worth its own article, but our brains don't store memories the way a computer might. Instead, memories are a group of reactions coming from the brain. 

As the child grows, the brain develops, and it can be difficult to contact these memories from a previous stage of development as the brain has completely changed.

I Can't Remember My Entire Childhood – Is That Common?

It’s common for people not to remember anything before age three. If you don't have early childhood memories, there's nothing wrong with your mind, and you probably don't suffer from any trauma. 

However, some people can't remember anything, or only very limited events from their childhood before age 12. In this case, there may be some form of trauma at play. Childhood trauma can lead to dissociative amnesia, where we seal away a chunk of our memories as a defense mechanism against significant trauma.

If this describes your experience, it may be best to talk to a mental health professional. If you resonate with complete childhood memory loss, this doesn’t always indicate trauma, but they can help rule out any serious traumatic experiences so you can better understand why you can't remember your childhood.

"If you're having difficulty remembering important parts of your childhood, that may be a sign of trauma. Talking to a therapist can help you explore childhood memories in a safe and supportive environment."

How To Attempt Memory Recall On Your Own

If you're curious to recall more of your childhood, you can try the following tips mentioned below.

  • Write Down What You Do Remember

  • Pinpoint Your Triggers

To recall your memories, first try writing down what event you're trying to remember. Include as many sensory details as possible. As you create your own personal archive of childhood memories, you may remember more and more of your childhood.

Triggers have a negative connotation in psychology, but in memory recollection, triggers can be positive. Feelings, sights, sounds, and scents can trigger a memory and bring you back to a specific time in your childhood. 

Experiment with triggers like old toys or even songs to help you recall early memories. Scent in particular is our sense most strongly tied to memory formation and recollection, so try to focus special attention on utilizing scents from your childhood that may help spur some memories. 

For example, if your childhood home had a lilac bush, try smelling lilac flowers and see what pops up for you. If nothing happens, don’t worry – just keep trying other scents and utilizing your other senses, such as listening to music you loved as a child.

Get Help With Your Memories On BetterHelp

If you can't remember anything before the age of three, that's okay. It could be a sign of trauma if you're having difficulty remembering important parts of your childhood. Talking to a therapist can help you explore childhood memories in a safe and supportive environment.

Studies have shown that internet-based therapy can significantly positively affect those who have experienced trauma. A study published in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders found online therapy to be effective in reducing trauma-related symptoms

This same study found that of patients who participated in internet-based cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), 69.2% made significant progress immediately after treatment, and 77% sustained progress at a 3-month checkup.

Regardless of your schedule or location, you can quickly jump online with a therapist whenever you need support. You can work with therapists who may be outside of your immediate area, or state. Read the reviews below to learn more about BetterHelp counselors who've worked with people in similar situations.


It can be overwhelming to realize we have forgotten a lot of our childhood but there are steps we can take to recall some memories. Journaling about our childhood is a great place to start when trying to recall details. Working with a therapist through online therapy can further help with infantile amnesia by discovering potential trauma and creating a treatment plan. BetterHelp can be there for you while you revisit your childhood.

Not being able to remember childhood memories may be frustrating or somewhat scary, but it's actually very normal. If you're curious to remember more of your childhood, consider the ideas in this article or reach out to a counselor who can support you through the process. Take the first step today.

Counselor Reviews

"I have been working with Dr. Cheng for a few weeks now. She is extremely caring and patient. Very quickly she was able to identify my struggles and I feel very well cared. I struggled a lot with one on one sessions, but doing online has been quite less tiring for me. She is helping me with my anxiety and with past childhood traumas. I find that the exercises she provided me are of great use. I definitely recommend her."

" She is very easy to talk to and the feedback she provides is honest, and personalized to fit my situation. She challenges me to think about my past in a new way which is helping to address future concerns as they arise too! Very thankful to have her help and guidance!!!"

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