Autobiographical memory, the sense of recollection and executive functions after severe traumatic brain injury

Cortex. 2007 Feb;43(2):176-95. doi: 10.1016/s0010-9452(08)70474-x.


Residual disorders of autobiographical memory long after trauma resulting from head injury are rarely assessed, even though they may affect social adjustment and the resumption of daily life. We conducted a thorough study of autobiographical memory in severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients, examined at least one year post-trauma. Twenty-five patients were submitted to a novel and controlled autobiographical procedure specially designed to measure episodic memories (i.e., unique, specific in time and space, and detailed) from their entire life span with two kinds of self-remembering experience. The ability to mentally travel back through time and re-experience the source of acquisition, i.e. autonoetic consciousness, was assessed via the "Remember/Know" paradigm and a checking procedure of sense of remembering. Self-perspective in visual imagery, which is also critically involved in episodic recollection, was assessed by the "Field/Observer perspective" paradigm. In addition, the patients underwent a battery of standardized neuropsychological tests to assess episodic and semantic memory, orientation and executive functions. The results showed that the patients, compared with healthy controls, were significantly impaired in recalling episodic autobiographical memories. This impairment was not related to the life period tested or the patients' ages nor the intellectual impairment. Deficits involved disturbances in sense of remembering, visual imagery self-perspective and recollection of spatiotemporal details. Stepwise-regression analyses carried out in the TBI patients revealed a significant relationship between an abnormal sense of remembering and executive dysfunction covering both anterograde and retrograde components. The novel assessment used in this study provides the first detailed evidence of a more fine-grained deficit of autobiographical memory in TBI patients. Indeed, the results suggest that these patients, long after trauma, present autonoetic consciousness and self-perspective disorders, which include sense of identity (the self) as a continuous entity across time, probably related to frontal dysfunction.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain Injuries / complications*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Consciousness / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Matched-Pair Analysis
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Memory Disorders / physiopathology
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Self Concept*
  • Self-Assessment
  • Time Factors