To study mechanisms of visual object identification in humans, event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded during successful or unsuccessful identification of rapid, serially presented words (unrepeated or repeated). We observed 'repetition blindness' (RB): more repeated than unrepeated words were incorrectly reported. ERPs from repetition-blinded words exhibited little or none of the enhanced positivity found for correctly reported repeated words, resembling instead ERPs from any unrepeated sequence initially, but only incorrectly reported unrepeated sequences later. Thus it appears that in RB an early (220 ms) neural operation that normally initiates facilitated processing from immediate repetition priming erroneously processes a repeated item as novel. This operation (possibly in basotemporal neocortex) appears to induce differential subsequent processing of novel vs repeated information.