When A 32-Year-Old Mother Woke Up Thinking She's A 15-Year-Old Teenager

Some seven years ago Naomi Jacobs went to bed aged 32 but woke up thinking she was 15. How is that possible, you ask? Read on..

Cover image via The BBC

On a spring night back in 2008, Naomi Jacobs went to bed as a 32-year-old English mother of an 11-year-old boy and a student at Manchester Metropolitan University. The next morning, she says, it was as if the last decade and a half of her life had never happened.

Image via Paul Stuart

Naomi Jacobs looked in the bathroom mirror and screamed. She saw dark circles under her eyes, hair that was short instead of long, and lines where her skin should have been smooth. When she spoke, her voice sounded “hoarse and deep”. “Oh my God,” she shouted at the face that was staring back at her. “Oh my God, I’m old!”

In a fascinating interview with the BBC today, the British national says she woke up believing she was 15, and that the year was 1992.

She had no recollection of giving birth to her 11-year-old son, and when she looked in the mirror she was convinced she was dreaming! The 2008 technology throughout her house, including her smartphone and TV, looked to her like something out of a sci-fi movie. "Everything was so alien to me. I was convinced I was going to fall asleep ... and wake back up in 1992," Naomi told the BBC.

"My last memory was falling asleep the night before in my bunk bed with my sister," Jacobs told BBC in an interview this morning. She recalls that seeing her son, Jacob, was the most mind-blowing part of those first few minutes upon waking. "Shock, total shock," she says.

"Everything from fear to joy to 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. [And] the terror of having responsibility for this small child. For the first 24 hours I was just in complete shock, and I was convinced that I was going to fall asleep that night again and wake back up in 1992. It wasn't real to me, what was happening."

And yet she hadn't forgotten everything

She could still remember things like phone numbers and her debit card PIN, and she even remembered how to drive, something she certainly didn't know how to do at 15.

What she's describing fits the description of dissociative amnesia

Image via BBC

Psychologist Christian Jarrett points out that this is a real thing called dissociative amnesia, which according to WebMD occurs “when a person blocks out certain information, usually associated with a stressful or traumatic event, leaving him or her unable to remember important personal information….With dissociative amnesia, the memories still exist but are deeply buried within the person’s mind and cannot be recalled.” Because motor memory is stored in a different part of the brain than life events, she could still remember a few things she knew by rote, like phone numbers and her ATM PIN.

This state—which ultimately lasted six weeks—was actually a bout of dissociative amnesia, a kind of acute memory loss that is said to be brought on by extreme stress. That, along with a period of illness, is what Jacobs believes caused this all to happen. She recounts the experience in more detail in her new book, Forgotten Girl.

In this way, Jacobs's experience was typical of other recorded dissociative amnesia cases, in that her memories vanished after a period of illness and personal stress, and returned about six weeks later. Now that it's behind her, Jacobs told the BBC she feels fortunate for the chance to see her adult life from a new perspective.

But, silver linings! Naomi says that the good thing about it was that the experience gave her a very interesting perspective on her grown-up life. She felt "quite fortunate, in a sense" that she'd gotten to see both her life and the world through the eyes of a teenager.

"At the age of 15, you imagine what you're going to be at the age of 32, and to wake up 17 years later and see that your life and the world hasn't quite turned out the way you expected to.... But seeing it again through my 15-year-old eyes gave me a new and fresh perspective to make the changes to ensure that it wouldn't happen again, and to improve my quality of life," she told the BBC.

So what would your 15-year-old self think of your life today?