I'm very interested in dreaming and have pretty good dream recall. This makes me able to recall and distinguish hundreds of experience within my memory and label them as "dreams". I'm trying to understand if there's indeed some feature of a dream memory that makes it different from an ordinary waking memory?

Upon reflection on my personal experiences, it appears to me that when I recall a waking life memory, typically the process is two fold and sequential - first recall the scene then recall the action and combine the two. For example: I was sitting in a room at a local hackerspace + I was talking to fellow hackers there. I can then proceed to try to recall pieces of that conversation. This process seems sequential to me.

However, when I recall the dream memory, it seems that I recall both place and action at the same time, together, with a typically longer sequence of events all recalled much quicker. For example: I was locked in a room with no exit and has created a portal in the wall to escape from the room, flying out of a portal in some other location. These events are recalled all together, in less than a second, and are clearly identified as a dream along with the recall. The content of that dream, although clearly non-real is similar to a video game called "Portal" that I played on a computer in the waking life. I can recall the waking life expeirence of playing that game, although in a linear fashion.

Has there been any brain imaging studies or other evidence that supports the idea that the recall of dreams is different from the recall of waking life experiences?

  • $\begingroup$ You seem to be describing episodic memory- there are other types/memory schemas. So, it stands to reason that you are recalling the activity of dreaming, and getting the dream itself in the process. The question you might ask is: are dream memories episodic, or something else? $\endgroup$
    – theMayer
    Commented Feb 28, 2014 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ I've looked up episodic memory, and the two seem similar. Surprisingly, the article says nothing about the action recall in episodic memory en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Episodic_memory $\endgroup$
    – Alex Stone
    Commented Mar 3, 2014 at 16:28

1 Answer 1


Daytime conscious experiences come from our sensory organs. At any given moment, these organs split the incoming information between millions of neurons which then transport the info back to the brain. The info is processed in the sensory cortices, and then REASSEMBLED. This explains your "divided" experiences during the day. At night the conscious dream experiences come from memory where most of the information is already reassembled (consolidated). THAT is, I believe the difference.The other difference is in the attention we pay to the experiences. During the day whatever we pay the most attention to- is remembered best. At night, we are not making conscious attentional choices.

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    $\begingroup$ This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Commented Feb 21, 2018 at 4:55

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