Hyperassociativity

Hyperassociativity is the term used to describe dreams that refer to lots of different waking-life memories within one dream; it associates widely between unconnected, disparate memories. The term “hyperassociative” is quite abstract, so it’s probably easiest to illustrate it with a concrete example. Here is of one of my dreams that I think illustrates hyperassociativity well:

“There are some students in the corridor where my office is, and I’m meant to be meeting up with them and talking to them about their dissertations. I meet up with a few of them and talk with them about their ideas. I’m really late and running behind schedule so some of the students have to wait ages. They’re doing something to do with performance arts, dreams, and stroke survivors. This seems to be Sarah’s project. All the students have to do a performance, and at the end of the dream two female students are singing a song they’ve written. They’re sitting down next to each other on a sofa, singing. They’re very quiet, and they don’t have very nice voices. Next to them there’s another student, who looks a bit like my brother. I think about how maybe there are just generational iterations of people who look the same, but aren’t necessarily related. I think in the dream this guy’s name was Chris, possibly, and looked also a bit like my cousin, who is called Chris, and who also looks like my brother. The students were singing this song about how their ancestors or relatives or something lived in the Forest of Dean and the Island of Babylon. And I was sitting there feeling very skeptical, thinking, ‘how could you possibly know that?’, quite scathing / scornful / skeptical about them. It was quite painful to listen to because they had quite awful singing voices.”

Within this short dream, I can pick out at least a dozen different things from my waking life:

  • An upcoming meeting with students
  • My general fear of being late for or missing appointments
  • A friend of mine runs art classes for stroke survivors
  • Talking the night before about “whacky” dream research projects
  • Seeing Sarah last night
  • Worrying about my singing voice for an upcoming event
  • My brother, who I see regularly
  • My cousin, who I see irregularly
  • A person I went to primary school with called Chris, who I haven’t seen since I was <10 years old
  • The song “The Gates of Babylon”, which I had been listening to, and which I heard a lot in childhood
  • The Forest of Dean, a childhood memory
  • Glastonbury, where I will be going in the near future (associated with the Forest of Dean because of proximity and also with “Babylon” because of the association to “Avalon”)
  • My general scepticism, which I had been thinking about at the time
  • There is also a further association between two unassociated people from the dream because they live in the same city

These references to waking life are also hyperassociative not only because there are so many different things from my waking life within a single short dream, but also because they refer to wildly different periods of time in my life. The furthest back is a person I went to primary school with, whom I haven’t seen or thought about in at least 20 years, and the furthest ahead in time is an event I was thinking about that was about 6 months away when I had this dream.

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