“When you remember a past event, you are actually remembering the last time you remembered it, not the actual event. ” (unknown)
As various experiments have shown, our memories tend to evolve over time. The brain is fluid, being changed by every experience. Each time a memory arises, it may be adapted to our more recent experiences, slightly reinterpreted. Over time, we create a body of interpretation rather than an actual history.
Some have suggested that memories are stored “in the field” and it’s the synaptic wiring that gives us access to them. The brain is the receiver, as it where. As our brain evolves from newer experiences, it changes our access to old memories. As we have a tendency to “fill in the blanks”, our past gets edited that way too.
For example, if you don’t regularly compare notes with a sibling, you might be surprised at both what and how differently they remember your shared childhood.
Memories use an emotional pathway to register so things with stronger emotional content are more likely to be remembered – for good or bad.
This also means the memories we dwell on are the ones that are reinforced in our awareness. The synaptic pathways are sustained. But note that we’re reinforcing memories, not the actual event. That never returns.
One of the reasons many have few memories prior to 4 years of age is the massive synaptic pruning that happens in that age range as we shift from being sponges to functioning from the mind, prior to starting school. We thus loose access to early memories.
Our context also changes. An intellectually oriented adult may have trouble “remembering” an unfocused feelings-based early memory, for example. We no longer relate to experiences like that.
This is not to say the past is unavailable after we’ve forgotten it, only that we loose touch with it or reinterpret it on this level of functioning.
Our life often becomes a body of work we built unintentionally by our habits of thinking and what we dwell on. Living a human life is a very curious thing.