Object Permanence: What is it? What can it affect?

I was on TikTok this weekend, and I saw a post that was reposted by a friend that made the distinction about the lack of object permanence in individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) being perfect for small flings because they don’t constantly bug their partners. It inspired me to look into what object permanence is, how the lack thereof can affect life, and so on. So let’s get into it.

According to the American Psychological Association [1], object permanence is the ability to know that objects exist even if they are not tangibly seen anymore. This ability usually develops by 8 months of age and strengthens by 18 months of age. This is a basic skill set that we all should develop within the first two years of life, so this potentially sets up an idea that issues within development could impact later behaviors in life.

For instance, trauma has a way of creating lapses in memory from dissociation. If an infant experiences trauma during this development of object permanence, it can create other issues later that involve object permanence, such as due dates for assignments or projects, relationships, communications, etc. This can also explain how ADHD symptoms can also mimic other illnesses, such as PTSD – particularly if there was, specifically, trauma that was experienced by an individual.

The diagnostic criteria of these types of symptoms usually depend on the onset of symptoms, such as when the symptoms began and other factors. So, if you struggle with remembering certain things, or if you find yourself having to keep things in plain sight to remember them, then you might benefit from speaking to a doctor or psychologist to see if you have ADHD or PTSD.

[1] American Psychological Association. (n. d.). Object permanence. In APA dictionary of psychology. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://dictionary.apa.org/object-permanence

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