Troubleshooting Guide: All The Files and Folders On My Laptop Have Disappeared


We never realize how much we depend upon our laptops to hold data until something bad happens like missing folders in Windows OS. Whether it’s the photographs of your cat, folders from work, or that important school project, finding out your files vanished is devastating. But no worries – with a bit of (digital) elbow grease, getting your files back is possible. In the best-case scenario, recovering disappeared files brings them back in one piece. In other situations, you may be successful in getting your files back but in a corrupted form.

Remember to always back up your files – use cloud storage, an external hard disk, or set up a system restore points. Windows and plenty of other operating systems encourage users to create backups of their data, which helps in recovering disappeared files. It is possible to recover missing folders in Windows using a Linux-based rescue disk as well.  This works well in case your system won’t boot.

Note: It’s important to remember – don’t save new files to the hard disk with missing files. This overwrites your old data and hinders getting your files back, especially in case of accidental deletion.

What Causes Missing Folders In Windows?

If you’re in the process of recovering disappeared files, its best to know the cause. Some reasons for missing folders in Windows include:

  • Hidden file icons
  • User accounts errors
  • A virus/malware corrupted your files
  • System corruption
  • Errors due to updates
  • Hard drive connection problem

While these reasons are due to system errors, user errors can also result in missing folders in Windows. For example, deleting the wrong partition; overwriting disk space; deleting the wrong files to free disk space; not allowing Windows to shut down properly, and so on.

Most operating systems have checks to prevent this from happening, but hey, accidents happen. Always take particular care when working with partitions. If other people use your laptop, ensure your files and important settings are safe.

Related: Troubleshooting: Bluetooth Headset Detection Failed In Windows 10

Solution 1: Restoring Missing Desktop Icons

Starting with the simplest case of missing folders in Windows: If your formerly cluttered Desktop is now barren, your desktop most likely has a case of the hidden icons. Your other files should be safe in this situation.

To restore your Desktop icons, simply open your Desktop and right-click anywhere on the desktop wallpaper. When the menu opens, expand View, click on “Show desktop icons”.

desktop icons disappear

Solution 2: Logging Into the Correct User Account

If your laptop is home to two different user accounts, check if you logged into your own. System errors can also sign users into a “temporary” account, such as after a major update that went awry. In both situations, you end up thinking that you have missing folders in Windows.

Fortunately, you may not lose files in situations like these – you just cannot access them. There are two ways to resolve this. In the first method, you simply check which account you logged into, and sign out. In the second, you look for an error message that indicates your account is temporary or has a different error.

Related: How to Resolve Memory Errors in Dell Laptops

First Method – In Case of an Incorrectly Logged Account

To see which account you logged into, follow these steps:

  • Go to Start, find the user account picture on the left above the shortcut icons and mouse over it. It automatically expands to show the user name.

change login account

Simply right-click on the user name and select “Sign out” from the menu. It takes you back to the login screen, where you can log into the correct account and see you have been successful in recovering disappeared files.

Second Method – In Case of Temporary Account/Other Account Errors After Updating

  1. Go to Start > find and launch Settings > Accounts.
  2. In Accounts, look for “Your info” section to see the profile details to ascertain they are yours (if not, log out as before), and click on “Sync your settings”.
  3. You might see one of the following messages under the screen title:

You are logged on with a temporary profile. Roaming options are currently unavailable.”

To fix this, reboot and sign in through your account. If your user account does not appear, reboot until it does. Your files and folders are accessible through your original user account.

Some Windows features are only available if you are using a Microsoft account or work account. A few fixes for this issue exist. The less drastic options involve signing in with your Windows account through either Microsoft Store or Microsoft Edge browser using settings in either app.

If nothing works, you are stuck with uninstalling the update or performing a reset of Windows. Performing a reset also provides an option to preserve your files and folders.

  • Navigate to Start and launch Settings. Open Update & Security > Recovery.
  • Here, you can find the option to “Reset this PC” – click on the “Get Started” button and follow along. You get a reset for Windows and are successful in getting your files back this way!
  • The second option below is to “Go back to the previous version of Windows 10”. However, this option is unavailable if you installed the update more than ten days ago.

recovery mode for lost folder

Related: How To Install The Windows 10 April 2020 Cumulative Updates

Solution 3: Reveal Hidden Files and Folders

Sometimes, missing files in Windows are hidden by the system. Getting files back is as simple as turning on the option to view hidden files. To reveal your hidden files, simply launch the File Explorer (Windows logo key + E), and go to the View tab, and check the box for “Hidden items” towards the right.

select hidden filers checkbox to recover files and folders

After turning on this option, see whether your desired folders are available and if recovering disappeared files is possible.

Solution 4: Scanning For Errors and Viruses/Malware

Hard drive errors or viruses and malware can result in missing files in Windows 10. First, you can scan your drive for errors. Often, Windows prompts users to scan and check a drive for errors if it has issues, but you can also do it yourself. Second, scan your drives for viruses – while some are merely inconvenient, other viruses can cause serious damage.

Scanning for Errors

Launch This PC and find the hard drive to scan. Right-click the drive icon, and select “Properties”. In the Tools tab, there is a section titled “Error-checking”. Click on the “Check” button. The tool scans your selected drive for any issues and helps fix them as well.

check disk errors for file recovery

Scanning for Viruses

You can use the built-in protection offered by Windows, or download a third-party app to scan for viruses. Some also offer portable versions, in case you can’t log into your system and must use a different PC to download it.

Antivirus and anti-malware programs to try include Bitdefender, Malwarebytes, Adaware antivirus, Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool (32-bit, and 64-bit). Once your system is clean, you can focus on getting your files back using a suitable recovery program.

Solution 5: Hard Drive Connection Problem

If your system’s hard drive is suddenly disconnected, it might be due to some issues in the hard drive slot or it might be a hard drive failure. In this case, open the case and reconnect the hard drive and check to see if the hard drive is working properly. If the problem persists, consult a technician for further help.

Solution 6: Finding Windows.old Folder After Updating

Recently upgraded and can’t find your files? You’re in luck – Windows 10 keeps a folder containing data from the previous version of Windows, aptly titled “Windows.old”. This is retained for at least a month after you upgrade.

Check the drive where the main Windows operating system resides. While this is usually C:/, some users may have installed it in a different drive. There, you will find a Windows.old folder with your old folders in it. Copy files from there to your new location.

Solution 7: Uninstall Updates

If your files are suddenly missing after a major update, try uninstalling it. Navigate to Start > Settings and select Update & Security. In the Windows Update section, click on “View update history”.

uninstall updates

Next, click on “Uninstall updates” near the top.

select uninstall updates

A new window launches, like Control Panel’s program uninstaller – except this uninstaller only lists the new updates you can delete. Select the trouble-causing update, and click the uninstall button. Check your drive to see if you were successful in getting your files back.

uninstall troublesome windows update

Note: Does this article provide the info you’re looking for? Is there any information you think of missing or incorrect? You can give your opinion in the comments section below.

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Kiran Shahzad

Kiran Shahzad is a freelancer who has been writing about travel and technology since 2018. Her interests include video games, archeology, and music. Contact: [email protected]