If you can't see files on an external hard drive on your Mac, don't worry, it doesn't necessarily mean your files are gone forever, as there are several methods to resolve the problem through various troubleshooting steps.

We'll delve deeper into the issue of files disappearing from external hard drives on Macs, identify the causes behind it, and walk you through a few steps to recover your files and fix the issue.

Table of Content
    1. Use a Reliable Data Recovery Tool
    2. Recover Files From Mac Trash
    3. Reboot Your Device
    4. Use First Aid to Fix the Drive
    5. Unhide Your Data
    6. Send to a Professional Hard Drive Repair Service (for Severe Physical Damage)

How Can Files Disappear From an External Hard Drive on a Mac

When connecting an external hard drive to a Mac, an icon should pop up, which you can double-click to see your external drive's data. However, users often encounter the issue of files disappearing from external Mac hard drives, which can happen for various reasons. Below is a table of possible causes and explanations for why it's happening.

Reason Explanation
🗑Files Were Accidentally Deleted Everyone has made this mistake at least once. Accidentally deleting data you weren't supposed to is common, but you're not powerless in such situations. Numerous data recovery tools can help recover accidentally deleted files, even if you've emptied the Trash Can on your Mac.
🧹Files Disappeared Because of Formatting Having the wrong format on an external hard drive can cause numerous incompatibility issues, in which case you'd need to format it. However, formatting the drive also deletes everything from the device, leading to files disappearing from an external Mac hard drive. At the same time, errors where the external hard drive no longer shows files on a particular computer or asks you to reformat again, even after the device has worked for months, are also common.
⛔The File System is Corrupted Hard drives consist of sectors in which they write data and from which they pull files when you request to access them. These can sometimes become corrupted if the external hard drive is older, has been written on numerous times, or has sat around for an extended period.
👁Files Are Hidden Hiding files is a force of habit for users who handle sensitive or private data, and sometimes, it can even be done by the operating system. However, having hidden files doesn't mean that the files have disappeared from a Mac hard drive, and fixing the issue is relatively simple.
🕷Malware or Virus While not many viruses infect Macs, infection is always possible. It can happen by clicking random internet links or opening suspicious emails. The harmful software can wreak havoc on your system, causing various problems, including those that make your files disappear from an external hard drive on a Mac.
🔨The Drive is Physically Damaged Since hard drives are mechanical devices with many moving parts, they can easily break if not handled carefully. Thus, your issues might be caused by physical damage to the drive, which can happen if you drop the external HDD, hit it with something, or expose it to strong magnets.

Learning more about the reasons behind disappearing files on external Mac hard drives will help you recognize your issue and apply the appropriate solution.

How To Recover Files Disappeared From an External Hard Drive on a Mac

Disappearing files from Mac hard drives doesn't necessarily imply the files are gone forever. We've examined multiple methods to recover files that disappeared from an external hard drive on Mac below and provided step-by-step instructions for each.

Method 1: Use a Reliable Data Recovery Tool

While disappearing files can cause panic, there's nothing to fear in most situations. Whether the files were accidentally deleted, formatted, corrupted, or exposed to malware, Wondershare Recoverit for Mac make fixing the issue a piece of cake.

This hard drive recovery software provides an incredibly straightforward solution to recover files that were disappeared from hard drive on Mac.

Wondershare Recoverit
  • Recovers data from 2000+ storage media, including HDDs, SSDs, USB drives, SD cards, etc.
  • Enables recovery of data lost due to formatting, disk corruption, virus attack, and more.
  • Works with all popular file systems, such as NTFS, FAT, HFS+, and APFS, among others.
recoverit box recoverit logo

Nevertheless, we've still included detailed instructions on using it. Here's how:

  1. Connect the external hard drive to the Mac and launch Wondershare Recoverit.
  2. Select Hard Drives and Locations and click on the external device.
    select the external hard drive with disappeared files
  3. The app will automatically start scanning the external device for deleted or lost data.
    automatically search for lost files
  4. Wondershare Recoverit lets users preview data it finds, and when you're ready, you can save the recovered files by clicking Recover.
    preview and save external drive data

You can pause or stop the scan as soon as the files you're looking for have been found. At the same time, the scan will be much faster if you adjust filters for file types and sizes or add keywords to search for particular data.

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Free Download

Method 2: Recover Files From Mac Trash

There's a possibility that you've mistakenly deleted data and sent it to the Trash Can. However, since the Trash Can needs to be emptied for data to be entirely deleted, you might be in luck if you haven't done that.

In that case, you only need to open your Mac's Trash Can, select the files you want back, and restore accidentally deleted data by right-clicking on the files and tapping Restore.

Method 3: Reboot Your Device

A simple restart is a surprisingly effective solution to various software issues. Rebooting your Mac helps and may even fix bugs causing your files to disappear from the Mac's hard drive. Anyhow, it doesn't hurt to try, so do the following:

  1. Save your work and close any active apps.
  2. Unplug the problematic external hard drive from the Mac.
  3. Hit the Apple button in the top left corner and tap Restart.
  4. Once booted up, reconnect the external hard drive and check whether the files are there.

Alternatively, you can hold the power button until the Mac shuts down if it's stuck.

Method 4: Use First Aid to Fix the Drive

Mac's Disk Utility is a highly versatile tool with numerous drive-fixing features like First Aid. When files disappear from an external hard drive on Mac, it may be due to file system errors, corruption, or minor disk issues. First Aid works by checking and repairing the disk's file system, which in turn can resolve issues that cause files to disappear.

To use First Aid for a disappeared files issue on an external hard drive on your Mac computer, follow these steps:

  1. Navigate to Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility.
  2. Click View > Show All Devices.
    show all devices
  3. Click on the external hard drive on the left and then on First Aid at the top.
  4. Click Run and give the tool a few seconds. Click Done.

Although quite valuable, Disk Utility's First Aid tool can only do so much, so don't expect it to fix deleted files or formatted drives.

Method 5: Unhide Your Data

Hidden files are the least problematic cause of disappearing files on external hard drives on Mac. Fixing it is incredibly straightforward, and here's how:

  1. Navigate to Applications > Utilities > Terminal.
  2. Enter the following commands, pressing Enter after each:
    defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles YES
    killall Finder
    unhide files on mac hard drive

Alternatively, you can navigate to your external hard drive and hit Command + Shift + Period.

Method 6: Send to a Professional Hard Drive Repair Service (for Severe Physical Damage)

While an external hard drive often has a well-made enclosure protecting it from falls, physically damaging the hard drive is still possible and often the case if you're used to throwing it around or regularly dropping it.

If that's the case, software solutions will be powerless, and you'll need to take the external hard drive to a store and pay for professional repair service to save your vital data.


Although they're convenient and an excellent addition to your Mac's internal storage space, external hard drives are known to cause issues. One such problem is files disappearing from an external hard drive on a Mac.

Whether caused by mistakenly deleted files, a formatted drive, malware, hidden files, or corrupt data, the problem is relatively easy to handle. We've covered various troubleshooting steps and provided detailed instructions for each, with data recovery tools like Wondershare Recoverit being the top choice.

recoverit logo
Wondershare Recoverit
Your Safe & Reliable Data Recovery Expert
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Easily recover deleted or lost files from 2000+ storage devices like HDDs, SSDs, external drivs, USB drives, memory cards, and more. The software confidently retrieves all data types, regardless of how they went missing.

However, if you're dealing with a physically damaged external hard drive, no amount of software tools or troubleshooting steps will be able to help, and you'll need to take the hard drive to a reputable hard drive repair shop to save your vital files.


  • How do I find missing files on my external hard drive on a Mac?
    Whether you'll be able to find missing external Mac hard drive files depends on the culprit that caused them to disappear in the first place. If the files are hidden, you only need to unhide them. And if the files disappear due to deletion, formatting, corruption, or viruses, you'll need a data recovery tool like Wondershare Recoverit. However, if the device is physically damaged, you must take it to a repair shop.
  • Why do files suddenly disappear on Mac?
    Various elements might cause disappearing files. Sometimes, the cable connection can break when you move the drive – other times, it can be due to a physically damaged device. In most cases, however, these issues are caused by human and software errors like hidden or deleted files, formatted hard drives, corrupted data, and malware.
  • How to view files on an external hard drive on a Mac?
    While an external hard drive should automatically appear on the Mac's desktop once you connect the drive to the computer, there's a chance that this setting is turned off. You'll need to navigate to Finder > Preferences and ensure that Hard disk and External disks are checked under the General tab. From there on, you should see the external hard drive on the desktop. Double-clicking the external Mac hard drive will open it and show you all of the drive's files.
Eleanor Reed
Eleanor Reed May 14, 24
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