I've got a MacBook Pro 13" with Lion plugged into an external VGA monitor. Often, when I unplug its video dongle deal, the MacBook doesn't realize the other monitor is gone. It continues to believe it's the Secondary Monitor (which I can confirm by right-clicking the desktop and selecting "Change Desktop Background...").

There's no menu bar, so I can't get to my Display icon to Detect Displays. No, I don't want the MacBook screen to be the primary when I'm on the external.

Plugging the DisplayPort dongle back in does nothing. It won't even re-display on the external monitor it was hooked up to before, so no mirroring kludge if I forget. To this point, I hard power down and restart.

Any idea how to tell the MacBook there's no external monitor and that it's the primary now?

  • 10
    Command + Brightness Up is the keyboard shortcut for Detect Displays, but that option is gone now in ML.
    – vcsjones
    Commented Jul 26, 2012 at 14:14
  • 1
    @vcsjones he said he is on Lion, which should clear his problem! Commented Jul 27, 2012 at 0:18
  • @vcsjones -- might want to turn that into an answer. Seems to do the trick in 10.7.
    – ruffin
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 18:32
  • @ruffin Added as answer.
    – vcsjones
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 18:43
  • this is happening to me in big sur 11.3.1
    – hsuk
    Commented May 24, 2021 at 17:54

5 Answers 5


Command + Brightness Up is the keyboard shortcut for Detect Displays in Lion.

  • 11
    On my MBP with ML, It turns out that Option + Brightness-Up turns on detect displays.
    – user26557
    Commented Aug 1, 2012 at 23:02
  • 9
    Jumping into this conversation 2.5 years later (HELLO PEOPLE OF THE FUTURE) to say that this also works a treat in Yosemite.
    – Scott
    Commented Feb 17, 2015 at 15:57
  • 4
    Have been getting this in El Capitan and Option+Brightness-Up helped me to get into the Settings window (which itself was difficult before as explained by ruffin's comment). I got the option to gather all windows, but that didn't make any difference, and Mac continued to behave like there is an external monitor. I was clicking on random options to see if it helps, and when I clicked on "Mirror displays" option, my display became blank and soon Mac itself crashed.
    – haridsv
    Commented Aug 30, 2016 at 12:36
  • 10
    Is there a way to do this on a 2016 MacBook Pro that has a Touch Bar instead of brightness controls?
    – Carlos
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 16:57
  • 2
    Jumping in 6 years later...It still works in Mojave. This works like a charm!! Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 4:44

Another way to do this is by going to Displays in System Preferences and then holding down the ⌥ Option key and the Gather Windows button will turn into a button that says Detect Displays.

  • 1
    Thanks, the accepted answer isn't much help if you have a Windows-style keyboard connected...
    – James B
    Commented Sep 21, 2015 at 17:22
  • 5
    This answer is obviously working for some folk, but in my original situation, you couldn't get to Settings. You could open it, but the Mac thinks it's displayed on the now-missing "primary display". /sigh @JamesB -- Fwiw, since the question is about a MacBook, and it's difficult to take the Mac keyboard off ;^D, the accepted answer works great. Would be a pain if what I'm seeing happened on an iMac, though it sounds like you're seeing something different.
    – ruffin
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 13:55
  • 1
    I had this problem on an iMac, yes. We don't want the kids wrecking our "nice" wireless aluminum keyboard so we have a cheap Windows USB KB hooked up for day to day use.
    – James B
    Commented May 14, 2016 at 19:03
  • 1
    This works well on machines with a touch bar.
    – the
    Commented May 6, 2017 at 13:03
  • 1
    I have unplugged ant tried this, but osx still thinks my 5k is plugged in… Pretty damn annoying bug. Do I have to reboot? Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 14:29

I've had this with Mavericks a few times, and I found out that in my case changing the Rotation will trigger the OS to recognise the monitor(s) aren't there. Changing the resolution or some other action (besides obvious reboot) didn't seem to work for me.

  • 1
    Oh thank god, it works in Yosemite too. If I could buy you a beer, I would.
    – Gordon
    Commented Jun 13, 2016 at 23:57
  • Wow, this is pretty cool. Also worked for me. What a hack.
    – jontsai
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 2:54
  • 2
    I had the issue on macOS Sierra 10.12.4 on a rMBP. And this hint worked! All other hints presented in this issue failed: "Detect Displays" via "CMD + Brightness Up" did nothing. "CMD + Brightness Down" showed the external screen content on the internal screen, the same keystroke again switched back to internal display. System Preferences > Displays: Hold down ALT so that the button "Gather Windows" change into "Detect Displays" and then clicking it, also failed.
    – porg
    Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 8:10
  • Nevertheless the discrete GPU remained active, and only a restart switched back to integrated graphics.
    – porg
    Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 23:15
  • This works on the High Sierra beta as well (in my case it's a HDMI monitor). Commented Aug 16, 2017 at 0:14

None of the other options worked for me on my El Capitan MBP, but putting it to sleep and waking it up immediately worked like a charm.

  • 1
    This has been my workaround, however 30% of the time the Macbook doesn't wake up (must power cycle) and I lose all my SSH sessions, and have to recover unclosed vi sessions. My company issues us 13" laptops for development (Mac or PC), but I'm about ready to use my own money to buy a 17" Lenovo running Ubuntu (at least then, it'll also fix my terminal hotkeys like control-d back-word navigation) Commented Jan 21, 2017 at 15:24
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    This solution no longer works on Catalina :( Help pls! Commented May 4, 2020 at 19:27

I've had a similar issue, (though I'm using the HDMI port on my 13 inch MacBook Pro Retina to run my external monitor - the overheating and wifi interference hassles with Thunderbolt that drove me to use the HDMI port are for another thread...) and have, thus far found that powering down the monitor I'm using (a Dell 4K HD powered by a 110 appliance plug) then waiting a minute or so before unplugging the HDMI connector from my MBP usually sends the right message to the computer and gets me back to the single screen.

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