Not all children learn the same way. Some are more visual. Some are more abstract thinkers. Some want to rush ahead and learn more from context, and you have to push them to slow down and pay attention to what they are reading or they make serious mistakes. Some naturally take to phonics. Others don't. But I would argue that the ones who became excellent readers without any formal phonics training have an intrinsic understanding of phonics in the same way that some people have an intrinsic understanding of mathematics.
I would venture to bet that even though you were not taught phonics and taught yourself to read at an early age, that today you are perfectly capable of sounding out a word you have never seen before.