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Losing Time: The Insidious Nature of Dissociative Amnesia

Nothing about Dissociative Identity Disorder is quite what the most popular phrases used to describe it imply. “Losing time” is no exception. When we talk about losing time we’re talking about severe dissociative amnesia which, in a milder form, is something I believe everyone experiences. But the phrase “losing time” suggests a highly dramatic, easily recognizable aberration. In my experience, however, dissociative amnesia is startlingly surreptitious. It’s easy to be unaware that you’re losing time at all.

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Dissociation is not always the worst case scenario you may mistakenly think it is. It runs along a continuum. Most of us experience mild symptoms of it in our everyday life, like Alice, the travel consultant, who loses all track of time when she becomes engrossed in a good book – a mild form of amnesia.

- The Stranger in the Mirror, by Marlene Steinberg and Maxine Schnall

What Does Losing Time Look Like?

A guest stayed at our home for several days recently. My partner and I were chatting about recent events last night and she referred to the day our guest left … five or six days prior to the one I was sure he departed on. As we discussed the timeline in more detail, it became clear that I’d lost about a week of that particular stretch of time. These dissociative memory problems happen regularly for me and have for as long as I can recall. And prior to my Dissociative Identity Disorder diagnosis, I quite genuinely thought other people were chronically confused. It never occurred to me that I might be losing time in part because it just isn’t the most likely scenario; but also because my concept of dissociative amnesia was rather farcical. I thought losing time looked like coming to in a hotel room far from home with a stranger in my bed. And while I’m sure that can and does happen, I’ve since learned that dissociative amnesia often camouflages itself so well that, until you spot the seams, it doesn’t look like anything at all.

How Do You Know When You’re Losing Time?

If I’d spent my life waking up with strange people in strange places I might’ve known I had Dissociative Identity Disorder much sooner. As it is, I lived with severe dissociative amnesia for almost thirty years before anyone – friends, family, co-workers, therapists, and most notably I myself – spotted anything out of the ordinary. Without external evidence butting up against my perceptions of reality, there’s nothing to clue me in to the fact that I’ve lost time at all. Had my partner not mentioned the date of our guest’s departure, I would never have realized I’d missed those five or six days. Dissociative amnesia is far more insidious than most people realize. And in my experience, the only surefire way to know you’re losing time is if you happen across clear evidence that directly contradicts your memory. Otherwise, it’s remarkably easy to miss what you’re missing.

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16 Responses to Losing Time: The Insidious Nature of Dissociative Amnesia

  1. Lenore says:

    This has been my experience, also. When asked if I was losing time, my answer was always no. I thought dissociative amnesia would have more of an “I don’t know who I am or where I came from” feeling, so I didn’t think it was happening to me. If you would ask me to account for my time, I was sure I could. Then I would find out that I did or said something & I couldn’t remember it. It makes me wonder how much time I actually lose that is never noticed.

    Glad to see you back Holly…missed you!

  2. chariots says:

    I’ve ….. hmm… losing time. Ya – I kinda thought it would be like waking up in another state and not knowing where you were too. But for me – its… well I usually know when I’ve switched, I often feel it happening, feel myself fading or dropping back. Feel the head pain. And after several minutes – or what seems like forever – eventually I may hear another voice coming out of me. At that point I may lose track and not know a lot about what’s happened later. But in general I can usually account for where I’ve been or what I basically did. So did I lose the time? I guess I lost it, in that I wasn’t “there” – but I had some awareness at least.

    But it’s true – I have had it happen many many times where someone says “hey remember this or that?!” And I have no idea what they’re talking about. Yet this person is telling me I said this or did that. So…… hmm….. ya I think I have lost a lot of time really.

  3. Pilgrim says:

    for me a lot of times its a “how did I get into this room?” “what am i doing here?” kind of thing. ALL the time. “Wasn’t I just at ____?” “how long have I been sitting here doing this?/at the store/in the house?” I am perpectually confused.

  4. castorgirl says:

    This line really jumped out at me – “I’ve since learned that dissociative amnesia often camouflages itself so well that, until you spot the seams, it doesn’t look like anything at all.” This is what a majority of my time loss is like. At times I get the “whoa, how did I end up here” thing, but that’s usually associated with rapid, trigger switches.

    There’s also the issue, that because it feels so “normal” and as if no time has been lost, that you really don’t look at it closely. For the last month I’ve been super-functional at work, and that is all I remember. I don’t know what was happening outside of work, but then that didn’t really worry me. If I was pushed, I’d come up with stories about going down to the lake, or reading a book… I’ve got no way of knowing if that is what I was doing, as I have no tangible attachment to the activities. I’m not all that attached to work either, as I have little awareness of what’s been happening from day to day… well even from hour to hour. It’s all about doing what is needed to get through the next moment.

    It feels confusing if you look at it, but there’s no motivation to look. It’s all about protection.

    Take care,
    CG

  5. Holly Gray says:

    @chariots I also experience what you described … not being present but still having awareness that time has passed and a general sense of what has happened during that time. I refer to those experiences as time slipping, rather than losing time. For me the difference between the two rests mainly on the fact that with the former I’m aware time has passed and with the latter it’s as if no time has passed at all.

  6. Poser says:

    Interesting how this subject comes up now, as my therapist and I were just discussing it…or was it that recent?!?! My view is that for as along as I can remember, I can watch the beginning of a movie, leave the room, come back at the end of the movie, and still be able to put together what happened in the middle of the movie without having actually watched it. I do this by rapid assessment of what is the current situation. Without realizing it I can look at minor things like dark or light outside, calendar, clock, clothing, placement of objects, where I am, etc to determine what has happened and what is expected of me. Time passing without me in it never seemed an issue until I realized I do this. I mean, doesn’t everyone? Has time actually passed or did I just blink? Time camouflages itself as life.
    Poser

  7. yakusoku says:

    This is so relieving to me. I have been working with a potential DID diagnosis for about a month. I finally got the courage to ask him when he started considering the possibility, because I get a lot of internal accusations that I am somehow engineering, faking, making it up, lying, etc. So, I thought it would be nice if he noticed it before I did, so I didn’t feel like I had “convinced” him of something untrue. He said he noticed it about 8.5 months ago, about one month in, but when he asked me about losing time, I answered negatively (without a second thought at the moment, assuming he asked everyone that question), so he put it away until more obvious stuff started. I have had a couple of startling experiences since then that are obvious, but looking back, I can see that most of my experiences of “time loss” would not be noticeable to most people.

    When I was doing admin work, I would think about something stressful and suddenly find I had entered 30 minutes worth of time cards in the computer without remembering it. I would have to go back and check them, because I couldn’t believe I had done them, but they were almost always perfect. I assumed it was an “autopilot” thing everyone does. Same with finding myself in rooms without knowing how I got there, huge amounts of highway hypnosis, faking understanding in conversations, because I wasn’t “there” to hear what was being discussed. I call these things being distracted, zoned out, blank outs. The words “time loss” sound like something so obvious, so different than what I’ve experienced. Because he asked and I said no and then started “noticing” these things months later, it made me feel like I had somehow created these experiences.

    This was really helpful to me feeling like the reality is these things have happened for YEARS, but they were so subtle, easy to pass off. Honestly, even if you don’t remember writing a particular text message or completing some sort of work, but it is something that “sounds” or seems familiar to you, something you WOULD have done…it is easy to just ignore it. I thought time loss had to be something so obviously out of character that it was unmistakable as anything else.

  8. Paula says:

    I was diagnosed with dissociative amnesia (linked to PTSD) several months ago when I was made aware of a date that I had gone on. The guy I went on the date with told me about it after IMing me and having me respond with “who is this?”. After he stopped believing that I was joking around, he told me about the date and when he did I got 2 snapshots in my head which seemed familiar in a dream-like way. I could then also remember that though I couldn’t picture his face, I knew I was irritated with him during the date and that I thought he was spectacularly stupid. I have no recollection of anything else, however, and no other details have come back to me.

    Since then, my memory lapses have become more frequent and even more alarming. As was mentioned in the article, the illusion of time passing normally without any gaps disguises this disorder until you are confronted with indisputable facts.

    Last week I went to a courthouse that I [thought] I had never been to before to make payment arrangements for a traffic ticket. When I told the woman behind the counter what I needed she looked at me oddly and told me I seemed very familiar and that she thought she had already helped me with this matter. Of course, I knew she was mistaken…until she produced a document outlining the payment arrangements we had made with my signature and the date at the bottom. I then asked her who I was with at the time and she said I’d come alone and that I’d seemed distraught.

    Though I had already been diagnosed, until the courthouse incident I had believed that my forgotten date was an isolated incident. Learning that I had actually looked up an address, driven there, interacted with someone and signed my name to a form all without any memories whatsoever really scared me. It also made me realize that all of my arguments about things I had or hadn’t done were related to these bouts of amnesia and not just falacies made up by other people.

    Now I live in fear, not knowing when or where I’m going to slip away…or when I’ll come back. I do see a therapist as well as a psychiatrist, but neither has any experience with this type of thing so I’m looking for someone who does.

    As a side note, I’ve also had many episodes during which I can’t remember anything at all about myself. Nothing around me looks familiar and I have no idea who anyone is (including myself). It’s terrifying. Sometimes it only lasts a minute or two, but I have had it happen for much longer as well.

    I’m sure the 2 are related but I’m still very confused by it. I don’t know what the trauma I experienced was that could have caused this to happen. I have been under a great deal of stress, mostly financial, for several years now. Could that be causing these things to happen?

  9. stuart says:

    just wondering if anyone has a similar experience to the following.. Have been with my partner for 12 years now… there has always been something not quite right that I couldn’t put my finger on.. We would feel really close and then she would seem totally distant. Emotional conversations would be had about moving our relationship forward and then nothing would happen. What we have discovered recently is that all emotional conversations we have get erased..This is not just an occasional memory lapse but seems to have been going on for years – way before we met. When we are having the conversations she appears to be totally engaged but the next day they have vanished..

  10. Tina haf says:

    I also loose time, but its getting to the point of being dangerous. I loose blocks of time, i dont know what happens during the lost time. I have to deal with the time i come to, and put into a new sutuation that i have no idea how i got there, its tough compensating for the new place i’m in. Yesrerday, i came to and had to swere from hitting the car that suddenely appeared before me, i’ve
    stopped driving, because i have no control when i blank out, very scary,

  11. danni says:

    I have never read heard anything I related to more than than what you said Paula. I live in fear. I just started work again and it has been more than I can handle. I have a weak if not non excitant support system. I have been losing hours of time at work and even more so at home now that I started my new job. I cant tell people about it because they don’t believe me. I have had this most of my life I think but it became much worse when my PTSD started. People often get mad at me for not remembering key moments or remembering to do things.I never remember movies and once even forgot one of my old roommates had a cat. I lived with the cat for months. The stress has been getting so bad I can hardly hold down a job because of my black outs. I have been numb and losing time for days. Any stress can make it worse. In my case there is nothing in my life that is not stressful and my illness makes it hard for me to fix my situation. I have been seeing a doctor for about a year now. It has helped me some but done nothing for my lose of time. I have been fighting hard with DBT classed a shrink and therapy. No matter what I do I cant end these blackout. Does it ever get better?

  12. Wolf says:

    I still sometime lose track of time, the last really bad time was about four years ago. I awoke to find myself fully dressed in my street clothes, with no memory of what I’d done, where I’d gone, or if I’d interacted with anybody. For the rest of the day I dreaded it every time somebody drove by the house or if they drove by slowly. To be truthful, I was afraid I’d gone and done something with someone else. I was in a bad marriage at the time, and it was coming closer to the end of the ride. There were times I’d zone out and I’d find myself flirting with some woman, and she was flirting back. I’d snap out of the zone mode and excuse myself promising to be right back but I never return. There were times someone would call me by a different name, and I’d be like Huh, Sorry but my name is. . .They look at me and say, my mistake, but you sure look like him.
    Okay so was I maybe sleep walking and maybe dreaming. I don’t know about many of you, but I think that D.I.D. is a load of crap. Something to excuse behavior of others.

  13. rabidwolf6110 says:

    I still sometime lose track of time, the last really bad time was about four years ago. I awoke to find myself fully dressed in my street clothes, with no memory of what I’d done, where I’d gone, or if I’d interacted with anybody. For the rest of the day I dreaded it every time somebody drove by the house or if they drove by slowly. To be truthful, I was afraid I’d gone and done something with someone else. I was in a bad marriage at the time, and it was coming closer to the end of the ride. There were times I’d zone out and I’d find myself flirting with some woman, and she was flirting back. I’d snap out of the zone mode and excuse myself promising to be right back but I never return. There were times someone would call me by a different name, and I’d be like Huh, no my name is. . .They’d look at me and say, my mistake, but you sure look like him.
    Now was I maybe sleep walking and maybe dreaming. I don’t know about many of you, but I think that D.I.D. is a load of crap. Something to excuse behavior of others.

  14. Samantha says:

    I’m beginning to think I might have something like this occurring.

    My ex-boyfriend used to call me and ask about how “yesterday” was because my parent’s would have a fight. I would have no recollection of it and he’d have to explain to me what occurred. I didn’t believe him for the longest time, until he was able to prove that I would call him in tears, detailing a horrific fight with my parents, sometimes resulting in me being physically abused, and the next day I wouldn’t remember it. It truly makes me wonder how many events of this nature have occurred throughout my lifetime that I honestly don’t remember.

    Now, time differences are more noticeable. For instance, last night I was asked by a friend where I was, and I answered that I had been with Johnny at a party. She looked at me oddly and said, point frankly, that that party was two days ago. I sat down and had to calculate what day it was and how far back and when the party was supposed to be for me to realize she was right. I had literally forgotten two days worth of time, and even now, I have no recollection of what occurred.

    These are just the incidences people have caught.

    It truly makes me wonder how many more have occurred that I don’t know about because I don’t remember them happening and I don’t have anyone around to contradict what I inaccurately remember happened.

    It’s really scary to think about.

  15. Liddy says:

    I have called to my attention 2specific instances where I seem to have lost time in seconds. A couple of weeks ago i was walking across the reception area and 4 different employees all agreed that I was whistling a christmas tune and I swore up and down that I was not doing that, as I can barely whistle and that is some thing I NEVER do. I thought they were all just teasing me, but they all said they heard me and all named the same Christmas tune. Last night I was awakened by my cell phone by the bed which was hooked up to the charger, so I absolutely know it was on the table, my husband verified it. This morning my alarm went off I got up grabbed my robe and went and drank my a.m. Coffee. As i went back to my bedroom i felt something weighing down my robe pocket and it was my cellphone. I have had instances in the past where if I forgot something or did it in “robot mode” i could think back and remember having done the behavior, but this time it was a COMPLETE BLANK. I know I would have had to wrestle with the phone to get it off the charger, so I know I would have remembered doing that after thinking back on it, but it was a complete shock to me to find the phone in my robe. I have also had instances where my husband swears up and down that he has told me something and I will argue to high heaven that he didn’t. It is different than the usual kind of arguments in the past as I believe that I have functioned at A pretty efficient level (I was tested in school many years ago and was told I have an IQ of 129) so when I have argued with him I could provide supporting evidence and then my spouse would back down after remembering the conversation. This has been very different in that he is very adamant and will describe to me where we were and the conversation we had and I have an absolute blank about it. This is such a different experience for me, so much that I am questioning my sanity…hence I googled “losing time” and came to this page. Could this be a part of what you are describing on this site?

  16. Angela says:

    I have been diagnosed for many years with DID and a few others. I haven’t thought that I had problems with it over the last few years, but as I read these comments my sudden black out, time slips, memories have been progressively gotten worse..I had a huge blackout the other night and again making me wreck my vehicle. I haven’t had episodes like this for about 12 years….I just hate that the doctors want to try a bunch of meds…I’ve been through them all. Treating my adhd and ptsd seem to keep my blackouts at bay. Unfortunately I haven’t treated anything for a while (no insurance)..so im convinced that and my current stress levels have brought them back…worse than ever.

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