Time Distortion, Dissociation, and Memory Loss

One of the more interesting symptoms/resultant effects of my mental illness(es) is time distortion, and since it’s both interesting and currently running in high gear, I thought I would discuss it and share a bit of my experiences with it.

Tl;dr: I’m a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey.

Time distortion is a well named symptom, in that it hardly needs a wordier definition to understand the basic premise. The way the individual with time distortion experiences the passage of time gets distorted. This happens in a nearly infinite variety of ways, but it’s also a psych symptom that is easier to understand and relate to for the general populace than most other psych symptoms, because even mentally healthy experience it to a lesser degree.

Examples of time distortion for a “mentally healthy” person would be things like how, when you’re a child, Christmas Eve seems to take weeks to go by, as if your eagerness for Christmas morning actually slows time down (or speeds time up, thus slowing you down, depending on how you look at it). For adults, the last hour of the workday is another good example, as the clock creeps so… fucking… slowly toward clock-out time. Many people who smoke marijuana, especially if it is occasional or recreational use (regular or frequent pot smokers tend to experience it less regularly or severely), will experience a more extreme form of time distortion than the kid on Christmas Eve or the work examples; when they are high, they can look at a clock, do something else for what seems like hours, and then look back at the clock and see that only 5 minutes have passed. I know a few people for whom psychiatric drugs or pain medicines produced similar effects. Perhaps the most fundamental example would be how even when you sleep for 8 hours, you don’t experience those 8 hours at the same speed you experience 8 hours of work or 8 hours of recreational time; you know that time has passed, but how long it felt like it took to get from going to sleep to waking up changes from night to night.

For me, I have some memory problems that either work in conjunction with time distortion or are the result of having such an extreme form of time distortion. I honestly don’t know which it is in my case. Multiple diagnoses exist which include both time distortion and memory issues, and combined with my own experience, leads me to believe there is some kind of link between the two. Both symptoms separately and together have a lot of overlap with Dissociation or Dissociative states as well.

Dissociation, looked at from a linguistics only standpoint, would be the opposite of association. Association, fundamentally, just means a connection between two things, like how dog and cat are associated because they are both mammals and house pets, or how you are associated with your colleges at work even if the only association with them is having a common employer. So, dissociation would be a disconnection. In that sense, it is also aptly named; it is an experience of being disconnected from something. Sometimes it is a feeling of disconnection from reality, your body,from the physical world, or from your own emotions or self. The sensation and feelings of the person experiencing dissociation of course varies widely, as everyone who dissociates does so in their own way. But the principle always boils down to a disconnection, from something that you are normally or were previously connected to, and that is a jarring thing regardless of how it presents itself.

Having all three of these symptoms, the best way I have found to explain their interaction is this: when I dissociate, my disconnection from the world results in extreme (sometimes panicked) involvement with my mental world instead of the physical, tangible one. When I do this, I’m often unaware of it starting, and only realize that I had phased out when I come back from what I thought was a few second daydream and discover that an hour has passed. I wasn’t blacked out or unconscious for an hour, rather, the hour is hazy, and hard to remember in terms of what happened during it because for me, I was mentally disconnected from the world, with nearly all my focus directed inward. The result is something akin to driving home from work and realizing that you don’t actually remember the details of the drive itself; you clearly were engaged with reality enough to have steered the car and made the proper turns to get home, but you don’t have a clear memory of actually doing so. Since the memory is hazy, and you only remember a few notable moments of it, what you did and where you were mentally is jumbled and hard to put in the right order, so you have to try to fill in the gaps using the few notable goalposts along the way and deduce from there to try to remember it in a more linear (and hopefully correct) fashion.

This would probably just be a mild nuisance if it was an experience that was usually reserved for driving home from work. Except for me, it’s my entire life, as if time is constantly in flux between contracting and expanding. The more I dissociate, the more time I essentially “miss”, and then have to reconstruct later into a cohesive memory built from the tiny snippets of reality that managed to get through to me during the dissociative episode. Scarier, the way that it screws with my memory means that I lose much more time than a mentally healthy person would lose during a daydream, because even the realization that I am zoned out and need to fight to tune back in can be forgotten in the murkiness of it, and as soon as I have identified that I’m dissociating, that knowledge can disappear from my mind as if it had been erased. Occasionally, in a brief moment of lucidity, I have had to write myself a note to remind myself that I was losing frighteningly large chunks of time, without consciously being aware of it.

Almost exactly like this particular monster from Doctor Who, actually:

I guess the reason that I’m writing about all this now is because it’s really bad right now. Earlier today, I mentioned to my mom in front of the sub that something I was telling her about happened yesterday. The sub had to point out to me it had actually been 3 to 4 days ago, not 1. As I thought on it, I realized that he was right: I remembered my son had stayed home from school after the event I was telling my mom about, but had to confirm which day it was using my phone’s call log. I thought he had stayed home two days ago, before the event, when he actually had stayed home yesterday, multiple days after the event.

I’m still piecing together the intervening days, because I was conscious and experienced that time. Since my memories aren’t like rewinding a tape and are more like setting an audio book set to play each chapter on shuffle, my “final draft” memories are part memory, and part deductions based on tangible, known events during the time frame in question.

The other reason I am writing this now is because it is bad enough at the moment (or month, since I apparently can’t tell the difference) that I felt the need to write myself a lucid note, as I have in the past, because I will most likely soon forget the full blown realization of how bad of a place I am in. This is my note, or, like the video clip above, the hash marks they draw on themselves so they can remember having encountered a member of “The Silence”.

A lighter example from pop culture might actually be from Harry Potter, when Neville Longbottom gets a “Remembrall” that glows when it’s owner has forgotten something important. Being rather absent minded (at this point in the novels, anyways), his Remembrall is always glowing, and while it might succeed in telling it’s owner that they forgot something, it doesn’t tell them what they forgot. So Neville spends a decent part of that book basically getting more and more frustrated as he tries to remember what the Remembrall is telling him that he has forgotten.

We all forget where we put our keys, or have the occasional day where we wake up, realize “Shit, it’s garbage day”, and have to rush to get the cans to the road in time. Even in the most mentally healthy people, memory is a malleable thing, and everyone is prone to forget things sometimes. My experience doesn’t feel like forgetting; it feels like my memories are redacted regularly by an unseen editor. And I’m left to grapple with the mess of disordered memory fragments, expected to fill in the blanks left by the redactions.

So, Anon, this is past you reminding future you that you are losing larger chunks of time, and are having so much trouble addressing that problem because you keep forgetting the problem exists. This is your reminder. Maybe you can do something with that reminder, even though I can’t seem to right now.

I hope and believe that we can find a solution, Future Anon. Just don’t give up.

An Anonymous Outsider – The Present Day Version

11 thoughts on “Time Distortion, Dissociation, and Memory Loss

  1. This has to be frustrating and scary for you. Thanks for sharing with us. It’s informative. I’ve forgotten people and memories with them a lot. It’s embarrassing to say the least. Feels like strangers know me & have these fun memories of us & I don’t remember. I feel like I’ve been robbed sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My aunt suffers as you do. I remember asking her if she knew it was coming, the way I can feel when my ocd is about to kick in. She said she does…. Until she doesn’t and then it’s too late. The longest lost time she had was 3 weeks. Honestly I wish we could forget those weeks as she did.
    I have to say….for someone with these problems, you really are a rock for those around you. Thanks

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I was completely unaware of this so thanks for explaining in so much detail.
    I can’t imagine how it must feel when you realize you’ve lost days and can’t account for them. But you seem like a strong person and I’m sure you’ll get through this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This struck a chord with me. Since the ninth grade my memory seems to be getting worse and worse. I used to pride myself on having a great memory, but lately I can’t even remember what words I want to use (it happened just now, with “great”, actually; I didn’t want to use “great” but I couldn’t think of the right word…exceptional! That’s what I wanted! And I hope I don’t sound snooty saying that about myself). I’m thinking I should go back to therapy, it seems I keep finding things “wrong” with me. But I’m scared because I had a really negative experience with my last therapist, and my parents don’t exactly have thousands of dollars to spend on me. I’m not even sure what I would tell the therapist if I went, anyway. But I guess it’s nice to see that I’m not the only one with a weird memory.

    Liked by 1 person

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