Trigger Warnings: Ableism. Non-detailed brief mentions of childhood abuse and incest.
Trauma and Time Travel
I used to be obsessed with time travel stories in science fiction and fantasy. From H.G.Wells’ The Time Machine, to multiple episodes of TV shows like Star Trek and Stargate SG1, time travel and time manipulation was something that beguiled me. I kept my thoughts to myself, but I knew I would do anything to make it into a reality; to go back and change the past so I was never abused.
When I was diagnosed as having Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), I realised that flashbacks were a form of time travel, and a very effective one at that. There was no Steampunk inspired device, no futuristic faster than light machines, and no way for me to control when my mind would yank me back into the traumatic past. Flashbacks were not only sights, but tastes, temperatures, and a myriad of senses that moved past the five I only thought existed. My flashbacks were in high fidelity. In one moment I would reach for a door handle, and the next I would find myself stepping into the back seat of an Austin Cambridge, travelling down the North Circular road. My journeys to the past were not flashes of memories, but slow exposures that retained absolutely everything that happened at that time. Events repeated itself over and again. I was forced to experience my fears, yet feel unable to change even a fraction of it. I was never prepared for when flashbacks would occur, and this was especially the case when it came to flashback-nightmares, when I would time travel whilst asleep.
Where C-PTSD dragged the adult me into the past without notice, Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) transported a fragment of me forward in time from the past to the present day. This fragment had never aged as I grew up. My fragments were stuck in 1972, 1984 or a nebulous slice of time, depending on which Alternate Personality came to the fore, with a different name, a different gender, and a lack of understanding that the host body is alive in the twenty-first century. This isn’t time manipulation, but a very real type of time travel that is cruel because i have little choice but to embody that part of myself as a child, with a child’s voice, vocabulary and mannerisms. My youngest Alter, Lizzie may look nothing like me, yet she is part of me, separate and often confused as to why her family are not around and so much has changed many decades later.
Dissociative identity disorder and the presence of Alters is something shown in science fiction, horror and fantasy, but which is almost always seen as a negative. The Stargate SG1 episode, Life Boat, is one of the only positive examples of a character with this condition. But a single episode can do little to counteract blockbuster films like Psycho or Split, which has caused even more stigma.
What happens when part of me refuses to grow up? How do I manage to exist when an Alter will not move forward in time for long periods, and then pop up thinking they are still in the same era they were created? Since I was diagnosed with DID, that my Alters each hold a section of my trauma that I as the host body could never manage unaided. One of the major causes of DID is long-term repeated trauma starting at a very young age. My brain was still developing when the abuse started, and it was unable to grow in a typical way. Parts of me split off and became independent, defusing bombs in my mind that had a high chance of killing me outright. With such dangerous work done by young parts of my personalities, it is no wonder they were never able to grow up with me as time passed. Instead they settled in their own pockets of time until I as the host learned to speak about the past – not only of the abuse, but of the way I knew skills I had never learned, displayed traits that made no sense to me, and how my voice would change many times over the course of a single conversation.
I had my wish it seemed; time travel and time manipulation were real, and I was part of it. I was my own mechanism for this transport. But having C-PTSD and DID are more than ways to trace the road back to the past. They are both ways to cope with trauma, and a way to cope with the threat of trauma happening again.
On occasion, I feel adrift in time and space. My host personality once surfaced when I was on a train travelling to where I used to live thirty years ago. I had no memory of how I had come to be there, but I as the host knew I had to get off the train and make my way back to my present home. Sometimes I feel as if I have lived several lifetimes, when in fact part of me was stuck in the 1970’s for over forty years. The BBC series Life on Mars comes to mind when I feel like that.
Trauma at a young age can often affect how a child’s brain develops. One of the brain’s functions is to process the passing of time. This process got rather messed up for me. As an adult I realise that my desire to change the past – to stop my parents from ever meeting, is a sad fiction. I would need to be born in order to create a way to go into the past. Plus my obsession with time travel made it so I could sidestep facing painful truths and realities that I as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse have to live with every day and with every tick of the clock hands.
Some of my favourite science fiction episodes that involve time travel and time manipulation:
Stargate SG1: Window of Opportunity
Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Far Beyond the Stars