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Hi! I’m Johnny Profane.
Welcome back to Autistic As Fuck Out Loud podcast.
If you’re autistic, love one, work with some… or just can’t figure out if you are one…
Chances are you’re no stranger to spacing out…
Most autists do it… to survive boring conversations, family get-togethers…
Least, that’s my dissociation. From mild… to stranger than Stranger Things.
Mebbe it’s NOT part of autism. Just my oldest defense… AGAINST an autism-hostile world.
Not part of your experience…? It might get you thinking about your own.
This is part one of a series and I call it: “Imaginary Friends? This Autistic Kid’s Bestie… Dissociation.”
Cuz it was.
One of you asked, “How’d you survive… being in the situation you describe?”
My four best childhood friends…
Delusion. Denial. Distance… And the one I wanna tell ya about today… Dissociation.
Simply retreating… mentally… from what… and who’s around you to save your sanity.
Here ya go…
Article continues below…
NOTE: Some autistic & ADHD folks process reading better, some listening… some both at once. So I include a transcript, podcast, and “pretty” captioned video below. #InclusionMatters.
So I’m sitting across the desk from Doc Anderson. Bay Area. Plush office. Walls of books. Ferns. Lotsa leather & wood. Hushed. Dim lit.
Like a cross between a library… and a boujee bar.
He’s the psychiatrist I’m seeing… Cuz… first of 3 marriages is expiring. About 3 years past its Best-Before date…
And I can’t deal.
Pretty sure, this is 1996. I’m 43. And a flaming… if yet-to-be-diagnosed… autistic.
Third session. Finally starting to open up…
“I dunno. My wife’s kinda freaked out.” This is hard. I’m so tired. “Says she seen stuff like this. Like during her student teaching.”
“Kids who act like I do, I guess. She says schizo… or autistic, mebbe. I dunno… I don’t know what she’s talking about… I still work. Lately… mebbe I have to rest after an hour or so…
“And if there’s one thing I’m not… It’s reBLEEPed.”
Out of the corner of my eye I catch him wince.
Please excuse my brutal ignorance at that time. I really did use the shameful R-word.
I plunge on…
“For g-dsake, I did an Ivy League grad school. Yeah… I stare off into space a lot… Even when someone’s talking to me.”
I pause a second. Cuz there’s stuff that’s weird… And parents & teachers taught me long ago to hide the Weird in my life…
Even from doctors. Especially from doctors.
I take a breath. “Okay…
“Sometimes, I sorta ‘wake up’… suddenly… I’m standing in a room in my duplex. No idea how I got there. Or why. Last time it happened, I checked my phone cuz I didn’t know what time it was… Turns out 2 in the afternoon.”
I’m not sure if this is safe… This one could get me in trouble…
“And… um… I’m mebbe having blackouts? A couple hours… sometimes. I don’t know where I’ve been. Once I woke up… behind the wheel… about an hour-and-half past my exit home…”
“I walk around… sometimes, I don’t feel ‘present”… not all there. Not even during conversation.”
I pause. Cuz I know this is dangerous, lock-you-up-and-throw-away-the-key territory.
“I hear two people talking. But one of them is using my mouth… And all I can do… is listen to them…”
My eyes are getting heavier… heavier as I talk. My eyes hurt… I’ll just close ’em… a second…
I snap to. “Wait. What was I saying?”
He looks startled… Like he just saw something… pushing himself back from the desk. Deep into his red leather chair…
Kinda clears his throat. “Where’d you go?”
“I-I dunno… I guess… I got lost in thought…
“Was I talking about how unreal things feel?” Pause. “Have you ever talked to someone like that? What do they call it? Multiple personality…?”
“Um, yes…,” he says. Takes off his glasses. Wipes em.
Trust me. I’m autistic. I know when someone’s picking their words carefully.
“The field frowns on that diagnosis these days. Dissociative Identity Disorder, it’s called…,” he says. “But I don’t…
“I believe I talked to one… this morning.”
I’ve come to think I’m a slow learner. And what I call a “slow thinker.”
It took me a couple years to think through what he said.
Sitting across from yet another psych… Phyllis Mayhew, if memory serves. Upstate New York. Concrete office. Clinical green paint. In an abandoned military facility.
Looking for help with marriage #2. This one a year past its Best-Before date…
I give my history. Including my treatment with Doc Anderson. I add new details.
Things like, “But she doesn’t like it when I get reading or coding so deep that I don’t hear her… Next to me on the couch. Even after she turns off the TV…”
And, “Ya know? Sometimes I hear the echo of someone yelling in the room… and it’s my voice.”
And, “I dunno I ‘woke up’ behind the wheel in Ontario. Startled. 2 hours away from a sales meeting I had to be at…”
Then, whoa… the flashbulb finally went off.
Took me maybe two years… before my “duh” moment…
“Dr. Phyllis… When Dr. Anderson said he’d seen a multiple that very morning… Could he have been talking about me?”
She looks off… taps her teeth with her pen. Sets it on the desk. Then puts on her most sincere face.
That’s never good.
“John.” Puts her pen down. “You’ve told me quite a life’s history. Dozens of jobs. Frequent moves. Across the country. Childhood abuse. Bullying. Molestation…”
“Can you think of any reason you might want to escape…?”
I hate that when they do that… But I always get it.
See, dissociation is a common human defense. Takes a gazillion forms. And it’s there for a damn good reason.
Quick definition? Any momentary tuning out from the world & folks around you. While otherwise awake.
It’s useful. Defending you against things as trivial as boredom… or traumatic as rape.
AND many autists experience years of criticism. Bullying. Loneliness. Sensory overload.… leading to its own complex trauma.
So dissociation’s a good thing, Til it starts screwing with living your life. Or sense of reality.
Not every autist spaces out. Certainly… few experience alternative personalities.
But some do.
And honestly? I think it’s worth looking at the whole phenomenon of “masking.”
How it might relate to dissociation.
I throw a few links into the comments. If you want to look deeper.
- Dissociation in How Core Autism Features Relate to Interoceptive Dimensions: Evidence from Cardiac Awareness in Children
- About Dissociation