Imagine waking up and not knowing your own name or who your child is.
Shauna Loader has suffered “countless” episodes of memory loss, which can last anywhere from hours to months.
Her first experience of dissociative amnesia happened when she was 18, when she totally forgot who she was.
The 25-year-old, from Caerphilly, said one particularly difficult incident came after she gave birth to her son years later: “He was two days old and I forgot him, and that was really hard.”
It was a phone call from her mother in 2012 that first made her realise something was wrong.
She had stayed at her boyfriend’s house and woke to her phone ringing, unaware of who or where she was.
When Shauna finally answered, she did not know who she was talking to. Eventually, her grandmother arrived at the door.
“I didn’t realise [who it was], but I just felt safe and comfortable to go with her,” she said.
After a hospital stay, scans and tests, she was sent to a mental health team for talking therapy and was diagnosed with dissociative amnesia.
What is dissociative amnesia?
- People with it have periods when they cannot remember information about themselves or events in their life, according to the NHS
- They could also forget talents and skills and memories can be gone for months or years in rare cases
- May be related to a traumatic experience - people may develop more physical than psychological symptoms when stressed
Shauna’s memories came back “as a staged process”, but she never knows if her memory is completely intact as she cannot remember if she has forgotten.
She described waking up without her memories as “petrifying”.
“It’s almost an out-of-body experience, where you’ve just jumped into someone else’s body and you’re experiencing their life, and you don’t know what to do,” she added.
When she forgot who her son was, she said she happily looked after him, waiting for the woman who was his mother to come back and collect him.
She remembered her husband crying, which confused her, as she felt sorry for him but did not know why.
When the memory of her son came back to her, it was “really overwhelming”.
“I felt guilty. I thought he was going to hate me forever,” she added.
Amnesia does not just rob Shauna of her memories, it can also cause her to regress to being a younger age and she can forget to do basic things.
She has showered fully clothed and wet herself, but is not embarrassed about her condition and said: “It’s my reality.
“I’ve got no control over it, if it happens it happens, and you have to deal with it in the morning,” she said.
Shauna now monitors her stress and has what she calls “funny headaches” where she needs to “take a step back and look after myself”.
What caused it?
When Shauna was in her teens, she was bullied and transferred to a different school, but later returned for sixth form, which she found traumatic.
“I had a lot at home going on as well at the same time with family illnesses and things, and it was just too much at once,” she said.
Now if she has an episode, her husband “steps up and he’ll take over and do everything”.
“My husband’s a great help, he’ll help me back into being me. He has this certain aftershave, and it’s just a safety smell.
“It’s almost living a normal life, even though I’m here but I’m not here mentally, and just hopefully something along the day will click.
“What I say is: ‘There’s always someone else worse off’.
“For me, yeah it’s frustrating and annoying but it will never define me. I’ll always find another way around it, turn it into a positive and help someone else.”