Sorry to hear about this experience. Would you mind checking if the image you used in Illustrator is a linked file? If yes, it is expected that Illustrator would refer to the corresponding linked file to show in the program whenever you open the Ai file.
In this image, you can see that the first image is a linked file, and the second is embedded in the Ai file.
Kindly update this thread if you need further assistance. We'd be happy to help.