Center for Integrative Psychiatry

Trauma and memory loss – How it affects the memory

Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing or shocking event that overwhelms your coping abilities. Trauma can affect your memory in various ways, such as causing dissociative amnesia, unwanted memory gaps, fear of memory loss, or trauma blocking. In this blog post, we will explore what trauma and memory loss are, how they are related, and what you can do to cope with them.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is a subjective experience that depends on how you perceive and interpret an event. What is traumatic for one person may not be for another. However, some common examples of traumatic events include:

  • Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal)
  • Neglect
  • Violence (domestic, sexual, or criminal)
  • War or terrorism
  • Natural disasters
  • Accidents or injuries
  • Life-threatening illnesses
  • Loss of a loved one

Trauma can have lasting effects on your emotional, physical and mental health. Some of the symptoms of trauma include:

  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Depression or sadness
  • Anger or irritability
  • Guilt or shame
  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Feeling numb or detached
  • Avoiding reminders of the trauma
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Substance use or self-harm

What is Memory Loss?

Memory loss is the inability to recall certain or all details of a lived experience. It can be partial or total, temporary or permanent, and affect different types of memory. Some of the types of memory that can be affected by trauma include:

  • Autobiographical memory: This is the memory of events from your own life. It helps you form your sense of identity and continuity.
  • Episodic memory: This is the memory of specific episodes or events that happened at a certain time and place. It helps you remember what, when, and where something occurred.
  • Semantic memory: This is the memory of general facts and knowledge about the world. It helps you understand concepts and meanings.
  • Procedural memory: This is the memory of how to do things, such as riding a bike or playing an instrument. It helps you perform skills and habits.

Memory loss can be caused by various factors, such as brain injury, illness, aging, substance use, or stress. However, when memory loss is caused by trauma, it may be due to a psychological mechanism called dissociation.

How Does Trauma Cause Memory Loss?

Dissociation is a defense mechanism that your mind uses to protect itself from painful or overwhelming experiences. When you dissociate, you disconnect from some aspects of your reality, such as your memory, consciousness, identity, emotions, perception, motor ability, or behavior.

Dissociative amnesia is when dissociation causes memory loss. It can manifest in different ways, such as:

  • Localized amnesia: This is when you forget a specific period of time or event related to the trauma.
  • Selective amnesia: This is when you forget some details or aspects of a traumatic event but not others.
  • Generalized amnesia: This is when you forget your entire life history or identity.
  • Systematized amnesia: This is when you forget a category of information related to the trauma, such as people, places, or topics.
  • Dissociative fugue: This is when you forget your identity and wander away from your usual surroundings.

Dissociative amnesia may occur because your brain encodes traumatic memories differently than regular memories. Instead of storing them in the usual memory pathways, your brain may create alternative pathways that are only activated by specific triggers or cues. These memories are hidden from your conscious awareness until something reminds you of them.

How to Cope with Trauma and Memory Loss?

Trauma memory loss can be challenging to deal with, but there are ways to cope and heal from them. Some of the steps you can take include:

  • Seeking professional help: A mental health professional can help you process your trauma and recover your past memories in a safe and supportive environment. They can also diagnose and treat any underlying conditions that may be affecting your memory, such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, or dissociative disorders. Explore trauma therapy Dallas for comprehensive support.
  • Finding support: Talking to someone you trust, such as a friend, family member, or support group member can help you feel less alone and more understood. They can also provide emotional support and practical assistance when you need it.
  • Practicing self-care: Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally can help you cope with stress and improve your well-being. Some self-care activities include getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly, meditating, relaxing, and doing things you enjoy. 
  • Keeping a journal: Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you express and process your emotions. It can also help you keep track of your past memories and any triggers or patterns that may affect them.
  • Seeking closure: If possible, try to find out more about your memory loss and trauma from other sources, such as records, documents, photos, or witnesses. This can help you fill in the gaps and make sense of your experience. However, be careful not to force yourself or retraumatize yourself by exposing yourself to too much information at once.

Medical disclaimer 

This blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have any concerns about your health or memory, please consult a qualified healthcare provider.

Wrap-Up

Trauma and memory loss are complex phenomena that can affect your brain and mental health. However, they are not permanent or hopeless. With professional help, support, and self-care, you can cope with them and heal from them.

Contact Us 

If you are struggling with trauma and memory loss, you are not alone. At the Center For Integrative Psychiatry, we offer compassionate and evidence-based treatment for trauma-related conditions, such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and dissociative disorders. We use a holistic approach that combines therapy, treatments and medication, to help you heal your mind, body, and spirit. To learn more about our services or to schedule an appointment, contact us today at 1-877-283-5336.

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