When we experience trauma, our minds can sometimes malfunction: turning our traumatic memories into fragments of body sensations or images. This is called dissociation. Signs you are experiencing dissociation may include feeling detached from your life or body, or feeling as though the world around you is not real. Dissociation can be experienced in many different ways.
These fragmented memories can be stored in the brain haphazardly, preventing the brain from doing its normal process of recovery. Down the road, these memory fragments can be triggered and may resurface with symptoms associated with PTSD and sometimes even physical illnesses.
Trauma can also be a little bit sneaky. During a traumatic experience, you may not be aware that you are experiencing something that is traumatizing. You may feel numb to it in the moment, but down the road it can resurface if triggered by an experience or sensation.
The amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and hippocampus are the parts of the brain that are known to change in response to trauma. Studies show these parts of the brain all contribute to feelings and actions associated with fear, memory, and decision-making.
The amygdala is responsible for triggering a response to your environment. This part of the brain goes into overdrive after trauma, creating fear responses to input such as loud noises or sudden movements. The prefrontal cortex helps with decision making and is responsible for regulating the amygdala’s responses by using critical thinking to decide if a threat is real or not. When the prefrontal cortex is not working well, and the amygdala is in overdrive, it’s like slamming on the gas pedal of emotional reactivity without any working brakes.
The hippocampus is in charge of recording and making sense of memories. After trauma, the hippocampus is working hard to try to store an overwhelming amount of fragmented details. You may find that your brain randomly brings up bits of memories from the traumatic experience as the hippocampus tries its best to make sense of what happened.
Mindfulness is a great way to start the process of healing from trauma. Mindfulness is a practice of actively paying attention to sensations that can enhance present-moment awareness, increase self-compassion, and strengthen a person’s ability to self-regulate — all important skills that support trauma recovery.
For some trauma survivors, however, mindfulness and meditation can trigger trauma responses unintentionally, especially when the trauma is still unprocessed. Take care and pay attention to whether it is helping you or causing harm.
Talk therapy and additional therapies like EMDR and hypnotherapy are effective at accessing the memory, making sense of what happened, and creating structure around the way you store and access the memory. You can learn more about how EMDR and Hypnotherapy work to process trauma here.
Like the mind, the physical body is also affected by trauma. That’s why it is believed that physical activity can help reduce the impacts of trauma. Initial studies show that participation in trauma-informed gentle yoga can significantly reduce dissociation, intrusive thoughts, and symptoms of PTSD.
The impact of trauma on the body and mind is significant, but treatable. Help is available. Reach out to us to schedule an appointment with one of our trauma-informed therapists today.