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Can Flashbacks Be False And/Or Related To Another Mental Illness?

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I'm very confused about flashbacks & I guess nightmares as well. Both of these symptoms are increasing since I've started this exposure work in therapy, to the point of me being put off going to therapy.

Brief background
I was sexually assaulted at 18. This I know happened because it was documented, and he paid compensation of a few thousand dollars. A few days after this assault I had a flashback/memory/vision of my uncle being sexually inappropriate with me at around aged 6. This was quite a strong image in that I had sight, sound and feeling. I was fixated on a piece of furniture. I was able to ask my mum at the time about this piece of furniture in the guise of it being a dream. She verified this piece of furniture existed and it was in my uncles house at that time. At the time I dismissed this as imagination or confusion due to my over stressed mind at what had just occured a few days earlier.

I need to understand more about flashbacks. I've read about them, I've seen movies with them, but mine are not like that. For me flashbacks are not like a movie where I see everything, or where I lose big chunks of time.

For me flashbacks are re-experiencing. For me it's not a memory. It's something occuring now, even though in the flashback I might be younger.

Whilst it's 'happening now', I'm also aware that dually I am not there I'm here in my own home (or wherever) and that what is happening now is happening now, but it's happening in my own head. But it's still hurting me. In other words I might for a few seconds maybe lose where I am but mostly I know where I am even whilst having the 'flashback'.

For me I often get no visual picture or if I do, it's a visual picture of the house in which I think the abuse took place, rarely anything that looks 'suspicious'. Visual things tend to be a mix of happy & distorted pieces of my entire childhood going by really really fast so I can barely catch an image.

For me flashbacks are mostly a felt thing. Feeling intense fear, sadness, suffocation, wanting to scream but having no voice, extraordinary anxiety, frustration, rage, confusion, physical body sensations (pleasurable & painful).

Occasionally they contain auditory sounds of my voice, a male voice, other voices & sounds. Sometimes I can smell beer, cigarettes.

Sometimes the flashbacks contain things that I know are impossible. For example I will flashback to a scary monster. A creature that doesn't exist. Or ghosts or demons or whatever. Or that there was a pink elephant that lived in the house. You get the idea. These types of flashbacks make me doubt the whole thing.

It's by far, a complete picture. Snippets at best. And I cannot emphasise enough they are nothing like recalling a memory and going 'oh yes I remember when I fell off my bike that was terrible, it really hurt'. There is no recall, no memory, it is a present thing.

Could I be experiencing something other then flashbacks?
Could these things I call flashbacks be caused by another mental illness?
Are flashbacks 100% reliable?
Are flashbacks exclusive to PTSD only?

And my big question:
Could I have PTSD from the assault at 18, and the PTSD be producing these 'false' flashbacks from childhood?

I'd really appreciate any & all input on this one.
What I found is when your mind opens the gate for one memory to come though, others will tickle through. Like water in a ditch, if I may. And once you open the headgate, you can't close it. They will find a way to come back, scary part is not when as much as where.

Some years ago I was in a serious accident. It seems my life is full of serious accidents. Anyhow, I never had a problem with it. Never had nightmares, and I handled it very well. I was working in a small mine and there was a cave in. I was buried under a lot of rock for quite some time. Never had a problem returning to that same mine, though the first couple times I was nervous. But I got over it. Only in 2004 did it hit me as nightmares. Now, they happen regularly. Why? Who knows. But they are there. Just gotta live with them.
I never had flashbacks, at least not that I'm aware of, although I had very violent nightmares as a teenager. In the dreams I was being physically attacked, whereas in the real world I was pretty severely verbally attacked by guys to the point where I was afraid of potentially being physically attacked. I actually was physically attacked at school once where she tried to have a go at me and I turned around and shoved her into the lockers. I was also molested at age 13 by a fellow student, but never had any flashbacks or nighmares about it that I'm aware of.
Hi Awakening,

I'm sorry to hear you're going through such a rough time. Unfortunately I can't answer all of your questions. However, if I understand correctly, flashbacks do not have to be images...they can be sounds, sensations...smells etc.
Hiya Awakening

I have flash backs frequently but the vast majority of them are of what happened during my trauma. There is one exception though. I used to get one flash back that I'm not sure about. Either A) it was real but exagerated of B) it did not happen. So please dont feel that you are the only one who has a flash back that did not happen in reality.

The "made up" flash back that I had was of the guy who abused me sticking needles in me. This may have happened. But in the flash back I had there were hundreds of them. I dont believe that that is possible. It seems ever so real to me though.

This flash back has not happened in a while, although just thinking about it is still very scary. I'm afraid I don't have the answers to your questions but i do have opinions on why they ocurr.

In my opinion, this flash back is related to my trauma and could be my mind working overtime. I want to know everything that happened so that I can deal with it and so maybe I am unintentionally creating flash backs to fill in the gaps.

I have no reason to think that I might be able to tell you why you are having these "unreal" flash backs. But it might be possible that the ghosts / monsters that you are seeing in the flash backs are a representation of how you feel about that person. But its just a guess.

I think that it would be very beneficial to you to talk to your counsellor about this as they are more experienced in this by far. Maybe they can give you the answers that I cant.

If you do find anything out please do let me know how you get on as it may be useful for me too.

Take care
Hi Awakeneing.

I get lots of flashbacks and many are similar to how you describe them. The nightmares also feel like they are really happeneing. However, sometimes, the nightmares are a bit more like a movie, where I am watching the movie.

I was raped when I was 20, and went into denial for years. I now recognise that I had some PTSD symptoms in that time - I just didn't realise it.

About 3-4 years ago the memory gates opened with flashbacks and nightmares and intrusive thoughts about the event. I tried to piece it all together and even wrote it all down. Then therapy got too much and I quit, and I pretty much went back to denial. By now I wasn't just denying the trauma, I was denying the PTSD. Anyway, I digress. Currently, my PTSD symptoms and therefore the nightmares, flashbacks etc are running out of control. Only now the nightmares contain aspects which I hadn't previously remembered. I am very confused by this also. Are these parts true? Have I made them up? Why would I make something like that up? What else have I forgotten, etc etc.

Sorry this is so long - I just wanted you to know that you are not alone.

I can't answer your questions I'm afraid. However if they feel like flashbacks, then that is probably what they are.

I think what cactus_jack says is probably true
What I found is when your mind opens the gate for one memory to come though, others will tickle through. Like water in a ditch, if I may. And once you open the headgate, you can't close it. They will find a way to come back, scary part is not when as much as where.

I'm sure with help from your T, you will be able to work through this. I know it's scary, and it hurts. That is why I quit T 3 years ago. However,(from the information on this site), I now realise that I have to face my trauma and not run from it.

Sorry I can't answer your questions but I do understand a little of how you are feeling

Take good care
Thank you so much for your responses, however I must confess I'm still as confused as ever!!

I've been busy googling, and now I'm convinced I don't have PTSD but I'm simply neurotic.

I've never been offically diagnosed with PTSD. My therapist when I asked said I have clusters of the symptoms and we would discuss it at another time. My GP noted on my mental health plan 'noting symptoms of PTSD'.

But I'm really relating to the stuff about neurosis.

I'm confused. Is this a defense mechanism (i.e. stating I have neurosis) to deny abuse & ptsd. Or is claiming abuse & ptsd part of being neurotic?

I'm so confused. I have less and less idea about what is happening with me.
I have flash backs of nightmares, and my nightmares don't always include just the trauma only. There might be something really stupid in the nightmare that doesn't make since or relate to the trauma. But because it was in with the trauma nightmare I have flashbacks of it too.

For instance, I had a trauma dream of being held hostage and in the dream other things were taking place that didn't happen to me or around me while the trauma happened IRL.

One such instance was when I was being held hostage in a nightmare my neighbors from a different time period showed up and was ignoring me and then took sides with the attacker. I had a vivid image of the one neighbor, he looked like he was on drugs and had long fingernails painted dark blue and his eyes were a scary green color. I was almost more afraid of him than my attacker.

In real life my neighbors are not like that and are good people. But I have this flash back of the neighbor and the blue finger nails. It came from the nightmare because he was equally frightening to me in the dream as being held hostage by my attacker.

The other is just general intrusive thoughts. This is rather embarrassing but I have something like a flashback, but not really one. It's kind of like you stated but it has nothing to do with my trauma. Sometimes I see myself dead laying on a gurney. This is just based on my fear of dying. But I see it (similar) like I see my flashbacks.

I think you may have an over active imagination like I do.

My best advice is to write every flashback down and date it. Also record your nightmares with accurate detail and date them. After about 6 months go over them and see if you happen to notice a flashback that was in one of your nightmares. I bet you will.

good question, i had a strange one once, i was in an office and got a whiff of a smell of a library i used to visit in another country years ago, one moment i was in office next i was looking at a dean fosster book on a shelf a couple of thousand miles away, it wasnt a scary book and i wouldnt even have thought about it as anything other than being bored and looking for a book in a library, but it happened because of a smell, a strange thing to happen,
have had nightmares about a lot of very nasty things which although feared never happened, have had some flashes of things which did happen,and they were most unpleasent, had some nightmares about things which happened, but also sometimes fears and other things conjure up things which are not always there, sometimes memories and fears become mixed up together creating new nightmares, wether flashbacks are reliable, memory is a strange thing, sometimes yes sometimes no,
Movie's confuse what a flashback is, as they stereotype them to one type of flashback, being a movie like re-experiencing of the event. Flashbacks come in all types. Women may see or do something, like deja-vu, then feel a pain or sensation in their vagina exactly as they felt from a past sexual assault. Flashbacks include all senses and are not just limited to a movie like experience of a past event as one views in a movie today.
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