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How 'coherent' Are Your Flashbacks?

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dylasd

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I'm kind of interested in whether my flashbacks are pretty standard for people with PTSD, so looking to get other people's experiences. I have very few actual memories of the sexual abuse I experienced, and I'm not sure if the fact that I don't have many *memories* per se means that my flashbacks are less detailed or 'coherent,' or whether it's normal for flashbacks to be a weird jumble of sensory experiences which aren't all tied to one another in a proper narrative. The next bit of the post could be triggering for survivors of CSA and/or adult sexual assault so avoid reading if you're vulnerable atm.

Generally during flashbacks ( I can feel tactile stuff (pressure, hands, penetration), mostly focused on genital region but also can feel other parts of my body being held, touched, etc. But they are almost always entirely tactile - I can't hear him speaking, see what is happening, smell anything or whatever (have had visual flashbacks a few times but they are pretty unusual) - and they're totally focused on what I can feel on/in my own body, rather than the actual action which is happening.

Sometimes if I have a flashback in therapy it can last say 10 minutes, and afterwards my therapist will gently encourage me to say what I just experienced. But it's really difficult to say in words what happened, because it's like.. bodily feelings, which I don't necessarily have words for. Flashbacks don't really seem to come with any kind of narrative - I can't say "first he did X, then he did Y" it's more about pressure I can feel on various parts of my body. There are parts where I don't even know what is going on really, because I can feel where I'm being held but have no sense of where the rest of my abuser's body is - only the parts which are touching me. I'm not sure if that is 'normal' for a flashback, and if it is.. how do people engage in trauma therapies like TF-CBT for childhood trauma which they don't remember properly?

My therapist is awesome and the first person I've felt properly safe to talk this stuff through with, and even if it turned out that we couldn't get anywhere on trauma-processing I'd still want to stick with it because CBT has helped me a lot with other symptoms (self-harm and suicidal intentions in particular). But I'm just interested to know whether anyone with very limited trauma memories and flashbacks without a proper 'narrative' has got anywhere with a therapeutic approach which involves discussing what happened during trauma.
 
Mine are not coherent, either, just flashes, smells, other sensory stuff. I have very few clear memories, but enough to get the gist of what happened. As I move forward I remember some things more clearly, but I do not wish for it, as it is traumatic. My therapist says it happens as my brain decides I am ready for the memories.
 
I get both, for me some are more linear but there are flashes of other things, it seems that one flashback stirs another and another and they come so fast that I get more of them and more, I can't stop them but they're all snippets sometimes it's the same bit over and over, sometimes it's a whole incident, others its different flashes from different times but through them I get most of the whole memory. I don't think they'd be coherent for anyone other than me because I know where things fall into place and I understand them but individually or even one set of flashbacks probably make no sense to anyone else.
 
My flashbacks are, both coherent and sensory experiences, depending on what the flashback is. Sometimes, the flashback can be both, at the same time, which really freaked me out, when it happened, the first time. I try to write about it, in order, to lessen it hold over me. Sometimes, I am successful, in reclaiming that memory for me, and not my attackers.
 
Hi! My flashbacks are a lot like yours. Did you always have concrete knowledge of the abuse, or was it something you remembered much later? I'm curious if it varies, the type of memory, the way it presents itself, for people who've had the history all along, and people who may have repressed it. Hope you don't mind my asking.

Anyhow, not sure about "standard" but yes, I have very similar experiences. Also, an aspect of PTSD is not being able to remember a key element of the trauma, so I sort of associate it with that, kind of a tunnel vision (or other sense, like the sense of touch) because the brain perhaps doesn't encode the memory the same as a non-traumatic one.
 
Thanks for the replies, everyone. I always get really mixed feelings on this kind of thing, because obviously I wish that nobody else had to feel this.. but it's kind of a relief, too, to know that this isn't completely abnormal.

Leah123, Don't mind you asking at all - I was a young child when the abuse happened, so I'm not sure how much of my forgetting is down to repression and how much is more just the fact that I don't remember my early childhood.. but yeah, I didn't have concrete knowledge of the abuse before. I always remembered snippets and exhibited some odd behaviour, but it wasn't until a later trauma that I started to have flashbacks of much earlier.

That makes quite a bit of sense actually - I hadn't really thought of it like that before.
 
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I had very concrete knowledge of what happened but forced myself to think that everything was normal and nothing was wrong and I wad meant to feel that way ad infinitum until I snapped like a brittle twig in a drought. I did definitely 'shut off' and disassociate during the event though. I simply cannot remember the middle.

During flashbacks though I get flashes the same as you. Sometimes it's a creeping memory that begins it, but they are flashes of smells, body heat, the taste of metallic dripping sweat, the purple light from my lizard's cage in the periphery, twinges of pain and pressure on various parts of my body. I don't remember hearing anything but the blood rushing in my ears for a while so there's sort of a jumble in my memory of sensations because I really didn't feel inside myself. Instead of fighting back I for some reason chose to go limp and turn off and I'm sure that has a lot to do with the clarity of the memories.
 
I have a very concrete memory of two events, which when they occurred were like in slow motion. I was conscious of sounds, facial expression and touch until I went unconscious, then everything went black. I can call up the memories easily. The full recall doesn't change. (I don't purposely go there and bring up the full memory often).

My PTSD has gone into "remission" a few times, and during those periods I'm symptom free (or almost, idk). High stress, another trauma, will bring on symptoms. During those times it is like there's a little projector in my head with a small foggy screening of the event(s) that loops over and over, and I will have some full on snippets (flashbacks) about certain details of the event - all visual, sound and touch/pressure. No smells. I didn't have the little foggy screen looping in my head or flashback, or nightmares about the events until after being separated from my abuser a few years . . . then it all came at once, and like I said, sometimes goes into remission.
 
My flashbacks vary depending on the particular event, how deeply that event ingrained itself into my memory, and when- along the timeline of my relationship- the event happened. "Bigger" events held greater importance to my memory and stuck around in vivid detail, while smaller events tended to loose all the context so that the only part stuck in my memory was the tactile/visual portions most closely related to my spikes in fear/trauma/terror. Then, there are the "big" events that took place after I had become so traumatized that the rational part of my brain completely shut down, and all I remember is the terror, and little snippets of pain.

Most often though, when I have a flashback, I get a combination of everything all bombarding me at once- the big events and the little- images playing across my mind like a slide show on hyper-drive, tactile memories of various instances where I was hurt, and the emotional imprint. My heart rate jumps up and my body becomes tense, as my "fight or flight" switch gets stuck in the "on" position, making me hyper-sensitive to everything around me.

I've reached a point were, most of the time, when I'm experiencing a flashback, I can push it into the background and continue with my day- just extra tense and extra irritable. However, this means that it continues in the background until I can take some time to step away to a safe/calm place and let it run its course, and talk it through with someone to help separate past and present. When I initially left my relationship though, I had several episodes where I snapped as the flashback through me completely back into the past and I lashed out at those around me.
 
I think my flashbacks are a little different in some ways. Thankfully I don't often get the visual. Mine seem to be more emotional and physical. Sometimes they come on so suddenly I don't realize until after they're over that that's what was happening to me. I get the feelings like it's happening right now. And I start reacting to whoever triggered me as if they're the abuser. It's like a full blown panic attack with adrenaline and the pounding heart and shaking. I feel an overwhelming sense of dread. And I'm pretty dissociated on autopilot just reacting to everything.

A couple of months ago I had a really bad flashback. And it was a visual. In that moment I was in my room and still on my bed in the present but that particular abuser was there. I could see him like a dream in front of me. It was like watching a movie not a hallucination. Surrounding him I could see the apartment I lived in at that time. I could see the expression on his face. I could see his mouth moving. I couldn't hear what he was saying but I had a kind of knowing of what he was saying. I had various physical sensations. I shook and cried and curled up in a ball. It was absolutely terrible.
 
I'm sorry Blackbird. I find what they call 'emotional flashbacks' overwhelming. (I'm sorry I can't recall who coined and explained the term. :( ) Hugs if that's ok.

My flashbacks (as I would classify a 'flashback') are somewhat similar to what you and DMerish described. For me, they are rare, visual, and very clear detail. Like being 'in' a movie (sort of?) but a part of the scene. I have 'audio', too. On rare occassion they are very brief, or gruesome. I cannot hear or 'see' anything in the present around me, but as far as I know no one has 'noticed'. I'm terrified one day I might 'say something' or act out. I can't figure out where I am immediately after.

They give me an opportunity to recall and 'notice' what I felt at the time. Not new memories but 'new' as in the first time I can find out what I felt at the time. They are very unnerving. The first time I had one 30 years ago I thought it must mean I was going crazy. :( I can usually figure out after what triggered them, but not always.
 
My flashbacks are also visual and like a slightly foggy scene. No sound. I don't feel sensations from my childhood flashbacks, only from a later trauma (and those are rare). Almost all of my flashbacks are from one memory. The weirdest part for me is that they always end right before the actual sexual abuse, like a dream where you're falling and wake up when you're about to hit the ground, and that my visual memory is absurdly accurate. There are visual details of rooms that I could not have realized otherwise. I'm almost positive from the one memory that I know what dress I was wearing because I remember the ribbon. Eerie stuff.

I also have trouble orienting afterwards to where I am, and I have apparently screamed through them. When my dissociation was really bad and began to practically be a bridge to flashbacks, I was always scared I was going to do this in public. :(
 
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