How Trauma Affects Your Memory

Memory loss is a frustrating and sometimes scary experience, especially if the memory loss is caused by a traumatic event. Research shows that physical and emotional trauma can directly affect your memory. Some of this memory loss may be a temporary way to help you cope with the trauma, and some of this memory loss may be permanent due to a severe brain injury or severe psychological trauma. Knowing how trauma can affect your memory can help you choose an appropriate treatment to help you cope with trauma and heal your memory problems.

Physical Trauma and Memory Loss

Physical trauma can greatly affect your memory, especially if brain damage occurs as a result of the injury. Physical trauma such as a head injury or stroke can damage the brain and impair a person’s ability to process information and store information, the main functions of memory.

Another form of brain damage that directly affects memory is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, which is a consequence of chronic alcohol abuse. Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome is a combination of two disorders: Wernicke’s Disorder, in which poor nutrition damages the nerves in both the central and peripheral nervous system, and Korsakoff’s Syndrome, which impairs memory, problem-solving skills and learning abilities. Severe injuries and physical trauma can also produce post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that can cause temporary memory loss to help a person cope with the traumatic event that caused the injury.

In the case of physical trauma, the length of memory loss depends on the severity of the injury.

Emotional Trauma and Memory Loss

Emotional or psychological trauma can also affect your memory. Memory loss is a natural survival skill and defense mechanism humans develop to protect themselves from psychological damage. Violence, sexual abuse and other emotionally traumatic events can lead to dissociative amnesia, which helps a person cope by allowing them to temporarily forget details of the event. A person will often suppress memories of a traumatic event until they are ready to handle them, which may never occur.

Emotional trauma can also lead to post-traumatic stress disorder, which can manifest itself in different ways including flashbacks of the event and intrusive, unwanted thoughts about the trauma.

Healing from Trauma-Induced Memory Loss

Recovering from a traumatic experience can take days, weeks or even months. Everyone heals at their own pace, but if several months have gone by and your symptoms have not gotten better, then it may be time to seek professional help. It’s also a good idea to seek professional help if you:

* Have trouble functioning at home or work.

* Suffer from severe fear, anxiety or depression.

* Are experiencing terrifying memories, nightmares or flashbacks.

* Are emotionally numb and disconnected from others.

* Are avoiding things that remind you of the trauma.

* Are using alcohol or drugs to feel better.

If you fall into any of the categories above, then contact a trauma specialist today. A certified therapist can help you process the traumatic event and finally start healing your emotional trauma. Under the care of a treatment facility, you’ll be able to work with a trauma specialist to process your trauma-related feelings and memories, stop the ‘fight or flight’ response, learn how to control your emotions, and rebuild your ability to trust other people. All of this will be done through a series of therapy sessions combined with emotional trauma treatments. Some of these treatments might include cognitive behavioral therapy, somatic experiencing and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing).

Patients who have suffered memory loss due to physical trauma can sometimes benefit from surgery. After surgery, therapy is needed to help them recover their lost memories. Patients who suffer memory loss due to Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome should seek alcohol treatment right away at an alcohol rehab.

Anyone who’s been through a traumatic experience knows that emotional trauma hurts. Start the journey to healing by calling a treatment facility today.

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17 Responses to “How Trauma Affects Your Memory”

  1. nokulunga

    I’m a 21 year old female living in durban.I used to be ontop of my class in high school.but in 2005 I lost my dad a day after my birthday,n in a few weeks after I lost my brother too.I was fine by then and didn’t seek any help to deal with the lost.but when I lost my grandmom I completely lost it because I saw her lying in bed dead.now iv memory loss,can’t sleep,can’t concentrate,I’m feeling lonely,dnt wana be around people,and iv anger insyd me,suicidal thoughts,and negative about life.I knw I need help but I don’t know where to get it and I cannot afford to pay for it.please help me if you can.

  2. Kelly Borden

    Hi Nokulung – Please contact us for help and more information please contact us at 866-768-6719.

  3. Emily

    My mother died in 2004, I was 15 years old. She stopped breathing in a grocery store, I was with her and she died before the paramedics arrived. I am now 24 and have two beautiful children who occupy ever minutes of my life. When I lay in bed at night, sometimes I have difficulty remembering what happened just that day or the day before. I also have a hard time remembering anything that happened in my life before my mother died. I have often wondered if her death is the reason for this. The only thing I know to do, is stand firm and then eventually put one foot in front of the other and continue on the best way I know how. Its a scary thing, though, not being able to remember.

  4. Kelly

    Hi, I’ve been trying to research my memory problems, this is a new thing for me but the last year and a half it’s been getting progressively worse and it’s making life and my relationship very difficult, when I have an argument or serious, emotional or unpleasant conversation with my bf I forget it very easily, the latest situation being 3 days ago when we had an argument and I cannot remember much of it, I know the memory is there I can remember pieces of it but not much its as if I can’t access it. I’m wondering if its the same as above since the last year and a half I’ve gone through a break up after 5 years together, I’ve overdosed and been in very hectic situations and recently my ex bf who I was still friends with killed himself, I just want to know what could be happening with me so I can go from there

  5. Kristina

    You are so awesome! I do not suppose I have read through anything
    like that before. So wonderful to discover another person with unique thoughts on this subject.
    Really.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is one thing that’s needed on the web, someone with
    some originality!

  6. liz

    I have recently at age 50 become more aware of memory lapses as a small child it covers a period of 2 years and I don’t know what I should do it doesn’t seem to be harmful to me but I can’t help wondering what happened

  7. Kel

    I would like to know if this kind of stress can lead into permanent forgetfulness. My Mom is suffering now and seems so very confused by refuses to see a doctor.

  8. Casa Palmera Staff

    To receive a proper diagnosis, it would be important for your mother to see a licensed medical professional.

  9. Lorraine

    5 years after the traumatic death of my daughter I am still suffering from memory loss, limited concentration, inability to connect and avoidance. Can you suggest some resources that may help.

  10. Casa Palmera Staff

    We are so sorry for your loss and know that this is difficult for you. Here are a couple of books one of our therapist recommended. “When bad things happen to good people” by Harold Kushner and “Healing after loss – daily mediations for working through grief” by Martha Whitmore Hickman. Another one of our therapist also suggested “How good do we have to be” Rabi Herald Kushner. All are excellent books on exactly this type of trauma.

  11. Erika

    I had a traumatic emotional event over 30 years ago and was pregnant at the time and very young and vulnerable. I have had trouble with my long term memory and cannot remember hardly nything from my childhood except a couple of times of pleasure. At times I think about the traumatic event and feel like I am there again. Its awful. It takes me a couple of days to recover but the memory is funny. Sometimes I will sit up remembering something pleasureable that happened just before the event. Its really odd that I had forgotten about these things. I have had a lot of counselling over the past but…. it always comes back. It has changed the direction of my life and has left me a mature woman in a state of insecurity and at times, with irrational decision making behaviour. I wish every day that I could just be normal and me, the way I was before but its never going to happen and now I feel I am headed towards my old age in this state which will probably develop into dementia in time.

  12. Ben

    About 7 months ago I had too see multiple family members on drugs all at the same time, it was completely out of control, it was like watching them die. The particular way it looked messed me so bad and that’s the short version. The pile up was non stop.

    What’s stunning me is the extent to how it’s effected me physically.

    I’m normally very strong and can put things in perspective. But after wards my sharp brain and upbeat personality seemed to disappear. My energy collapsed. And I couldn’t even work or handle stress.

    This is nothing like me. I’m crying everyday and what scares me the most is my memories are all fogged and my surroundings seem foreign. It’s like such an abnormal dreamy spacy feeling, even people look “off” and different. I now have severe sensitivity to light. I have constant head pressure… my head is hard, and it’s as if my brain has a weak signal of sorts.

    I can hardly remember myself. I literally can not think clearly. My body feels different and I don’t have a sense of my self.

    Is this normal for something like this? What’s worrying me is it been 7 months and I’m hoping that my brain isnt going to recover. How can I possibly be at ease?

    My surroundings are foreign my muscles are weak and that alone makes it very difficult to feel settled.

    What stuns me is I was fairly active before all this. You would think I was a different person now.

  13. Ben

    I went through a series of emotional traumas with outside family members and its effecting me terribly physically. It’s been 7 months since but I have constant head pressure, I can’t think clear, I feel like in a dream world, people look “off” and different. I’m unalert and drowsy but worst of all my memory is shot, and my surroundings feel foreign after all this time. It gives me chills up on my spine when I see certain things. I remember it – but it’s like faint like Im not absorbing, or the feeling is not nearly connected.

    This can’t be normal. I pray to god this fades. I’m
    Not even 40. I was in decent shape, with no health issues before this. How can this be possible? Worried because it’s been 7 months.

  14. Michele LaFleur

    Hi Ben,

    We would need more information to better understand your situation. Please call us at 858-481-4481.

  15. Lessa

    Ben sounds like he is having derealization or depersonalization.

    Is there any books that are available as workbooks to regain these lost memories? I don’t want to see a therapist. I went to a rape crisis in 2004 and the girl was completely unhelpful and told me I would have to move and change my name because police could never keep me safe if the guy got out and wanted to kill me. I never pressed charges and that guy harassed and threatened me, had his friends try to convince me I knew them and try to get me to meet them in parking lots for years. He discovered new places I worked and stalked me there. I do not trust crisis centers or therapists. Instead of handling aggressions from men firmly and aggressively back, I feel I just blocked them out afterwards. I fine ally did move, and now I have remembered two very traumatic events, which I can’t place the time they happened other than a vague season or year. I remembered these events by looking at pictures. I looked up people I knew on the internet but hadn’t seen in years at breakfast on a weekend. Then in the afternoon a few hours later, these intense memories came to me in pieces, Playing, restarting, playing, hurting at missing black parts, new images adding on here and there, playing from the beginning again, I remember the sounds and the pain, I remember hearing my voice screaming or whimpering and not even recognizing it as my own, and it would start back up again from the beginning and playing to then end- again and again. I wonder as to the extent of the true validity of these recalls as one event I believe happened in around 2014. The other I think almost a year ago. I’d been numb for quite some time, avoiding people, and forgetting what I did the day, sometimes days just moving on autiopiliot where I felt like a zombie. What I remember from 2014 a friend I tried telling at the time told me it was just a dream but I feel it was a date rape with GHB because I remember difficulty breathing and flinging my arms uncontrollably. I remember a lot from that night, and it does not feel like a dream. I had woken up naked and in a strange room with no normal explanation of how I got there. But, my friend said it was just a dream. This “dream”, told me how I got to that strange bed. My friend wouldn’t even listen to me. She spoke to me as if I was a mentally disabled child. She had been with me part of that night, but she had been on marijuana and alcohol. I had had one drink, and I remember who the guy was who fell into me and almost knocked over my drink. He had tried dragging me away in the parking lot by himself. I am very embarrassed and angry. The other more recent event I was sober and it was late at night. It came in flashbacks, where I remembered wanting to forget it at the time. When I remembered it recently in June it was the same dreadful feeling when you forgot to do your homework and you remember then and there as you were suppose to hand it in. I was at home when I remembered and the visions hit me like a train. It was painful. After the more recent one came, I remembered the older one. I looked up tidbits of info from the older recall, and info was right that I had no previous recollection of. People I saw that night, and what their jobs were. So, I have more doubts it was just a “dream” as my friend said. Also, after remembering these things, I feel more back to my old self and all these ancient ordinary memories have returned to me as well. I also wonder if it was brain damage as in 2014 one guy tried squeezing my neck wanting to strangle me and shaking me and they (a gang) were talking about killing me, the 2016 I had a drunk guy shove my head into a table or chair. The biggest thing I remember was that he had unhooked my bra and that he was super fat. In both cases I remember urinating on myself and you know, the other one. Do I block these memories back out, where am I suppose to put them? I don’t want to remember faulty memories or “a dream” as real if they are not exact. I feel that I know several people I could ask to verify these events, but I am very afraid to. I might want to reforget them. Also, I know people to look up pictures of who might cause more memories to surface, people who I saw the 2014 night who’s faces I do not remember, but I remember who they were. I want to know I am safe and what happened, but I already regained my ability to stay in the moment and the brain fog is gone. I just don’t want to not know something very important that is detrimental to my life if it stays forgotten, so that history does not repeat itself. I would like to work at calming myself and learn how to protect myself.

  16. Sarah louise

    I couldnt remember losing my twins at 14 weeks by a punch in the tummy it took hypnosis to recover the memory and its as clear as day now i can remember every detail from start to finish my partner remembered it all along but i blocked it out i am now grieving for the first time properley for my babies as at the time i was in denial after19 years im a bereaved mummy very sad

  17. toni

    i suffer with memory lose. i’m 18 now and i can remember a few things (happy memories with my dad and his family plus my cousins when i got to stay with them) a remember a few things from my childhood with my abuse mother. i’m the oldest. my mother and i have the same dad. my sisters have a different dad. my mother was emotional abusive to me and my younger brother got physically abused by my sisters father. my brother always protected me. my mother gave birth to a daughter when i was five and my brother 3, Lay. i hated her growing up and attempted to kill her a few times. then another sister was born when i was 5/6 sam. she died of natural courses. i feel really guilt because i gave her a green lollies and she vomited it up and left the house with my mother, i never saw her alive again. i found out recently that i gave her a cold shower that morning and she had a type of cold . so in a way i killed her. then when i was eight another sister was born zenab, i raised her. my mother didn’t even wan to touch her. then when i was 10 another sister mary was born. then another sister zahra was born. zahra died after 9 weeks. i was 11 and i accidentally dropped her on the head but i can’t remember if it was days or weeks before her death. then 12 my mother left my sister father and when with a guy who was 10 years younger then her.he is alright. i was 11 when i decided i was gonna commit suicide on my 16th birthday, something poetic about it. i when to a school for troubled teens inearly 2015 and somehow they gave me hope. i graduate in late 2016. it took two years to over come my depression and severe anxious. but i can’t really connect to family members on a emotional level. there is more but this is the main stuff. i just want to feel human.