Understanding Trauma and its Ties to Memory by Josh Cattle

Understanding Trauma and its Ties to Memory by Josh Cattle


The topic of trauma on memory is truly fascinating. For instance, did you know traumatised individuals may only remember certain events or clear images but are unable to put together a clear timeline, as if the memory was fragmented. Why does this happen? In this blog, I’ll explain some of the psychology behind why memory can become impaired due to trauma.

How does trauma affect our brains?

Well, it turns out, this phenomenon is not caused by chance. It is the result of altered brain patterns that affect our memory and emotions. A study on reactivated trauma showed that when experienced, one’s frontal lobe needed for putting memories into context completely shuts down. This leaves traumatised people unable to process the event.

What causes the brain to shut down during trauma?

Well, trauma is largely due to arousal in the brain. Arousal tells us to keep an accurate recollection of meaningful events. The more adrenaline that is released during an event, the more memorable the memory will be. Those who experience trauma, have had such heightened levels of arousal that that the brain begins to shut down to protect itself from the shock caused by the arousal. As a result, the trauma is kept in limbo.

Well that begs the question, what happens to the memory?

Now that we’ve discussed how trauma is caused, what exactly happens to the memory? Well, the answer to this question can be traced to other brain regions. Traumatic events have been shown to affect the hippocampus needed for storing accurate memories as well as the limbic system which focuses on alertness and regulation. This changes a story or an event into a sequence of highly distressing events, sensations, or sounds.

What can be done to alleviate trauma?

We know how trauma affects the brain and how it alters our memory, but what can be done to process the trauma? Well, that’s just it. Freud once said, trauma is simply just verbal memory. If the memory is not remembered and processed, it will continue in its pursuit.

There is light at the end of this tunnel. People who have experienced traumatic events with the aid of therapy, can put the events into a narrative or timeline. This will allow proper time to process the emotions and memory and allow it to be transferred into autobiographical memory, also known as a type of long-term memory.


Well, that was intense. Trauma simply put; a devastating condition caused by the brain failing to protect itself from shock. I hope this gave some insight into the mechanics behind what causes trauma and what can be done to alleviate some of the damage.


About the Author Josh Cattle

Josh is in his final year of a Bachelor of Psychology at the University of Canberra.

Our speech pathology and psychology clinic is located in Braddon, ACT, in Canberra’s CBD. Call us on 5117 4890 or email reception@inpositivehealth.com to get in touch.

In Positive Health, Canberra. Nel MacBean Speech Pathologist Canberra. Campbell MacBean Psychologist Canberra. Sally Arthur, Psychologist Canberra. Brent Holgate, Psychologist Canberra.