top of page

Can Trauma Cause Memory Loss?

It often occurs as a result of stress or trauma, and doctors diagnose it when they can't link the amnesia to other causes, such as traumatic brain injury or dementia. People may experience several episodes of dissociative amnesia during their lifetime. Prolonged dissociation can separate a person from reality or lead to the loss of memories of entire periods, which is called dissociative amnesia.

When the brain creates memories in a certain mood or state, especially about stress or trauma, those memories become inaccessible in normal states of consciousness. The brain sometimes hides particularly stressful, traumatic, or fear-related memories. Stress and fear make your brain remember events vividly to protect you later in life.

Severe trauma and physical trauma can also lead to a post-traumatic stress disorder, which can cause temporary memory loss to help people cope with traumatic events that caused harm. When it comes to injuries and memory loss, different types of injuries can cause temporary or permanent problems. When people suffer physical trauma, such as a head injury in a car accident, their memory can be affected. Physical injuries, such as traumatic brain injury or stroke, can cause brain damage and impair a person's ability to process and store information, the basic memory function.

Physical trauma associated with an accident or a severe blow to the head can impair the brain's ability to process and store information. Damage to different areas of the brain affects memory in different ways. Physical trauma can greatly affect your memory, especially if your brain is damaged by the trauma. Thus, memory loss due to trauma can easily occur when trauma creates stress that negatively affects the brain.

It excites centers of neurochemical activity in the brain that influence memory encoding and recall. Chemically, this is because the emotional and physical stress caused by traumatic events creates almost the same stimulation in the brain as the physiological state that increases memory retention.

However, the brain can also suppress or discard traumatic memories, allowing the person to deal with the situation and move on. When you are experiencing childhood trauma, your brain may choose to suppress details of memories or the emotions associated with them as a coping mechanism. When a person experiences a traumatic event, both physical and psychological, their memory can be affected in many ways.

For example, trauma may affect their memory of the event, of previous or subsequent events, or general thoughts. Falling, blocking, or avoiding certain memories may be temporary ways to help you cope with trauma, but if left untreated, some of them may become permanent. Suppressing specific memories will stop the traumatic event; however, it can make you temporarily forget who you are, or feel depressed or confused. Some of this memory loss may be temporary to help you cope with the trauma, while some of it may be permanent because of severe traumatic brain injury or disturbing psychological trauma.

This memory loss in specific situations helps prevent traumatic events, but another type of dissociative amnesia, called global amnesia, causes a person to forget who they are for a short period. They may also feel confused or depressed. In this disorder, memory loss extends beyond ordinary amnesia to include prolonged memory loss or memories associated with traumatic events. Dissociative amnesia is different from simple amnesia, which involves the loss of information in memory, usually due to disease or brain damage. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), dissociative amnesia is often caused by traumatic or stressful events, such as childhood trauma, abuse, and neglect.

In this type of memory loss, also known as psychogenic or functional amnesia, people often suppress the memory of the traumatic event until they are ready to deal with it, which may never happen. If you are struggling with this type of PTSD, you may be suppressing your memories until you are ready to deal with them.

As mentioned earlier, stress from PTSD can harm memory. Memory loss in post-traumatic stress disorder can increase the stress a person experiences and can further exacerbate some of the symptoms. Because PTSD damages the part of the brain that stores memories, nightmares and flashbacks keep the trauma fresh.

As they work to calm and organize trauma memories, people with PTSD may also have difficulty remembering simple everyday information. Short-term memory loss can cause a person with PTSD to have concerns about cognitive impairment and uncertainty about whether it is reasonable to forget and whether it becomes a medical problem.

Documenting these types of memory deficits associated with PTSD and understanding the causes of these deficits has become a major focus of research over the past 20 years, in part because memory problems can reduce patient engagement and response to treatment. PTSD not only leads to flashbacks, anxiety, and scattered memories of traumatic events but also impairs the brain's ability to convert short-term memories into long-term ones. However, in the long term, repressed memories can create serious emotional health problems such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and dissociative disorders. But ultimately, these repressed memories can cause debilitating psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or dissociative disorders.

The findings suggest that in the face of traumatic stress, the brain may activate another system to form and suppress memories. Essentially, the brain is working to sort out, soothe, and organize the traumatic memories that lead to the stress disorder.

During fearful states (high arousal), the hippocampal and amygdala networks dissociate, leading to a disconnect between emotional memory in the amygdala and overt processing in the hippocampus. When the hippocampus is blocked or damaged by stress hormones or inhibited by strong amygdala activation, the hippocampus can disrupt the memory encoding of conscious explicit memories.

The amygdala, part of the limbic system, classifies past sensory experiences (threat, anger) as implicit memories, memories that are unconscious but can influence thinking and behavior. They face stressful or threatening future situations. In this case, the brain does not store the lesion as memory or set of memories. If left untreated, memories can reappear at any time, causing your brain to relive the trauma every time. Perhaps one of the most controversial and well-known psychological effects of trauma on patients is memory suppression.


bottom of page