When the traumatic memories are triggered, which can happen through random, transient events, such as smelling a particular smell associated with the trauma, sounds or tastes associated with the trauma, visual cues, physical stimuli, or a sudden movement that startles them, the individual is flooded with the whole sensory experience of the trauma, and they react as if the trauma is occurring in real time, because for their brain, it is. Just like happens during the original trauma, the frontal lobe shuts down and the ability to process the trauma logically and place it in some perspective is lost.
In addition, the brain becomes accustomed to the continuous flow of adrenaline. The body repeatedly reignites the stress hormones’ release, resulting in the body itself replaying the trauma, even when the specific trauma memory is not triggered. The wear and tear on the body is significant.
The individual is haunted by shadows of bodily sensations and fragments of experience they cannot put into language. Their experience of their lives becomes divided between body and mind, and this dissociation in and of itself is disconcerting. The individual begins to feel they must either shut down completely to deal with the overwhelming sensations, or they live in a state of hyperarousal, responding out of proportion to everything going on around them.
Dr. Donna E. Lane is a Christian Counselor who specializes in trauma, grief, and loss, along with the depression and anxiety often resulting from these experiences. She has been a counselor since 1979, and has owned her practice since 1993. She is co-author of the internationally-acclaimed trauma treatment resource, Trauma Narrative Treatment, and the accompanying story, Gold Stone. She is also the co-author of Strength in Adversity, a Biblical study on walking through difficulty with Christ.