Flashbacks are part of the re-experiencing symptoms, of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex Post Traumatic Disorder.
These are involuntary and how I describe them, is my mind being triggered by something, which makes my mind jump straight to trauma memories.
Triggers can be caused by something visual, something heard, smells, an expression on someone’s face, something someone says, a tone of voice, hearing anger, someone’s behaviours, someone lying.. the list is endless.
Flashbacks can last for seconds, or hours and in the case of emotional flashbacks, days.
Flashbacks can be experienced visually, emotionally, or somatically as body memories.
Flashbacks are highly distressing and can lead to panic attacks and dissociation. I have literally sobbed after flashbacks and been so distressed, it has led to dissociation.
Flashbacks are different to intrusive memories, as within a flashback, the person believes they are actually re-experiencing the trauma again, with little or no awareness of the present.
Whereas, intrusive memories, when I experience these, I know it is a memory, and I am fully aware of my current surroundings etc.
Flashbacks can be experienced for some as little flashes of memory, but some can be longer and a longer memory is felt and re-experienced.
A common example is a combat veteran, who hears a car exhast backfire, his mind jumps straight to combat and he believes he is hearing gunfire and drops down to the floor believing he needs to take cover.
These are far harder to recognise, as they are emotions re-experienced from the past, triggered by something that takes the brain immediately to emotions felt during trauma.
Many people will not realise they are experiencing these, and how I identify them, is by knowing I am feeling emotions such as fear, sadness, hurt etc that is not warranted, or is irrational, for the current situation.
These are particularly experienced for those who have Complex PTSD, where prolonged abuse has led to fear of trust, fear of abandonment etc.
It was hard learning to identify them, but I am able to identify them quickly and know that how I feel is okay and just sit with those emotions, not react and they will pass.
It is also worth noting, that an emotional flashback can be created by a trigger that is very valid of a negative situation occurring presently. E.g. if I know someone is lying to me (my hyper vigilance, now being proven discernment), depending on the person, the emotions that creates, will collide with emotions re-experienced from the past, and I can become very upset. This does not in any way invalidate, that I am being lied to currently, which is not okay.
BODY MEMORY FLASHBACKS
These are known as somatic flashbacks and are debated within the psychology field as to being authentic or not, but some re-experience body sensations.
So a trigger will occur and sensations will be felt within the body.
An example is pain will be felt within certain areas, where pain was inflicted during the trauma.
They may also feel as feel as though someone is touching you, lying on top of you (common with rape victims).