Three Types Of Flashback: Visual, Somatic And Emotional


Sufferers of both posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (Complex PTSD) experience terrifying flashbacks.

Such flashbacks can be split into three categories as follows:


Below, I briefly describe the form each of these three types of flashback take:

VISUAL FLASHBACKS: As a result of a trigger (an event which reminds an individual, on a conscious or unconscious level, of their original traumatic experience) the PTSD / Complex PTSD sufferer feels as if the traumatic event (or aspects of the traumatic event) are happening in the ‘here and now’, forcing him/her to relive his/her trauma in the form of visual images.

SOMATIC FLASHBACKS: As the result of a trigger (see above) the PTSD/Complex PTSD sufferer feels sensations, discomfort or pain in body regions that were affected by the original trauma and that the sensations/discomfort/pain cannot be explained in terms of alternative causes (such as physical illness, disease or injury). In other words, the sensation/discomfort/pain is a physical manifestation of inner psychological turmoil and causes the PTSD/Complex PTSD to relive the physical feelings endured during his/her past traumatic experiences.

EMOTIONAL FLASHBACKS: Amongst individuals who suffer from this type of flashback sufferers of complex PTSD are the most frequently affected. Unfortunately, however, the understanding of this kind of flashback is still in its relative infancy. However, it is known that emotional flashbacks involve the PTSD/Complex PTSD sufferer, as the result of a trigger (see above), experiencing the emotions s/he experienced during the original trauma.

However, when these emotions are triggered (e.g. by an authority figure who, on an unconscious level, reminds him/her of his/her abusive father) s/he may not    be aware of this link between his/her present emotional state (triggered by the authority figure) and the emotional state s/he experienced during his/her past traumatic experiences. In short, then, emotional flashbacks involve the individual being forced to relive, often intensely and viscerally, emotions originating generated by the events of his/her traumatic past.

Examples of emotions the person may feel consumed by include fear, being under extreme threat and feelings of abandonment These powerful emotions may last for hours or longer (perhaps even for weeks). Emotional flashbacks involve the part of the brain called the amygdala (which is involved with our fight/flight response and reactions to perceived or real danger) and, because of this, Walker (author of the tremendously helpful and highly influential book: Complex PTSD: From Surviving To Thriving) refers to the emotional flashbacks as an ‘amygdala hijack’ as, when they occur, the amygdala becomes hyperactivated and ‘takes over’, inhibiting the capacity to think rationally.

For more information about the amygdala, you may wish to read the article below:

Reducing Anxiety By Calming The Amygdala

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).