Long-lasting and repeated trauma can so adversely affect an individual that they lose their very sense of self. This is also sometimes referred to as ‘personality disintegration‘.
People who have experienced this sort of trauma feel constantly and intensely hypervigilant and agitated – the person also feels a continual sense of some terrible impending doom. Anything – however remotely – reminding the person of the original trauma will inspire terror. This might manifest itself as pacing, crying, or even screaming. Nightmares involving horrible violence and other danger will also occur, as will insomnia.
The person will also develop somatic symptoms. These might include stomach problems, headaches, tremors, and a rapid heartbeat.
Such symptoms deriving from chronic trauma can last many years or even decades if appropriate treatment is not sought.
The experience of the trauma is likely to have been so unbearable that the person had to mentally escape it through such psychological mechanisms as dissociation, thought suppression, minimization, and denial.
When the trauma is over, survivors attempt to avoid memories of it – mentally sealing it off from consciousness, as it were.
However, this prevents the experience from being worked through and integrated into the individual’s life story. Keeping the experience locked away in a ‘separate mental compartment’, actually makes its adverse psychological effect on the person all the worse.
Indeed, the past memories of trauma, without treatment, remain vivid and intense. Day-to-day present living, in contrast, becomes hazy – like living in a thick fog.
Severe and prolonged trauma also gives rise to feelings of hopelessness; the person, therefore, loses the ability to make plans and use initiative.
The pathological bond the individual has had with the abuser also takes away the ability to trust. Relationships become disrupted and the survivor may fluctuate between feeling intensely attached to another and angrily rejecting him/her.
Not surprisingly, too, nearly all survivors of chronic trauma develop protracted clinical depression. self-image becomes debased and with this feelings of guilt emerge. The person withdraws socially and outbursts of rage, also related to the trauma, may make him/her more isolated still.
Also, the survivor may turn their rage and anger against themselves, leading to suicidal behaviors.
Those who have suffered chronic childhood trauma may go on to be diagnosed with various psychiatric conditions such as complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD), However, the good news is that there are many effective therapies that can be taken advantage of to address such problems, including dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).