It has been noted by many researchers (e.g.Fox, 2005) that individuals who have been profoundly traumatized may display symptoms of psychosis (most frequently in the form of hallucinations and delusions). Such psychotic symptoms are especially likely to occur when the traumatized individual is experiencing a FLASHBACK. Flashbacks are intrusive memories that are beyond the individual’s conscious control and involve the individual vividly and viscerally re-experiencing aspects of his/hr traumatic experiences. For example, s/he may believe that s/he can HEAR his/her father shouting (i.e. experience auditory hallucinations) and that the content of the flashback is REALLY HAPPENING IN THE PRESENT (which is partly why flashbacks are so intensely distressing)even though, in reality, it occurred thirty years ago when the person was ten-years-old (i.e. experience delusional thinking that is not in line with reality). It has been estimated that between 15% and 64% of PTSD sufferers are tormented by psychotic symptoms (Hammer et al., 1999).

Flashbacks generally occur when the traumatized individual is reminded (either consciously or unconsciously) of his/her traumatic experiences. For example, seeing someone who looks like or sounds like his/her abusive father (this is called a trigger).


Other Schizophrenic-like Symptoms An Individual May Experience Whilst Having a Flashback:

Whilst experiencing a flashback other schizophrenic-like symptoms the complex PTSD sufferer may experience include the following:

  • paranoid thinking
  • agitation
  • bizarre behaviour
  • formal thought disorders which may manifest in the form of neologisms (a made-up word that is nonsensical) the flight of ideas (as also commonly occurs during the manic phase of bipolar disorder), loose association (this occurs when the patient’s answers are unrelated to the interviewer’s questions or when a sentence or paragraph of the patient’s speech is not logically linked to what s/he has just articulated. Such illogical responses are sometimes also referred to as non-sequiturs), and incoherence.


It should also be noted that PTSD is highly comorbid with schizophrenia (Gregory P. Strauss et al., 2011) which means that it is not uncommon for individuals to suffer from both PTSD and schizophrenia at the same time.

N.B. Diagnoses should only ever be made by suitably qualified professionals.


Gregory P. Strauss, Lisa A. Duke, Sylvia A. Ross, Daniel N. Allen.Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Negative Symptoms of Schizophrenia 
Schizophrenia Bulletin, Volume 37, Issue 3, May 2011, Pages 603–610, Published:04 November 2009
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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