What Goes on the Brain When Trauma Happens

It’s been five years, why can’t you move on? It happened a long time ago, why can’t you stop thinking about it? You’re giving him or her the power if you keep thinking of it.

Moving On is Difficult


If you’ve experienced trauma, you know it’s not easy repressing the thought or moving on. As much as your friends and family have good intentions, it’s irritating when they say comments that trivialize trauma and not realize how much it can significantly affect a person’s everyday life.

The Amygdala

Trauma breaks the normal processing of the brain; it signals it’s in danger. The amygdala, the center of the brain that regulates emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation, determines that threat exists.  It triggers a fight or flight response to protect itself. After the reaction is triggered,

“Hot Drive”

The brain goes into the “hot” drive for survival. The person doesn’t see the traumatic event from an outside perspective; they experience it. As a result, rational thought decreases and the danger response activates. Some of these danger responses include dissociation. Dissociation helps stop the real horror of the event before it becomes impossible reality.


The danger response also sets off a cycle of cortisol, “the stress hormone,” that goes throughout the body and raises blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate, while interfering with digestion.

Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory disrupts because the body needs to focus on the immediate danger, and the body enters a state of hyper-vigilance with an increased startle response. All of this is important in response to trauma because once you fix short-term danger, then you will make it alive.

What may be beneficial in the short term; is not necessarily good for the long term. So if the trauma is short lived and quickly resolved, the brain will recover from the danger signal, relax the “hot” system and let the “cool” process be more active.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: What Happens in the Brain? 

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