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What Does a PTSD Flashback Feel Like?

Jul 08, 2022

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What Does a PTSD Flashback Feel Like?

PTSD flashbacks can happen months, years, or decades after traumatic events. They are understandably frightening because, more than just a memory, flashbacks create the same emotions and even physical sensations you experienced at the time. And the dread of having another flashback can be equally paralyzing.

Karma Doctors & Associates is a premier psychiatric practice with locations in Palm Desert and the Gramercy Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. Our team specializes in helping you enjoy your best possible life by overcoming, rather than learning to live with, the challenges of PTSD flashbacks.

What is a PTSD flashback?

A flashback is a symptom of PTSD that involves suddenly re-experiencing a past trauma. People who experience flashbacks often find them difficult to describe since they’re much more vivid than a memory. Instead, it’s almost like rewinding a video of the event and finding yourself immersed in the scene.

During a flashback, you may feel like you are part of the traumatic event again, experiencing the same emotions, sounds, and physical sensations as previously. Sometimes, you may feel disconnected from what’s happening, more like an observer than a participant. Either way, you are mentally disassociated from your present reality.

Flashbacks can occur suddenly and seemingly randomly. However, something in your current environment usually triggers a flashback, a reminder that causes your brain to replay the event.

What would trigger a PTSD flashback?

Unlike nightmares, which are also a part of PTSD, flashbacks usually occur when you’re awake and may be triggered by certain smells, sounds, or visuals in your environment.

For instance, if your abuser was chewing watermelon bubble gum during your assault, the scent of watermelons may generate a flashback. War veterans with PTSD often react to sounds that mimic gunfire, such as a car backfiring or even a heavy book dropped in a quiet space.

Strong emotions expressed by others around you can also trigger flashbacks. For example, someone yelling from their car or a distressed child making their wants known by wailing may start the video replay.

Identifying and avoiding flashback triggers, if possible, is an essential component of PTSD therapy. But you can’t, and probably wouldn’t want to, avoid every experience that might trigger a flashback. 

At Karma Doctors & Associates, we focus on helping you recognize your triggers as reminders rather than reality while you stay grounded in the present.

How do you treat PTSD flashbacks?

At Karma Doctors & Associates, we provide a variety of clinically sound therapies to help you overcome PTSD and the flashbacks this troubling disorder can cause. Your strategy might include lifestyle changes, medication management, nutritional supplements, and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

A mainstay of PTSD treatment is psychotherapy, often including a combination of these therapies: cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), cognitive processing therapy (CPT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

  • CBT helps you identify and change thoughts and feelings that contribute to your symptoms.
  • CPT focuses on changing your perceptions of previous trauma, i.e., why it was not your fault.
  • EMDR therapy helps people process and overcome trauma and has proven highly successful in treating PTSD.

Schedule an evaluation at Karma Doctors & Associates to discuss treatment for your PTSD flashbacks. Call our office or request an appointment online.