A Frightening Blank

Amnesia Due to Trauma

By Rae Hamilton

Have you ever experienced major memory loss? Well, imagine waking up and finding yourself unable to remember months or even years of your life. Imagine forgetting who you and those you love are. Wouldn't you be terrified? It's a frightening thing to draw a blank on these things. Well, perhaps you would be even more frightened if you actually remembered part of what your brain forgot. Sometimes, frightening experiences can actually trigger amnesia. I find this quite a topic of interest due to my strong level of curiosity in how people mentally and emotionally deal with difficult and scarring experiences.

Sometimes, after a traumatizing or stressful event, a person's brain may actually try block out the memory of the event- and others. This is known as dissociative amnesia. Dissociative amnesia is not simple memory loss, nor is it the same as average amnesia. Rather, it is a type of defense mechanism in the brain. Normal amnesia results from a disease or brain injury and actually involves the loss of information. Dissociative amnesia is known as a way that your brain deals with the trauma by simply burying the information within the person's mind. Over time, the memories may resurface on their own or by being triggered by another event or object. Contrary to popular belief, in most cases, the patient does not lose their full memory. Rather, they lose all memory of the event as well as bits and pieces of personal information and things near the time of the event.

The Brain and Research

Research and Extras

Using fMRIs to document which areas of the brain are active, many tests have been conducted to see which parts of the brain are stimulated by things the patients with dissociative amnesia should recognize vs. things they shouldn't. The activity in the pFC seems to increase compared to what it should be while the activity in the hippocampus is decreased compared to what it should be.

A woman went to China on a trip at the age of 29. She was found passed out in a bathroom with no known cause. She was observed over time to see the duration and how it effected her. Nearly 10 months later, her memory was triggered by the feeling of blood on her fingers. She remembered that she had witnessed a murder in China and been unable to help the victim because it would endanger her life as well. Over time, she remembered most of her memories, but a few small pieces of information from her life never returned.


-inability to recall past information




-limited concentration

-judgement is limited

Some who suffer from dissociative amnesia can also become suicidal or homicidal due to frustration.


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