What Happens When Someone Experiences a Flashback?

Following a crash, a survivor may experience trauma, with one potential symptom being flashbacks. These are vivid memories of the accident that occurred, often causing a number of problems for the survivor. This is because they are essentially reliving the incident in their own mind after a trigger sets off the memory.

Flashbacks often result in the survivor experiencing anxiety and fear of certain situations. However, in order to determine if a treatment option is viable, it’s important to understand what causes flashbacks and what happens in the brain as a result.


Memory is a major part of the brain and uses multiple parts. Two of the parts involved in flashbacks involve the amygdala and the hippocampus. Both of these are key parts of the brain focused on memory.

The amygdala is responsible for the emotional memory, such as those generated by fear. The hippocampus reserves all of the various details of a specific incident. When a traumatic event such as an accident occurs, the amygdala works more than it typically does while the hippocampus is typically suppressed.

Once the threat is no longer there, survivors typically have a negative memory based on the experience and the emotional nature of the amygdala. There isn’t always clear details regarding the events because of the way the hippocampus works during these types of experiences.

Any potential trigger of the negative memory—such as smell, sight, or sound similar to the accident—can lead to the survivor experiencing anxiety and fear. This activates the fight-or-flight system in the body, and your brain prepares for a threat even when none is present.

Flashbacks often result in the victim freezing in time, and the fear and anxiety can make it difficult to do anything else during the event. It is possible to avoid flashbacks, but this means avoiding any potential triggers or working to overcome the trauma experienced.


Certain therapy options to overcome triggers can be helpful in reducing—or even eliminating—flashbacks for a trauma survivor. It can help identify the triggers involved and come up with ways to respond in a calm manner.

Trauma and the subsequent flashbacks can result in years of difficulties for a survivor, often impacting their way of life. You can get help to overcome the trauma little by little in order to reach a stable and healthy place.

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